Censorship only enhances profanity’s appeal

Jeff McFarland

A few nights ago, while I was avoiding my academic responsibilities like the plague, I decided to mull about on Netflix to see if I couldn’t find something that would provide adequate background noise to the work I was supposed to be doing. After deciding on a comedy special from Craig Ferguson (God bless the Scottish), I settled in to do my homework, and watched the entire special without writing a single word. Though my assignment remained unfinished, I did, however, learn something in my hour and a half devoid of work. See, I had seen this particular routine once before on TV, and between the two times I had seen it, there was one major difference; the first time, it had been censored. And, as strange as this sounds, it was more funny to me when all the swear words were replaced with obnoxious bleeps. Though this seems like the exact opposite of what you would expect, the more I thought about it, the more it made perfect sense.

Censorship at its very core is something designed to obscure that which is deemed “explicit”, but instead of hiding away the offensive, it has the exact opposite effect. When words are noticeably missing from a song or a good chunk of a movie is absent from its television debut, our curiosity is piqued; why is this? Simple – it’s in human nature to seek out the forbidden. It’s practically a law of nature that, when told not to do something, we do exactly that; this is a truth reflected in all forms of entertainment. In the 90s, albums with the infamous “Parental Advisory” sticker on them sold more than their edited counterparts. Ratings systems for video games and movies are little more than bad jokes in modern-day society. As of today, we’re hot off the heels of a week where we deliberately celebrate and read books that are banned, and whether you’re a fan or not, works like “Fifty Shades of Grey” are undeniably popular.

Common sense dictates that replacing a swear word with an inexplicably loud beep is a terrible way to try and detract attention from it. The same can be said about putting a sign on a CD that essentially says “Naughty Words Inside!” If we really wanted to take the power out of these “bad” words or “inappropriate” scenes, we would lay all the cards out on the table. As shocking as that sounds, stop and think about it. How can Bill Clinton be considered one of the most popular presidents of the past 20 years after being impeached for sexual deviance? Why is Howard Stern, one of the most hated disc jockeys of all time, also one of the most loved? By yanking all of the skeletons out of the closet and putting them up on display, they’re no longer a taboo. They lose the “wow” factor, and fade into obscurity.

Maybe this is just the foul-mouth in me talking, but there’s a point where things stop being offensive and start becoming commonplace. Obviously I’m not saying we should include the seven words that can’t be said on television in every elementary curriculum, but if we stop listening to those who try and tell us what is shocking, not only are we allowed to stop and ask ourselves what we think is offensive, but we can stop pretending to be mortified whenever someone speaks like an actual person.

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