OPINION: Bill Cosby’s right: Let’s tone down profanity

December 2, 2013 Brooklyn Daily Eagle Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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On a recent episode of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Bill Cosby surprised host Stewart, known for using four-letter words (which are bleeped out), by asking him to curb his use of profanity. He mentioned that when he was young, when someone said a four-letter word, it was usually a prelude to a fight. Stewart, who was taken aback, asked whether Cosby and Richard Pryor hadn’t used four-letter words on stage when they were starting out. Cosby said no, because there were always cops around.

I plead guilty to using the “f-word” (usually when I’m angry). But many people use it to describe almost anything and everything, as an adjective, adverb, noun and verb. While it is surely one of the oldest words in the English language, its use in show business (with a few exceptions, such as the odd 1938 recording of “Old Man Mose” by the Eddie Duchin Orchestra) was pioneered by comedian Lenny Bruce in the 1960s. Bruce was a comic genius, and his intentions were certainly commendable: he wanted to do away with hypocrisy and portray daily life honestly.
But in doing so, Bruce opened a can of worms. What he was doing went way over most people’s heads. Profanity became a lazy way of getting cheap laughs. If you don’t believe me, go into any comedy club in the country. Bruce was about social commentary, but that social commentary has degenerated into the insulting shock humor of Howard Stern.

Fifty, 60 years ago, we were a nation of rules: open the door for a lady, don’t wear your hat indoors, get up from a subway seat to let an older person sit down, call an older person “sir.”  Those rules have disappeared. Again, in an effort to do away with hypocrisy, the hippies of the 1960s sought to do abolish the old rules. They thought they would replace the authoritarian society of the 1950s with one based on communal values, but that never happened. Instead, what eventually replaced it was one of extreme individualism, of sneering at others who are less successful. The hippies believed in free sexuality as an expression of honesty, but what we have today is free sexuality as a way to sell cars or soft drinks. I certainly don’t want to go back to the society of the 1950s, when James Joyce was banned. But someone like Miley Cyrus is no James Joyce.

Some people might say, “Why don’t you criticize the real problems of society, rather than someone dancing naked on stage?” But to me, these problems are part of the same bag.

On one side of the coin, we have corruption in government, cheating on Wall Street, huge corporations like Walmart paying subsistence wages, politicians refusing to cooperate with their colleagues across the aisle, manufacturers shipping what had been American jobs overseas, people not caring about the homeless and the poor.

On the other, we have movie stars gyrating like only porn stars did a few decades ago, violent gangster rap, a record number of divorces, a record number of children being born out of wedlock, kids disrespecting teachers, and, yes, the constant use of four-letter words in public.

Yes, these are two sides of the same coin. And that coin is the degeneration of American society into one ruled completely by self-gratification and selfishness.

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