Remember the first time you used a swear word? I do. I was in the fifth grade—embarrassingly late in the game, especially by today’s standards. My best friends were a set of identical twins whose parents were very permissive in their viewing standards, buying them graphically violent video games and R-rated scary movies. I credit these twins fully for the expansion of my obscene vocabulary. Sleepover parties at their house generally made me feel an odd combination of devilish excitement, fright and guilt. My own parents’ media restrictions were much more in line with the Classification and Rating Administration’s guidelines—they drew a hard line for PG-13 movies at my first teenage birthday. When my little sister spilled the beans about my viewing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show, our parents promptly set a two-month ban on overnight stays at the twins’ house. This ban naturally served to intensify my craving for their corrupting company and, therein, my craving for explicit, forbidden materials. Fortunately for my parents (and, admittedly, for me) separate high schools set me firmly back along the straight and narrow.
I have often wondered, in hindsight, what would have happened if my parents had not levied such exacting restrictions on my media exposure. (MTV and VH1 were off-limits, too—even in high school.) True, the insecurity of adolescence makes one very vulnerable to the lure of ‘cool’ explicit materials. But the line of demarcation seems most effective, to me, when it its parameters are gauged by the individual in question, rather than set hard and fast for a collective group. The Classification and Rating Administration guidelines are called ‘guidelines’ for a reason. In my experience, unyielding strictness has the subversive potential to seem arbitrary and unfair, encouraging exposure to profanity by heightening desire for it.I think it is important for the Media Bureau of the FCC to be sensitive to its potential to exacerbate the problem of profanity by enforcing limiting legislation. Although I do not find it particularly pleasant to be confronted with the F-bomb while viewing an awards ceremony, I would rather hear it than hear about it being restricted by the government. I agree with the FCC’s decision to forgive Bono’s comment, but think that they are operating by a double standard in restricting the context to use as a modifier only, not a verb. To me, taboo words in all their forms and contexts should fall under individual discretion anywhere they are used, because the incendiary, emotionally troubling nature of these words does not change their classification as words. I see the potential consequences of their effect being dulled by overuse as similar to the effects of eating PB&J for lunch every day. Some individuals would tire of it quickly and switch to a different sandwich, whereas others’ taste for them is more resistant, allowing them to continue this indulgence unremittingly. Others are allergic to peanut butter, just like some people take extreme offense to hearing prolific language. The degree of sensitivity to others’ allergies we operate by when eating a PB&J in public, just like the degree to which we restrict the use of colorful language in our own speech, is up to us. In the grander scheme of things, consequential backlash by society to government restrictions on individual speech seem to blight concerns of prevented social ‘dangers’ that could come of that individual’s language, in a society that prides itself on free speech.