I’m back, Faceless…well, sort of.
Some of you might recall that I lost a slew of posts in an unfortunate back-up incident about two years ago… I’ve learned quite a bit since then… it happens, I guess.
But imagine my surprise when I stumbled across a few raw versions of some of those lost entries! Made me happier than finding a $10 bill in an old suit jacket, let me tell ya. So I’ve dusted them off, given them some editing and updating, and will slip them back into your consciousness over time. Call it Throw-Back Tuesdays if you will; but minus the embarrassing picture of you in a cool-at-the-time denim jacket and a slightly-lopsided Kid ‘n Play fade. (Wait, perhaps that kind of thing only happens to me. Nevermind.)
F@&k This, Middleborough — July, 2012
There was a news story floating around about the town of Middleborough, Mass. a couple of weeks ago. There are plans in the works to amend an old by-law to fine citizens that swear in public. (I assume guests to the town of Middleborough would be no more exempt from this by-law than they would be from stealing a car, or defecating in the town’s water fountain. Trust me, that last one is NOT on the list of approved activities in many a small town. Don’t ask how I know this.)
This by-law has been on their books since 1968; but seeing how the law as written made any “…unreasonable noise or offensively coarse utterance, gesture or display…” an offense punishable by jail time, it wasn’t enforced. But it would seem that a recent rash of Potty-mouthedness among their citizens has prompted them to take measures to temper their tongues, opting to fine their profane asses $20 and force them to consider when cursing a blinder in public may be unacceptable.
It seems that we as a society have been grappling with this for as long as there has been a society to speak of. In the 1700s, George Washington made his troops go to church and forbade them from swearing; nearly every country has a profanity law of some sort which bans the gleeful utterance of fuckmonkey at the Dairy Queen at three in the afternoon on their books, some of which are actively enforced. A woman in Houston was fined a few years back for making an unauthorized F-Bomb delivery at a Wal-Mart; in Victoria, Australia, you can be fined $240 — and if the offense is serious enough, you could spend up to two years in prison. Here in Toronto, it is illegal to “…use profane, insulting or obscene language or gestures…” on the TTC (ironically, I’ve ridden many a streetcar on which it was clear that the driver was oblivious to this fact).
So. How do we go from a do what you like, say what you like freedom of speech cherishing society to this, you might be thinking? Our behaviour as a society has always been curbed and restricted in some fashion, be it by the church, the state, or otherwise. Granted, many of these actions are often triggered by some prudish that would be better off keeping their mouth shut; but the concept of legally enforced ‘morality’ isn’t a new thing. In fact, it might be more necessary than we think.
We’ve all been raised on a healthy diet of the Golden Rules—or depending on your religious leanings, the Ten Commandments (thou shalt not kill, thou shall not steal, thou shalt not shit in the water fountain in front of Town Hall)—which have formed the basis of modern civilized behaviour. But if I had to guess, there was a point in time that a King with a smoking hot Queen looked over at his growing mountain of loot and thought:
“Well, then. That asshole stable boy has made off with two good horses — and I’m not too fond of how some of my knights are eyeing my Lady. How do I keep these unwashed bastards out of my stables, my storehouses and my wife?
Wait, wait — I’ve got it! PAGE — where’s that damn page…there you are. Go fetch me that clergy… what? What’s a Clergy? Right, I haven’t invented one of those yet. We’re going to have to get on that, too. Alright then — go fetch me Frank. What will he do? His job is to be generally offended by EVERYTHING and to scare the bejesus of EVERYONE, and I think he’ll do just fine…”
And before you knew it, the promise of damnation and eternal torment, the occasional beheading and no Starbucks FOREVER became the penalty for barbarianism. The King could generally rest easy, knowing his stables would be full and his Queen should remain largely unsullied. There were a few other basic rules (there was something about coveting your neighbor’s fine ass in there, I’m sure of it); but if you adhered to the trio of “1. Don’t steal my shit, 2. Don’t fuck my wife, and 3. Don’t kill me in the commission of items One and Two”, you wouldn’t go to hell or lose your head. Simple. People’s behaviour was in need of some common sense guidelines, and the rulers of the time instituted the ‘fine’ of Hell and beheading for non-compliance.
Some folks have pronounced the entire thing unconstitutional, holding swear-ins and the like, as you knew would happen. “It’s my right to chant ‘motherfuckinggoddamnshitface’ at the top of my lungs at the WalMart.” And I don’t disagree with that, in principal. As unpleasant as it may be for some of us, they should be able to do as they please. They’re not hurting anyone, they’re not waving a bat or brandishing a gun (there’s some more irony, huh — a country that embraces firearms for every man, woman and child can’t get past a four letter word… That’s food for another rant)… they are using some words that you and I have the ability to tune out. If you don’t like it, don’t listen. I’ve dropped more than a few of those same choice words in this posting — quite intentionally, in fact. You’ve always had the choice to stop reading—and perhaps some of you have, which would be your right—because it is my right to say and do as I please. Right?
Let’s play with that concept of rights a bit further, then. You have the right to eat ripe Limburger cheese and onions in July on the train, turning the stomachs of everyone around you. Likewise, one of your co-workers has the right to heat up sardines in the office microwave, letting the stench waft mercilessly across your collective working spaces. And regardless of how hard I’ve looked (believe me, I’ve looked), Mr. Beans For Lunch has every right to strain and fart to the point of filling his pants on the crowded commuter train Monday evening, much to the chagrin of those of us trapped in the fiery blast from his innards. And yet, miraculously, most of us avoid exercising these rights on a regular basis, because to do anything but would be just plain ignorant.
Contrary to what’s quickly becoming popular belief, we do possess the ability to control ourselves; we have the ability to put limits on our own behaviour, to self-police when it is or is not appropriate to drop a profanity bomb. And while fines seem to be a slightly heavy-handed (dare say, unconstitutional) approach to the situation, maybe it was the best way the politico of Middleborough could come up with making their point; and to be clear, I highly doubt the sheriff is thrilled with the prospect of following people around, waiting for a rogue curse word to fly out of their mouths. Even in a town of 20,000, I’m sure he has better things to do with his time.
Don’t get me wrong: Live and Let Live, I say. If you’ve got your heart set on a course of action and it’s not an illegal act, fill your boots. But let’s be clear about what the assclowns crowded around Middleborough’s Town Hall, their signs of protest waving proudly in the air, are really pissed off about. Your protest isn’t about your constitutionally-protected right to say shit-turkey in public; it’s about being asked to exercise a little self-restraint and to show some respect for those around you — and you’re having a babypants tantrum, (not)cleverly masked in a civil rights argument. (Here’s a tip: if your behaviour is so bothersome, reprehensible or downright offensive that legal intervention is proposed to address it, then maybe you should have a listen.)
Those who know me (and anyone that has soldiered on through the Valley of Vulgarity I’ve just penned — thanks for hanging in there) are well aware of my fluency in the Profane Arts. One day, a WTF did she just say?! word flew out of one of my little darling’s mouths in the presence of grandparents, family friends, and the like. Fabulous. I pulled them aside and said “Watch your mouth.” When they replied “I’ve heard you say that before” as I knew they would, I pointed across the room at their grandmother, who was still trying to figure out how hard she’d have to throw her shoe to hit me from where she was sitting.
“Yes, I have”, I replied. “But how many times have you heard me say that in front of her? Know your audience.”
They thought about that, nodded and apologized, and walked back out to the room. I didn’t get struck with a shoe, and the problem was solved. Perhaps that’s what Middleborough was really trying to accomplish with all of this; it just wanted to teach its potty-mouthed little brat a lesson and the fine was the proverbial “soap”. Hopefully, they’ll have as much luck as I did.
But when all’s said and done, good residents of Middleborough, if one of the biggest issues you have as a community is Frankie Foul Mouth at the local grocery store, life is pretty fucking sweet.