In Praise of Vulgarity
A reader writes:
Kenneth Tynan, I think, was considered such an 'odd duck' because of his enlightened use of vulgarity, a sensibility that would unfortunately find him without a major writing outlet in today's puritanical U.S. Vulgarity, though, used properly, is a healthy societal tonic - and Tynan was never gratuitous in using it. But more than his vulgarity is the piercing logic with which he employs it in his writing. His journals consist of hilarious syllogisms, such as this one excusing his inability to write:
"Freud says one must forego sensual pleasure in favor of cultural achievement. Reich says cultural achievement is valueless unless one has sensual pleasure. Following Reich, I refuse to work on my book about Reich for more than four or five hours a day, and devote the rest to pleasure. This inevitably cuts down my achievement. Thus: in order to write a Reichian book about Reich, I must delay writing a book about Reich."
But Tynan was most articulate in the defense of British humor, and its tendency to indulge in vulgarity. In his New Yorker profile of Johnny Carson the topic warranted a brief intrusion by the observer to set the record straight. Carson said that British comedians couldn't get on his show because the network censors didn't like that they were "obsessed with toilet jokes." Tynan writes:
"It is true that British comics sometimes indulge, on television, in scatological - and sexual - humor that would not be permitted on any American network; but this kind of liberty, however it may be abused, seems to me infinitely preferable to the restrictiveness that prevented Buddy Hackett, Carson's guest, from completing a single punch line without being bleeped. I throw into the conversation my own opinion, which is that to shrink from referring to basic physical functions is to be truly infantile; to make good jokes about them, as about anything else, is evidence of maturity."
I wish we were all mature enough to make fart jokes more often.