Sunday, April 20, 2014

In Defense of the F-Bomb

"Context is everything. Breastfeeding is beneficial to nearly all infants, but to an elderly cardiac patient it can be fatal..."-Spider Robinson

So Masai Ujiri, the general manager of the Toronto Raptors, said a word yesterday.

Actually, he said a whole bunch of them, but the world fixated on just one. That one word, which most of us first hear in kindergarten if not well before, set off a storm of controversy and could end up costing Ujiri significant coin.

"Who's all going to the game?". Ujiri asked a throng of Raptors fans as they partied outside the Air Canada Centre. And then, with his boss, Tim Leiweke right there, Ujiri yelled "FUCK BROOKLYN!"

And the crowd went wild...which is one of a few reasons Ujiri said what he did.

Make no mistake, this was calculated, the same way Justin Trudeau's use of the same word was calculated.

Swearing has several  mental,  physiological, and social  effects.. One, as anyone who has ever unexpectedly injured himself knows, is that it blunts pain. It's also a very effective form of non-violent retribution: swearing energetically at someone who has wronged you yields the same effects as punching him in the face, minus the assault charge.

In the link above we see this:

Swearing can be a way of showing that we really mean something or that it is really important to us. That's why swearing is so much a part of any sport. It also broadens our register and makes us more lively and interesting, being used, for example, to add emphasis or 'punch' to our speech.

That's what Ujiri was going for here. Whereas Trudeau's profanity was an example of

Peer and social bonding. Swearing can serve to show that we belong in a certain group, or that we are able to be ourselves and so wholly comfortable with the members of that group. If done correctly, it can also signal that we are open, honest, self-deprecating, easygoing, and barrel loads of fun.

Stephen Harper criticized Tradeau and said his words showed "a lack of judgment". Given the crowd's response to Trudeau's words was quite similar to the response Ujiri got, I'd suggest Trudeau's judgment was spot-on, and so was Ujiri's.

I would have been seven or so the time I got my mouth washed out with soap for telling a neighbour kid to fuck off, not knowing my mother was standing right behind me at the time. The taste of the soap almost made me say fuck again. (If you say fuck while getting your mouth washed out with soap for saying fuck, what's the punishment for that? Chocolate? Or Drano?)

Those who would suggest that swearing is proof of nothing more than a poor vocabulary should note that context is everything. There are times when swearing is wholly appropriate and even vital, and if you argue otherwise, the weight of history shows you're wrong. Swearing is not new. I bet Mr. Cro-Magnon had a grunted equivalent of "fuck" to employ when he cut himself on his flint. Pompeii had an awful lot of bawdy graffiti. And today, in some places, the word 'fucking' only serves as warning of an impending noun. One of those places, interestingly enough, is Brooklyn, New York.

Nor are our swear words universal, not by a long shot. Go across the pond and you'll learn very quickly not to flinch when you're called a 'feckin' cunt''s a term of endearment more often than not. (Whereas the word 'bloody'. which is on a par with 'darn' or 'heck' here, still has some power to shock.) There's also this common Middle Ages street name...people look at me with disbelief when I inform them that "the c-word" was once common and accepted. I tell you, swearing has a long and proud history and it's nothing to be ashamed of, used properly and in context.

If you think I'm building a defence for little kids to swear their fool heads off, you're reading me wrong and should start over. Context, context. Just as there are times when swearing is useful and appropriate, there are times when it certainly is not. Obscenities directed at an individual are not okay--I don't care if you're four or forty, calling someone a fucking idiot is fucking idiotic. Civility, which is a hallmark of civilization, means a civil tongue. I believe teaching kids not to swear is pointless (what kid ever heard 'don't do x' and never did x again? They told me my palms would grow hair. I figured that'd just  make it feel even better.) Teaching kids WHEN to swear, and when not to, is important.

Personally, I'm never offended by a cuss word in and of itself, although I've been very offended by its tone and intent. I don't think Ujiri's use of the "f-bomb" should be held against him.

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