Jewish World Review July 15, 2005/ 8 Taamuz, 5765

Greg Crosby

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How Low Can You Go? | For some of us who are not exactly regular television watchers, reruns can be a good way to discover pretty good shows that we missed the first time around. My wife and I have long given up on watching network television with any degree of regularity — there are so few programs that we can tolerate. Between dumbed-down sit-coms laden with gratuitous one-liner sex jokes; ugly looking people engaged in ugly behavior; ever escalating levels of vulgarity; commercials which now seem to pride themselves in pushing the envelope of bad taste to new lows; left-wing agenda driven police, hospital, and lawyer dramas; and the so-called reality shows, there just isn't a whole lot we care to spend an evening watching these days.

This is why it's a pleasant surprise when we actually do find a network show that is a cut above the rest of the dreck getting produced these days. A few years ago we found "Everybody Loves Raymond" by accident while we were guests at a relative's home. We happened on a rerun of an episode being played on one of the local stations. It was great to see a sit com that was well written, character driven, and didn't rely on lowest common denominator humor. We became instant fans.

More recently we have discovered "Law & Order" (or I should say rediscovered, since we watched it years ago during its first season. We liked it back then, but just sort of lost touch with it in the ensuing years). We started watching the old shows in reruns and have found them for the most part well acted, intelligent, and highly entertaining, even with their subtle left-leaning bias. (Actually the political agenda on the show is rather underplayed in comparison to what most other programs throw at you today.)

"Law & Order" reruns are shown just about every night on at least two different stations, one cable station runs them back to back all night long. They run shows from all past seasons, some going back five years or more. You can literally watch Jerry Orbach growing older in front of your very eyes — and that's not all. Several of the cast members seem to change about every two years or so.

New "L&O" shows are still running on the network so we thought we'd check those out too, since we were enjoying the old shows so much. The difference between the older and newer shows is striking; and I don't mean the changes in cast. The dialogue has gotten cruder. Much, much cruder.

Language that was once only used on cable is now the norm on all channels. Crude slang words are freely said not just out of the mouths of the bad guys on the show, but also by the good guy regulars. It's bad enough to hear a teen or twenty something street punk uttering a line like, "Oh, man, that really su - - s!" But it's even worse coming from Jerry Orbach or one of the other older regulars. Who is this dialogue supposed to impress? Is this vulgar dialogue really necessary? And if it is, why wasn't it necessary five, four or three seasons ago?

Another addition has been more and more frequent use of the crude "a"-word, the vulgar version of saying "jerk." But the one term that is used constantly now, almost everywhere, on every network, in every time slot, is the vulgar term for getting angry — the "p" — word. Television characters are not content anymore to be simply "aggravated," or "teed off," now they have to say they are angry using the most vulgar word for that emotion in the English language.

This is American television in the 21st Century — constantly lowering the standards of good taste, coarsening the language and getting trashier with each succeeding season. That's television. That's movies. That's records. That's show biz. No one expects anything classy out of the entertainment industry anymore. It has become a given that the entertainment media will not hesitate to take the coarse, crude, vulgar road every chance they get these days. But what is to be made of this same coarsening of language in one of our most prestigious newspapers?

For years the print media has tried to take a higher road concerning use of language, probably because, well, language is all they have. It is what they are. Mainstream newspapers had higher standards. A major paper wouldn't think of using vulgar slang to express an idea in an editorial or Op-ed piece, let alone within the confines of a news article. Well, it seems all that may be changing.

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In a June 30th Op-ed piece written by Brett Duval Fromson in "The Wall Street Journal" the writer chose to use (and, one assumes, WSJ approved the use of) that very same vulgar term for "getting angry" that is now so commonly heard on television. The piece was entitled, "Hamptonites on the Warpath" and it concerned an Indian tribe that has claimed that they have rights to land in rich, tony Southampton. The first two sentences of the second paragraph read as follows:

And if the Shinnecock don't get what they want, they've threatened to sue for every single hedge row, pool, and tennis court in this rich man's town! What, you may ask, is the ultimate goal of the land claim besides p - - - ing off the neighbors?
I substituted dashes for letters in the vulgarity; The Wall Street Journal did not, they spelled it out. The writer was not quoting a reference source or a person; this was purely his choice of word to communicate the idea of anger to his readers. He could have used a number of other less offensive words including: angering, irritating, or annoying. He chose the lowest road.

So there you go. The most important, influential, business newspaper in the world has joined television, music, and movies in choosing to use crude street slang to speak to their audience. I tell you folks, there's nowhere to hide anymore.

And people wonder why I wind up reading books, watching movies, and listening to music from sixty years ago!

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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.

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