When I was young, no one, but no one said the “F” word out loud. This pertained to any situation. You also didn’t see it in print. (Norman Mailer was constrained to using “fug” as the frequent curse of his characters in The Naked and the Dead.) Accidentally hitting your hand with a hammer, for example, elicited other, albeit equally colorful language. Casual conversation especially avoided this word, as it was a sign of coarseness, disrespect or, at best, a limited vocabulary. Use of the word was stereotyped as part of the vernacular of soldiers, sailors, lowlife and perverts. Today, the F-bomb is routinely dropped by children, seasoned politicians, texters, posters, comedians, movie characters, gangsta-rappers, rockers, women, men, disgruntled customers and, literally, the average person holding an average (calm) conversation with another average person. We hear it all the time, in any setting (except maybe church, but keep listening…) “Foul” language of former times, say ten years ago, has become the lingua franca of modern society.
Why? What has shifted in our perception of ourselves and others to allow what was once highly offensive and off-putting to become a commonplace?
There are other signs of change for the worse.
Jack-in-the-Box ads in recent years have become consistently sexually suggestive in their drive to sell processed meat. An example has two teen girls on a bed texting with their phones; their conversation leaves everything to the imagination: “He just said, ‘It’s big.'” “How big?” “Really big.” “Tell him to send a pic.” “No! Okay…” “Whoa!” “Whoa!”
Cute, huh. Of course, the “really big” reference is to a hamburger, not a penis, but we get the idea, right? The commercial ends with the company’s namesake character, Jack, saying to the male who’s texting to the (underage?) girls in their bedroom, “Oh, and tell her I’m easy.” Because of the drive-through. Uh huh.
Advertising has picked up the gauntlet thrown down by cable TV and shock jock radio: “Sex sells” is a trope and a truism. Now, obscenity sells as well.
The latest Smurf movie offering is replete with plays on sex and vulgar language: The official website address is smurfhappens.com; one of the characters is a female “Naughty” named Vexy; and Neal Patrick Harris has the immortal line, “I’m just smurfing with you.” Too cute. Apparently cute (and contemporary) enough to earn a PG rating, so pack up the family and go; you can always lie to the kid who asks what “smurfing” implies…
CreditKarma offers their “free” credit score service in a TV ad depicting four people on the street, including a little girl, each saying the bleeped- and pixeled-out f-word, except it turns out they’re only saying “free.” Hilarious, to quote the YouTube caption…
The use of children in these ads is disturbing. My neighbors’ kids learn enough profanity from their parents, as I am a regular witness to, without hearing it promoted on commercials during their favorite Smurfs episodes.
And we can’t ignore the uptick in exposure to public profanity engendered by the wildly popular “reality” shows and ubiquitous video captures gracing every medium known to man. A national news program offered this plum feel-good on-camera reaction by a woman whose husband surprised her on his return from active duty: “Are you f***ing kidding me?” Touching.
I’m not sure if this is a symptom of a limited vocabulary or just an annoying speech affectation, but using the word “like” to punctuate conversation is another post-modern phenomenon we could do without. Sitting in the sushi bar recently my wife and I could not help overhearing a garrulous young woman talking to her companion who couldn’t seem to get in a word with a shoehorn. At times three words out of five were “like.” I tried to memorize some of what she was saying to memorialize it in print, but was unable to keep up with the gist. So I asked my wife to count 60 seconds while I counted “like.”
On average she said the word “like” 20 times a minute, or 1,200 times an hour. I wanted to point out this statistic to her (and her friend whose limited contributions also were peppered with the filler word) but didn’t because I knew my wife wouldn’t “like” that.
As a society we are obviously lowering our standards of literacy and propriety, although some will always argue twas ever thus, there’s just more “opportunity” to experience this moral morass. But other harbingers of decline are obvious because they are new and newly widespread and “acceptable.”
Take for example tattoos. As we say in the Midwest, “You can’t swing a dead cat without hitting someone with a tattoo” today. Again, tattoos used to be the way sailors (and bikers) proved their manliness, usually after drinking themselves into a mindless stupor. If, as is known, judgement is the first mental process to suffer from the effects of alcohol on the brain, what is the excuse of the multitude of average people, men and women, teens, grannies, grampas, soccer moms and goth girls who decide getting a permanent ink drawing engraved into their body is a good idea? As a public service tattoo parlors should offer prospective clients a computerized age-progression image of the desired tattoo, or at least suggest they go look at Uncle Joe’s sagging blue-black Merchant Marine tat on his flabby chest. Maybe that would stem the tide of reckless ruin of perfectly good skin.
Don’t get me started on piercings.
At this point a little perspective on the issues is warranted. Obviously I am biased against tattoos and piercings (as is my barber, I was pleased to find out.) But what does the great moral compass, the Bible, say about the subject of “body art?” Before you stop reading and accuse me of all sorts of prudery and sanctimoniousness, note what a smattering of historical figures thought about the Bible as a guide to right living:
Daniel Webster (1782-1852), American statesman and political leader, said, “If we abide by the principles taught by the Bible, our country will go on prospering.”
Wernher von Braun (1912-1977), regarded as the father of the American space program, wrote, “In this age of space flight, when we use the modern tools of science to advance into new regions of human activity, the Bible—this grandiose, stirring history of the gradual revelation and unfolding of the moral law—remains in every way an up-to-date book.”
Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826), third U.S. president, stated: “I have always said and always will say that the studious perusal of the Sacred Volume will make better citizens, better fathers, better husbands . . . the Bible makes the best people in the world.”
John Quincy Adams (1767-1848), sixth U.S. president, wrote, “So great is my veneration of the Bible that the earlier my children begin to read it the more confident will be my hope that they will prove useful citizens of their country.” He also stated: “My custom is to read four or five chapters of the Bible every morning immediately after rising . . . It seems to me the most suitable manner of beginning the day . . . It is an invaluable and inexhaustible mine of knowledge and virtue.”
Andrew Jackson (1767-1845), seventh U.S. president, said, “The Bible is the rock on which our republic rests.”
Abraham Lincoln (1809-1865), 16th U.S. president, stated: “I believe the Bible is the best book God has ever given to man. All the good from the Savior of the world is communicated to us through this book.”
Woodrow Wilson (1856-1924), 28th U.S. president, stated: “I have a very simple thing to ask of you. I ask every man and woman in this audience that from this day on they will realize that part of the destiny of America lies in their daily perusal of this great Book [the Bible].”
Harry Truman (1884-1972), 33rd U.S. president, said, “The fundamental basis of this nation’s law was given to Moses on the Mount. The fundamental basis of our Bill of Rights comes from the teaching we get from Exodus and St. Matthew, from Isaiah and St. Paul. I don’t think we emphasize that enough these days.”
Queen Elizabeth (1926 – ), Queen of England said, “To what greater inspiration and counsel can we turn than to the imperishable truth to be found in this treasure house, the Bible?”
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919), 26th President of the United States said, “It is necessary for the welfare of the nation that men’s lives be based on the principles of the Bible. No man, educated or uneducated, can afford to be ignorant of the Bible.”
Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885), 18th President of the United States said, “Hold fast to the Bible. To the influence of this Book we are indebted for the progress made to civilization and to this we must look as our guide in the future.”
Robert E. Lee (1807-1870), General of the Confederate Army said, “There are things in the old Book which I may not be able to explain, but I fully accept it as the infallible Word of God, and receive its teachings as inspired by the Holy Spirit.”
Convinced? If Grant and Lee can agree on the importance and provenance of the Bible, maybe there is something to it.
The question was: What does the Bible say about body art? Not a lot, but to the point (pun intended):
“Ye shall not make any cutting in your flesh for the dead, nor print (tattoo) any marks upon you: I [am] the Lord.” Leviticus 19:28, King James translation throughout
“They shall not…make any cuttings in their flesh.” Leviticus 21:5
“Ye [are] children of the Lord your God; ye shall not cut yourselves…” Deuteronomy 14:1
Repetition is the best form of emphasis, so, you may take this for what it is worth; while you’re thinking about this you might look up a few references to other social quirks, like gender roles, pacifism and greed.
On a lighter note: The decline of sane social norms can also be tracked in hair styles. Compare these looks:
Another fashion trend that speaks volumes for the end of civilization as we know it is the really attractive practice of revealing your underwear in your effort to summit the height of haute couture.
I checked out at the grocery store the other day and was looking both ways to decide where to exit the store: To the left a woman walked away displaying her bra straps badly aligned with the spaghetti straps holding up her top; to the right a woman one-upped her by leaving her bra straps “neat” with no other distractions on her shoulders from the halter top she was wearing.
In line at the post office yesterday a young “man” was attired in the pants du jour that look like they were tailored by Omar the Tent Maker.
Trying to discern his legs in the swathe of fabric, I suddenly realized there was a strategically ripped section in the right buttocks region allowing me full view of his red-patterned underwear. Oh joy. Could have been worse, I guess…could have been blossoming out of the waist band of his “pants.”
I’ve wondered why these fashionistas never choose to wear briefs: always boxers. Huh.
And what did we do ten years ago to keep up with the world before we had the ability to check Facebook and email and texts while staring at iPhones on the job or walking across the street blind to oncoming traffic? I mean, having to wait for the evening news and pushing the play button on the answering machine when we get home is so 2003! Talk about not being able to swing a dead cat! Have you looked up from YOUR iPhone recently to see all the lonely people living their lives in the cloud? Eating at a restaurant with a friend who’s staring at the little screen? Standing on the curb surfing the net until someone yells your name to open the car trunk to put in the packages? Walking across the street oblivious to traffic while catching up on the latest posts? Drifting into oncoming traffic while updating your status? Checking Tweets while talking on the phone while smoking a cigarette while riding a bicycle?
All of this brings to mind Mike Judge’s prescient if ridiculous 2006 film “Idiocracy:” Everybody has a tattoo. The Congress is full of rude self-servants. Pro wrestler politicians are idolized. Internet search engines are porn hubs. Restaurants really let you have it “your way.” Corporate sponsorship is ubiquitous. Smoking is cool. New cars have one button (“Go”) to start the engine . And everyone has devolved to the level of stupid half-wits bent on gratifying their basest desires: food and sex.
Food and sex.