In 1972, comedian George Carlin released the monologue, Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television on his album Class Clown. In 1973, some of those words even made it onto the radio airwaves when WBAI-FM broadcast, uncensored, another Carlin monologue containing the same profanity.
My parents wouldn’t even let me watch M*A*S*H or All in the Family much less listen to Carlin, but that never stopped a preteen who was determined to hear what all the fuss was about. The problem was I had the kind of mother who always had the uncanny knack of knowing when my Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition was going to arrive and intercepting it before I could get home from school, so coming by critical information in those days wasn’t easy.
Enter my friend Rusty from church (where else?). Rusty was a “man of the world” who had seen and heard a thing or two in his time and he was the go-to guy in such situations. One day after his parents had left us alone while running an errand, Rusty invited me up to his room to listen to a copy of Carlin’s monologue which he kept cleverly hidden in a John Denver album cover. Needless to say, my ears fairly tingled as they were opened to a new level of vocabulary that I’d never been exposed to in my elementary school classroom.
But the elementary school playground was another story. Indeed, by the mid-70s Carlin’s act was being mimicked around tether ball poles and on basketball courts across this great land. On September 10, 1974, I had heard enough, and as is evident from this entry in my 7th grade journal, I was “madder than #$%&*^@ and I wasn’t going to take it anymore:”
I seem to have got hooked on stuff that bugs me (ed: no kidding). But this time it is more serious (ed: uh oh). At Burnt Chimney we seem to have a problem with cursing by boys and girls. This may sound corny but some people don’t take those into consideration who don’t want to hear it. But sometimes the reasons are so DUMB that it’s pitiful. Like in a game or something I’ve noticed people get mad and blow their heads off when it’s just a game. Sure I’ve slipped sometimes probably most everybody has but I don’t think I’m that bad. If people would just think before or even after they say something maybe they could break themselves of the habit.
One thing that leaps out from this entry is my concern in letting my teacher know that those “sugar and spice” girls were letting loose with a few choice ones too. After all, they had “come a long way, baby” and nobody was going to deny them their rights to cuss like a guy. This really bugged me, and as you’ll see from later entries in forthcoming installments, I had a few opinions on the Women’s Liberation Movement and its effects on Ms. Fine’s classroom at Burnt Chimney Elementary School in Wirtz, Virginia.
Notice too that I don’t let myself off the hook. However, I was probably referring to “minced oaths” such as “heck,” “gosh,” “dagnabbit” and “shoot” which were the Church of Christ equivalent of living on the edge in those days.
The end result of the Carlin incident was that the Supreme Court upheld the FCC’s general guidelines for regulation of certain “dirty words” that couldn’t be broadcast during times when children were expected to be awake (6 AM to 10 PM). Of course, this hasn’t stopped cable television from ratcheting up both the quantity and quality of profanity at all hours, and even a couple of words on Carlin’s list routinely make their way into network primetime broadcasts these days.
Now I’m certainly no prude, and I still slip up every now and then, especially when some ^8+$@# jerk cuts me off on the morning drive to work. But I pretty much stand by the words I wrote in 1974–if only people would think. Unfortunately, there’s not a whole lot of that going on these days. Why go to all that trouble when you can just spew forth from the gut all your bile for the world to hear?
I just have one question: where’s John Denver when you need him?