Last month James Benjamin was invited to participate in a debate on an internet talk show. Unfortunately, he could not accommodate the time schedule so I had to stand in and take his place. The topic of the debate was whether it was right to prohibit George Carlin’s 7 famous words from being broadcast over the airwaves. Quite candidly, I could recite off the top of my head about 5 of those words, but would never want to take a test on what all 7 are.
What those words are is irrelevant to the discussion. What is more relevant is the debate. First of all, I will confess that prior to the debate starting, the host/moderator/person I was debating, set the ground rules. If I wished to take part in the debate, although this was over the internet and the FCC rules do not apply, I would be bound by my word not to utter those 7 words. I reluctantly agreed to those terms, feeling that it was an infringement on my right to speech, but since I had no intention of using words of that nature, it really didn’t matter to me. I must confess that those that know me will attest that I rarely use words that would offend anybody, as that is simply the way I was brought up.
My opponent began the debate with branding me a civil libertarian. Although I do not take offense with that term, I corrected him and explained that I do not like brands of any nature and that I have independent thought on all issues. It truly was insignificant, but as far as debates go, it was significant in that I would not allow him to brand me, rather I would brand myself as to what I am.
When we started he took the position that the Government had the right to dictate what words were appropriate over the airwaves, meaning radio and television, excluding cable t.v. and cable radio or the like. His basis was that somehow these 7 words were offensive in and of themselves and that the Government not only had a right, but a duty to protect us from hearing them.
Of course I, coming from the school of words are just words and that even the most offensive of those words have the right to be spoken, took issue with his statement. My position simply was that many of these words are words that I don’t wish to hear. But it is not the Government to tell someone that they cannot speak them to me and of course, it is not the Government’s right to tell me, or anyone else, that they cannot hear them. Rather, my view was one that set his free market approach to life back. It was my belief that the market should dictate what should and what should not be said and to whom and to whom not.
I espoused the belief that the Government should be out of the debate. If television shows or radio shows were too offensive then people would not watch them. If radio shows or television shows used language that people did not approve of, then sponsors would not sponsor the shows. If the shows were too offensive then the broadcast networks themselves or the cable networks that carried those shows would stop carrying them or put them on at a time when children could not hear. In essence, the people would be doing self-censorship and not the Government. Certainly, a private citizen has the right to censor what they hear, what they say or what they will support in the marketplace.
Somehow after that he moved the topic of the debate to programs such as Family Guy and how these programs are destroying American society. He blamed these programs for the downfall of our culture and of course hearkened back to the good old days of the 50’s. To him, somehow the world went wrong starting in the 60’s.
To him, those were the golden years. You know, the years when you watched television and the father sat around wearing a suit until it was bedtime. Where beds were separated by the night stand with the mother in one bed and the father in the other. The same era when America was totally white and the only black person to appear on a television program was in a menial role, but always had that smile.
I had to explain to him that for what he thought was the good old days and when America was the way it should be, it was not necessarily the good old days for all. During those good old days there was segregation, there certainly wasn’t equal pay, minorities were kept down and those happy times were not happy for all. Although in a debate no one on the other side ever says, you know, I think you are right, I think he might have just thought that I was.
As I said, I believe in self-censorship and there can be no greater example of self-censorship than the almost uniform falling in line by all the media that the word “nigger” should not be put in print, should not be uttered over the airwaves and should be replaced by “the n word”. I said almost universal acceptance as obviously I have violated this rule by putting the word in this article. In the same way that the “n word” now replaces what to most is a vulgar word, so could and so should media, if they chose, not utter and not write any word for the multitude of reasons mentioned above.
Yet, to be candid, I have heard from numerous talk show hosts, both in the mainstream news and on sports talk since the Riley Cooper incident, bring forth the notion that the “n word” is somehow the most offensive of all words that can be spoken. Any disagreement with that concept seems to be ridiculed with “you don’t understand”.
During some of these talk shows, some try to say that equally as bad are the terms referring to people who are gay as being “fags” or “queer”. I, being of Jewish descent, would want to throw “kike” into the fray. I believe some of my Italian friends may take issue with “wop” and “guinea”. That is not to say that I wish to leave out the “spicks” or the “micks”.
In essence, there are slang words that offend all of us. Who says them and how they are said seems to be a great determinative of how offensive they are and how offended we should be. Elevating one word to be more offensive than the rest somehow seems to me to be discriminatory in and of itself.
I don’t use any of the words in my daily life and although I’m not going to say that none of those words have ever not crossed my lips, I do find them offensive. Yet they are just words. And yes, sometimes these words are used to show hatred or dislike or contempt.
Before we get too politically correct in this country or maybe we already have, it needs to be pointed out that people do have the right to hate other people. People do have the right to dislike other people. People do have the right to look down upon other people. My partner and I have represented the Ku Klux Klan and the Nazi party. Obviously, we do not agree with them and actually hate what they stand for. But we have represented them in their right to speak the way they wish to speak and to disseminate their message. In that same vain I will always maintain that anyone has the right to use George Carlin’s 7 dirty words and for Reilly Cooper to utter “the n word”. It just will be up to me to block them out, turn them off, and hope the rest of America employs the same free market censorship.