Broadcasters, please mind your manners

I have used profanity. Although I try to avoid vulgar words as part of my everyday vocabulary when communicating with others, I am not afraid of them and they do not shock me.

But vulgarity does offend me when it is fired at me without warning by the mainstream broadcast media.

Anyone who watches network television or listens to the radio with any regularity can attest to the fact that the bar of acceptable broadcast language has been lowered to new depths. It is fairly common now to hear words and phrases on the air that, just a few years ago, one only heard in boot camps, bars, and unfortunately, on school playgrounds.

This phenomenon isn't as prevalent in newspapers, magazines, or journals probably because of the popular notion that the printed word is forever, while a broadcast word, once it is spoken, is gone with the wind. Actually, the broadcast word can have a more profound effect on popular culture than the printed word.

First, the broadcast word can instantaneously reach a larger and more diverse audience than any newspaper or magazine. Add to that the cumulative effect of hammering repetition that broadcasting does so well and suddenly words and phrases previously considered inappropriate for polite society take on acceptability. A media stamp of approval, so to speak.

Average young people watch above-average good looking young actors speaking a certain way on TV. These actors look, sound, and act cool. Young people emulate the speech pattern, cadence, and words they hear their peers speaking on TV. They want to be cool.

It seems that just about anything goes on TV and radio. That includes disgusting phrases that, while not using vulgar words per se, employ crude ideas, and coarse descriptions of bodily functions.

A lot has changed in the 25 years since comedian George Carlin first performed his "Seven Words You Can Never Use on Television" routine. For one thing, two of the original words are now used on mainstream radio and television.

Beyond the vulgar words, there lies a vulgarity of attitude and spirit, which I find even more disturbing. It's the "in your face - anything goes - and if you don't like it that's tough" approach to broadcasting.

There was a time when broadcasters took an entirely different tack with regard to their audience. A genteel respect was projected. "Thank you so much for inviting us into your home tonight," was a commonly heard broadcast phrase back then. This gesture of humble graciousness set a tone for the broadcast.

Now when these guests enter our homes, they get drunk, insult us, and burn holes in our furniture. And then they wonder why they are not as popular as they once were.

On one level, words are simply the primary tools of communication, which enable ideas and desires to be understood between people. On another level, however, words actually define us as a culture. Which words we choose to use, how we use them and to whom they're used, can tell a great deal about our attitude toward ourselves and society.

Yes, I have used profanity, but I try to control it - for my own self-respect and as a courtesy to people around me. If I can refrain from using vulgarity out of respect for others, why can't broadcasters extend the same courtesy to their audience?

Being polite, using proper manners, and good taste are not options when visiting someone in their home - it's simply a thing that civil people do. If broadcasters exercised that same civility toward their viewers, perhaps they would be welcomed into more homes.

*Greg Crosby is a freelance writer in Los Angeles.

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