By Steve Stajich
Concern about the decay of civility and decorum are cyclical, coming with each new seeming violation of propriety, etiquette, and taste. Sometimes a quaint souvenir of past struggles remains, such as parental warning labels on CD’s containing harsh language or TV ratings meant to guide the selection of viewing in the home. Here in L.A. where movies are created to be ingested all over the world, there’s a group of people that sits in a dark room and somehow determines whether violence or sex should impact a rating.
Have any of these lasting impacts actually turned the tide on public coarseness? I suppose the place to start on that would be the widely accepted premise that “R” and tougher ratings on movies only make potential audiences more curious and eager to view a film just as the warning labels on the content of rap CD’s only verified to young buyers that certain CD’s were “the s…t” and a must-have item.
In the current moment we’ve seen Anthony Scaramucci come and go with the speed of a bullet train and the general consensus is that his profanity-laced comments worked against him.
Yet there are some who still tend to believe that profanity somehow brings with it a kind of welcome candor and perhaps even some level of credibility… even if that level is the street. Certainly, in films about gangsters and thugs, actors often appear to believe that you don’t really mean to kill somebody unless you “f…..g” mean to kill somebody.
Scaramucci’s quick departure wasn’t signaled by a public outcry. If a serious public outcry could really change anything in government right now, we’d already have better gun legislation and likely still be part of the Paris Accord on global warming. What I think caused the disturbingly chaotic White House to act swiftly on Scaramucci was that his deployment of f-bombs and references to fellatio made him look like a “bad hire”; another unqualified dope under the roof of the White House.
It’s been at the least interesting to note that women close to Trump were put-off by Scaramucci’s colorful language, having more to say about that than the President’s own remarks about assaulting women. Those remarks made a significant contribution to the lowering of American decorum by instantly legitimizing the use of a vulgar term for female genitalia that had previously enjoyed at least a little suppression in public dialogue. And a new type of hat was born.
Let’s separate apples and oranges: What’s keeping us up at night about the mediocrity of federal government since November isn’t that there’s been more vulgar language. But there is a relationship, in that before electing “the grabber” we generally associated low language and vulgarity with a lack of intelligence. Scaramucci could clearly hold his own with, say, New York cab drivers. Is that what we wanted in a White House communications chief? In our President?
Jumping into my hot tub time machine, I can remember when it was a big deal that folk rock musician Country Joe would lead his audiences in something called “The Fish Cheer” just before singing a song that made black satire out of young men dying in Vietnam. Then George Carlin gently pointed out that there were seven dirty words you couldn’t use on TV or radio, and because many of my generation felt the Vietnam War constituted an obscenity of a larger and deeper sort… the green flag may have been waved for the deployment of vulgarity when something is really wrong.
View the signage at any march against the current President and you can see boomer-age participants – many of whom hold degrees in English and history – reducing their political frustrations to a simple “F Trump.” After staring at their blank placard for hours the night before, this two-word message provided the completeness and clarity they wanted to express.
But where do you go after “going” there? If you say “F Trump,” then what are your reactions to something like video of dead children in Syria? Police killings? The destruction of our climate? F all of it? Now that I have your emotional take, what are your suggestions for fixing these things? It seems clear to me that in talking about repairs and healing, we’re going to have to reach back for some solid old-school decorum. Meanwhile, how stunning it would be if someone new hired for the White House communications team could be more articulate and – fingers crossed – not as big a liar as the people we’ve had to listen to for the last seven months.
Right now there may never be a sense of propriety emanating directly out of the Oval Office, but could there at least be some decorum in the press room? Even if they don’t care that the administration’s vulgarity is lowering us all in the eyes of the world, they should at least keep in mind that children are listening as well.