This week's Encomiums and Deprecations is being interrupted by this rant. (It's about words, I promise.) This is only a rant. Your regularly scheduled enthusiastic praise and expressions of disapproval will resume next week. Note: This post contains language. The regular kind and the profane kind.
I was watching a DVRed episode of Law and Order: Special Victims Unit last night when I was reminded of something that's bothered me for a while. Some crime victim screamed and yelled and called another woman a bitch. Then I was watching a DVD of the X-Files today, and Agent John Doggett (Mulder's replacement and apparently reformed T-1000) called a suspect a son of a bitch.
Why is it that on network television, where all sorts of profanity are not allowed, that bitch is? Why is it not OK for Bono to say, "This is really, really, fucking brilliant. Really, really, great," or for the Philadelphia Phillies' Chase Utley to say "World champions. World fucking champions!" on TV, but calling a woman a bitch is?
Think about it. Literally, fuck means "to have sex." Bitch means "a female dog." But Bono and Utley weren't using fuck to mean "to have sex." The Phillies aren't the world champions of fucking. It doesn't mean anything in that context. It really doesn't. And it was on live TV. It wasn't even scripted. Forget about hearing that in a recorded TV show.
But calling someone (or their mother) a bitch? That means something. You're calling her a female dog. And it's usually scripted. Someone thought about it.
So why is this OK? My guess: sexism. Don't believe me? You ever hear a guy get called a faggot on network TV? Faggot isn't even a traditional curse word. (Don't get me wrong, it's wrong to use it as a pejorative, it's wrong to call someone that, and it is a foul, hurtful word.) But guys don't get called that. Cocksucker? Nope. Asshole? Nope. Dickface? Nope. Any of the other dirty, dirty words some guys throw at each other on a regular basis? Nope. Or even the word shit in any context, defecatory or not? Nope.
But call a woman a bitch? No problem. I've seen it even on woman-friendly shows like the late, great Veronica Mars. You hear it everywhere on network TV. It's the only one of the dirty words you do. Is there another explanation for why the networks and the FCC doesn't care about it?
All that being said, I don't have a problem with cursing on TV, be it network, cable, or HBO. It's the way people talk, and I think the way cursing is treated in the United States gives it a power it really shouldn't have. They're words like any other. Not magic, evil words. Just words.
But if you are going to ban them, ban them across the board. Or allow them all. But don't tell me that calling a woman a bitch in the nastiest, most vicious tone of voice is worse than dropping the f-bomb in an unscripted, live moment of joy.