I would never say this in mixed company

September 9, 2011

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Note: This post contains profanity. If that offends you, get the f**k over it already. And, also, sorry; I'm not trying deliberately to offend anyone.

Earlier tonight, Kathy and I were watching The Daily Show, and Jon Stewart had on guest Marion Cotillard, which right there led to a moment between me and my wife:

Me: "Oh, man, who the hell is that chick? She looks so familiar."

She: "Really? You say that every time! She's from 'Inception' and that movie with Johnny Depp!" (Public Enemies)

Me: "Oh, yeah, that's right! Duh!"

Now, for the record, I'm quite sure that "every time" was at most only ONE other time. If it had happened more than once, I'd have remembered, but Kathy just gave me one of those looks as if I had been forgetting this actress' name 100 times over the past 10 years, which I assure you was NOT the case. I firmed up my knowledge of the actress later. (*)

Anyway. Getting back to my point here.

At some point in the interview, Jon Stewart said "asshole," which was bleeped as "ass****," naturally.

Then Marion Cotillard, in her response to whatever the question was, also said "ass****."

"Why did they just bleep her?" Kathy asked. "They didn't bleep him."

"Yes, they did," I said. "You just didn't hear it. Bleeping has become so invisible that you don't even notice it anymore." Which is true. I was proven right moments later when Stewart than said "ass****" and was bleeped.

I then went on to talk about the whole bleeping thing, especially as it pertains to cable channels like Comedy Central, where bleeping is completely optional (they are not subject to FCC rules about "indecency"). Cable channels make up their own rules as they see fit when it comes to what to bleep and when — known as "standards and practices," and it's often explained away as a matter of not offending their advertisers. Which, let's be frank, is bullshit. The advertisers' notion of where the line is drawn does not track with the commonly held idea of what is an HBO-permissible word versus what is a word allowed on Comedy Central or TNT. It's just completely silly and arbitrary — and totally inconsistent.

"You know, this would make a perfect blog entry. I could do 500 words on this easy," I told Kathy. (***)

Kathy rolled her eyes at me.

So this is me making good on that notion. The fact is, I simultaneously completely understand and totally reject this whole notion of profanity and what can and can't be said on cable TV and online at a given moment. And yet, at the same time, I have completely paid attention to it for years on the basis of trying to reconcile the conflicts and figure out what rules get applied when.

For a network like Comedy Central, I don't understand what the rules are supposed to be, because in practice they're arbitrary and absolutely and completely inconsistent. For example, on South Park, they can say "shit," "goddammit," and "asshole" as often as they want, all of which get bleeped on The Daily Show a full hour later (except when they don't; see below). BUT for years they couldn't say "shit" on South Park (until Parker/Stone lobbied the network to just drop the charade). The network before that only let them say "shit" in special situations — apparently where the "plot" demanded it (specifically, there was the episode where they said "shit" some hundred-and-something times on South Park as a parody of that one time "shit" actually was said on a network prime-time show — Cop Drama in the South park parody; I believe it was actually Chicago Hope in the real life network TV world).

Anyway. It boggles my mind that Jon Stewart has to be bleeped at his hour. Conan O'Brien is allowed to say "shit" on TBS, but Stewart still gets bleeped — EXCEPT WHEN HE DOESN'T. There was a sketch several weeks back where "bullshit" was a centerpiece of the gag and they apparently got special "permission" to use the word repeatedly through the episode. And yet, after that episode aired, the rules reverted to their usual bleeping practice, where "shit" became "s**t."

And that brings me to my other point. The profanity as bleeped leaves absolutely nothing to the imagination. You know EXACTLY what was said and your brain fills it in — to the point one thinks it was actually said, as my wife thought, which is what prompted this whole posting in the first place.

So why bleep it at all? That's the question.

When it comes to cable networks who do it solely for arbitrary "standards and practices" — except, of course, when they choose to ignore those standards and practices — I don't understand who they are bleeping it for. Clearly not the viewers, who all know what's being said and probably don't even notice it anymore. We fill in the blanks automatically.

Is it for the advertisers? If so, then I don't get it. Why is it any other variation of explicit adult content or violence or sex or other boundary-pushing depravity is okay, but the line gets drawn at the word "fuck"?

And why the bleeps during hours that are already defined as late-night?

There's a part of me that wonders if it's just some strange sense of decorum or courtesy or politeness, however thinly veiled. The simple fact is that in order to try not offend others, I also have censored myself in writing in ways that make it clear what the profanity SHOULD be without using the actual profanity. Instead of saying "fuck," I'll actually write "f*ck" or "f**k" or "f***."

And somehow, when I look at it, it seems less severe and more polite. (Go back to the very first sentence of this post. That was slightly disarming compared to if I had not left out the asterisks, no?) I've found that those people that I'm mostly but not completely comfortable with (or not sure what their tolerance is on profanity), I'll feel more okay to use profanity with one, two, or more letters blocked out with asterisks — as if to test the waters. It's silly but it's true.

Somehow, for some strange reason, that lessens the severity, just as bleeping on TV apparently does, even though it's 100% obvious what the word being said is, because it's not being hidden from us at all.

Is this a situation where we're just hiding behind ourselves? I'm thinking so. Maybe we just need to get over it all. So much of people taking offense over anything is done under the notion of: I'm not personally offended; I'm offended on behalf of some other hypothetical third party you should be looking out for — and because you're not, I have to!

* There comes an age at which point you (or, okay, I) will IMDB (**) any youngish-but-estimated-to-be-early-or-mid-or-even-late-30ish actor/actress who you (or, okay, I) think is around the age you (or, okay, I) are (am) — or, as it turns out in some cases, not — just to find out if they are older are younger than you (or, okay, me). Marion Cotillard turned out to be older than me by a little bit more than three months. Booyah! I'm still not as old as some youngish-looking people in Hollywood films! Take that, relevance meter!

** Yes, IMDB is a verb.

*** Turns out this ended up over 1,200 words. Brevity is for p***ies.

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16 comments on this post

    I always assumed that Stewart's show used the bleep as a way to emphasize the expletives, and that the whole thing is a way to poke fun at the broadcast rules.

    I always found the bleeps funnier. It's the audio equivalent of $#!+ isn't it? I read a lot of comics so seeing 'Mother #$%ing $%^ %^&&% hole #$%%" is just as funny as "Son of BLEEP BLEEPing BLEEP BLORP BLOOPer". It's the same way frack and frell and goit and gimboid and smeghead and nerfherder work. Robot Chicken bleeps all it's curses for broadcast and then removes it for DVD, but I feel like something's lost with that. It's very strange thinking about it though and it's that whole thing about what's acceptable and what's not which I guess is only based on what we've been programmed to think anyway. I just think bleeping is it's own trope/style now and that's not a bad thing, %^&&er $$%%er!
    *I'm turning 30 next year but i'm already older than superman and doctor who. well no ones 907 so whatever.

    I have tried to get my mom to watch the Daily Show but she doesn't like the profanity--even though it's bleeped. As you note, it is perfectly obvious what is being said.

    I don't get the Daily Show on TV so I watch it online--and the bleeps are still there. Which REALLY seems ridiculous.

    Even in the UK Comedy Central is beeped at all times. I can understand when Two and a Half Men is on at lunchtime as some of it can be more than I'd want my 7 year old girl to hear. That said she hears worse on the bus!
    It still gets bleeped at midnight though.
    Once past (what we call in the UK) the 9pm Watershed then nothing should be bleeped or censored (well within reason obviously) IMO. Just a notifcation at the begining that this program contains scenes of people having their heads kicked in, and may contain sexual swear words. Thats what the mainstream Channels (BBC/ITV/Channel 4) all do.

    I will always remember Ron Moore saying on a podcast how standards and practices at SciFi had set a limit on the number of pelvic thrusts that could be shown during a sex scene between Six and Baltar... it's like what the fuck 5 is okay but 6 isn't? Its beyond arbitrary its comically random.

    If you're old enough to know what they're doing you're old enough to know what happens at the end of the sixth stroke. ;o)

    The rules are completely arbitrary.

    That said, one reason the Daily Show may be bleeped is that it is rebroadcast in the mornings and evenings. 2 different versions might be more trouble than its worth. They could be worried that kids or adults who watch the early version will set their DVRs to the uncensored version and be unhappy with the result.

    The arbitrary rules thing just generally irks me, but sometimes when someone like you posts something with asterisks, it amuses me to read the resulting word minus asterisks. Like this:

    "*** Turns out this ended up over 1,200 words. Brevity is for p***ies."

    Brevity is for pies? Why yes, you're absolutely right!

    I know I'm weird.

    It's ture, the hamun mnid alyaws flils in the blnaks.

    For example, I'm at my parents and my father is watching Trailer Park Boys. Every second or third sentence contains beeped out profanity. Does the beeping make the show ok to watch in my mothers mind? Nope, not in the slightest.

    On a somewhat related note: I've always found it ridiculous that "crap" is acceptable on US network TV but "shit" isn't; same with "screw" vs "fuck". There's something insufferably prissy about this practice, especially since other than the perceived difference in how suitable the word is deemed the meaning is identical. Depending on the context, it can make a series feel decidedly phony for me if a character who wouldn't think twice about saying "shit" or "fuck" in real life goes all, "Ooh, can't use *that* word!"

    Yes. I actually have a new blog post in the works that should be up this week. Unfortunately, I've been neglecting this site the past few months.

    It was indeed Mark Harmon who said "shit" in a season 6 episode of Chicago Hope, back in 1999. 2 and a half years later, it was Anthony Edwards on ER, while dying of a brain tumor.

    I remember seeing Jurassic Park on TNT a few years back. Ian Malcolm used to describe the dinosaur poop as a "big pile of shit". TNT altered it to a "big pile of crap" (and I'm pretty sure it was still Jeff Goldblum's voice; meaning they recorded two versions on ADR!).

    I keep asking myself: what's the point?

    Bleeps can be funny when used on comedy, but otherwise feel pretty pointless. People can and should get over it. We're in 2012, not 1952.

    I was watching the great De Niro/Pesci movie Casino on TBS the other day (which I believe holds the record for most 'fucks' in a movie), and they actually censored Pesci calling De Niro a 'Jew motherfucker' to a 'Jew money-lover.' I'm not Jewish, and I'm never offended by profanity, but this struck me as absolutely absurd. You're censoring a common curse word for a bigoted statement? Really?

    Anyway, a few years back at 1am or something, Comedy Central aired the entire South Park movie unedited, complete with the Uncle Fucker song. So obviously they *can* say curse words, they just choose not to.

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