For more articles about the influence of entertainment, see the PTC’s new TV Trends column.
Hollywood’s Use of Language: From Class to Crass
actors and actresses were appreciative of the adulation given them by
their fans and used their fame responsibly. This sense of responsibility
was demonstrated by the way in which such celebrities used to respect
their audience, by comporting themselves (at least in public) with
dignity, and refraining from profane or indecent speech.
are long past – as the actions of current celebrities demonstrate.
receiving an award for her cable reality show My Life
on the D-List at the Emmy Creative Arts Awards on September 8th,
comedienne Kathy Griffin said, "A lot of people come up here and thank
Jesus for this award. I want you to know that no one had less to do with
this award than Jesus. This award is my god now. Suck it, Jesus!"
And at the September 16th broadcast of the full Emmy Awards
ceremony, there were several more instances of indecent language used by
award recipients. While accepting a Best
Actress Academy Award Sally Field said, "Let's face it, if the mothers
ruled the world, there would be no [bleeped ‘g*ddamn’] wars in the first
place." Offstage later, she added, “I would have liked to have said more
bleeped-out words." Actress Katherine Heigl, upon hearing of her victory
in the Best Supporting Actress category could be seen exclaiming,
“s**t!”, and while accepting the award continued in the same vein, “"My
own mother told me I didn't have a shot in hell of winning tonight…I
started when I was a kid but I count it because I worked my ass off.”
Ray Romano crassly joked about his former Everybody Loves Raymond
co-star Patricia Heaton “f***ing” her current Back To You co-star
Kelsey Grammer (the network censors edited this obscenity from the
Objecting to these actors’ use of foul language should
not be considered a condemnation of Ms. Field’s or Ms. Griffin’s
specific views on politics or religion. Celebrities, like everyone else,
are entitled to their opinions; and many actors and celebrities have
used the opportunity presented by awards programs to give voice their
political beliefs. The recent awards programs were far from the first
time controversial statements were made by entertainment award
recipients: in 1974, Marlon Brando refused accept his Oscar for The
Godfather, instead sending in his place a woman in Native American
garb as a protest against Hollywood's use of Native Americans in film.
Vanessa Redgrave, after receiving a 1977 Academy Award for Best
Supporting Actress for the movie Julia, condemned the Jewish
Defense League as “a small bunch of Zionist hoodlums.” And in 1993,
Richard Gere used his platform as an Oscar presenter to protest China's
policies in Tibet.
However, while in each of the above-cited cases rhetoric
might have been heated, the individuals involved maintained some sense
of decency and decorum. Such an example can even be found at the recent
Emmys: David Chase, producer of The Sopranos, took the
opportunity of his award acceptance speech to slyly criticize the
current administration, saying, “Let's face it, if the world and
this nation was run by gangsters - maybe it is." Chase
made his point effectively without spewing profanities at his audience.
Chase’s action, as well as those of past celebrities, proves that it is
unnecessary for actors to fill their speeches with four-letter words.
Surely individuals as experienced as Sally Field and witty as Kathy
Griffin could have found a way to make their points without using
Unfortunately, the use of
such foul language by these celebrities is merely another example of a
trend which has been gaining in strength for several years. In 2003, U2
singer Bono called his Golden Globe award "f---ing brilliant" onstage.
Later that year, Nicole Richie used the same word while presenting at
the Billboard Music Awards. At
last year’s Emmys, Helen Mirren and Calista Flockhart used the phrase
“tits over ass,” which phrase aired unedited both times during the NBC
Network broadcast of the Emmys.
“Disinhibited vocabulary is now the normal way people talk on cable TV,
such as on The Sopranos or in stand-up comedy…Intense language
like this used to be confined to construction sites and corner bars. Now
it is normal discourse.” -- cultural commentator Daniel Henninger (Wall
Street Journal, April 21, 2006)
In today’s world, indecent speech is increasingly
prevalent and Americans are bombarded
with profanity more than ever. Nearly three-quarters of Americans said
they frequently or occasionally hear profanity in public, according to
an AP-Ipsos poll. Moreover, two-thirds of poll respondents believed that
people swear more now than they did 20 years ago.
Depressingly, younger people said they use bad language more often than
older people, and are less bothered by it. In the same poll, 62 percent
of 18- to 34-year-olds admitted to swearing in conversation multiple
times weekly, contrasted with only 39 percent of those 35 and older.
Like it or not, children do imitate what they see on television.
Many teens look up to actors and actresses and aspire to be like them.
And everyone, of every age, is to some degree influenced by what they
see and hear. If bad language is what is being heard in entertainment,
is it any wonder that it is being heard more often in public?
past, it was understood that the use of profanity is a demonstration of
incivility and disrespect towards others, and its usage by an individual
was taken to imply a lack of maturity and intelligence. Their present
behavior implies that today’s celebrities actually want to be
perceived as being crass, ignorant, rude and disdainful of their
audience. This is a pose detrimental not only to the actors themselves,
but also to the cause of civility and decent discourse in public life.
But there is
apparently a mentality shared by Hollywood and media journalists alike
which positively revels in profanity. When the
Academy of Television Arts & Sciences decided to edit out portions of
Griffin’s acceptance speech it was roundly condemned in the press. And
when it interrupted sound and picture during the swearing at the Emmys,
instead of being congratulated for
exercising both civic responsibility and an awareness of the content of
broadcast indecency law, Fox was predictably criticized for infringing
on Field’s freedom of speech. Some critics even went so far as to
attribute Fox’s (admittedly unusual) exercise of good taste as an overt
conspiracy motivated right-wing politics.
decorum and dignity cannot be bought. It is tragically disillusioning
that, while spending literally millions of dollars on dresses, jewelry
and makeup, today’s actresses choose to swear like longshoremen. It is
impossible to imagine classically feminine stars like Audrey Hepburn,
Ingrid Bergman or Julie Andrews peppering their speech with profanity.
Even exemplars of rugged manliness like John Wayne or Robert Mitchum did
not consider cursing a live audience at an awards show as something
appropriate -- a position unfortunately not emulated by more recent male
stars. Is it so much to ask that today’s celebrities comport themselves
with some degree of dignity – particularly on an occasion as auspicious
as that of being recognized by their peers and fans for their excellence
at their craft on national television?
of such “disinhibited” vocabulary is being promoted as both “authentic”
and even “artistic,” not only among trendy celebrities but even makers
of serious documentaries…as will be discussed in the next Culture Watch.
“The question really boils down to manners - being considerate
of others. The simplest rule might go like this: If a word describes
something one typically addresses in private - that would usually
include the bedroom and bathroom - then it should be used only in
private. How hard is that?” -- columnist Kathleen Parker (Washington
Times, September 7, 2006)
Caroline Schulenburg contributed to this