The Normalization of the F-Bomb

Sat through a crime drama recently in which all characters used the f-bomb. (Yes, I know it is not ‘wholesome.’) Good guys said it. Bad guys said it. High class said it. Low class said it. They said it when angry. They said it when not angry. Men said it. Women said it. Everyone said it—constantly. It used to be that people said ‘um’ as a word whisker. Do they have any idea how ridiculous they sound?

And no, I’m not worried about bad associations spoiling useful habits. “Pass the f-n salt, please,” I said at the family dinner.  (Not hardly. Not yet. Not never, assuming I don’t make a practice of watching such shows.)

Too bad, really, because it’s otherwise not a bad show, as cop shows go. I can even put up with ‘a little bit of poison,’ to use the expression. I’m not so sure I want to chug it by the vatful however. Sheesh!

And to think I took Pops to the movies 15 years ago and he objected to the cursing—cursing that wasn’t one tenth as bad but was still novel for him. (And no—he was not a religious man.)

***

The gallery: “I hope you don’t get taken out into the virtual back room.

I’m not all that worried. Obviously, bad words are things to avoid. They have a corrosive effect, and I do avoid them, save for when the jacked-up car slips off and lands on my foot. But there is the type of person who would never ever use a swear word and points to that abstinence as ‘Exhibit A’ in his claims to be a Christian. Would that it was so simple.

After all, if upbraided, I could always point to the elder who said, ‘S**t!’ after smacking into my car when it was in the turnaround spot he didn’t expect it to be while backing up. He apologized. “Don’t worry about it,” I told him, ‘that’s what bumpers are for.”

***More from the gallery: “I have a 6 year old grand daughter that uses it frequently in conversation. Unbelievable!”

“I have a little story from a number of years back. When my little buddy (my dog) and I were walking through the park by my place one fine summer day, we were walking behind two girls. They were late teens, early twenties. Between the F-bombs, and the word "like," for the life of me I had no idea what they were talking about. No clue how they knew either! Amazing in it's own way.”

“I remember a couple of (fleshly) brothers that I used to run into occasionally at lunch time that worked in another body shop across the street from the one I worked in at the time.  I wasn't a Witness then & I definitely wasn't a goody two-shoes, but those guys embarrassed me with the flood of 4 letter words that came out of there mouths.  I don't believe they could say 3 words w/o one of them being f---.  Now adays, a lot of TV shows and movies are almost as bad as those brothers were.  We will, quite often, quit a program after a few minutes into it because of that.”

“You have to switch off the TV. Personally I think it is used to fill up space in modern films instead of pithy dialogue. If you took away the f__ words used those 90 minute films would likely only last around 40 minutes.”

We’ve come a long way from the days where moviemakers were allowed one F-bomb to avoid a no-no rating. ‘Make it count, son’ moviemakers would say as they maneuvered so that F-bomb would be the crescendo of the film. Maybe it is still that way, but it doesn’t matter. A torrent of entertainment venues have arisen that don’t give a hoot about what the rating police want. 

B25E760E-8B89-4350-9DF2-A91144E6282BAnd to think that, as a boy, I was on the beach with my family, surrounded by other families with beach towels, umbrellas, and picnic baskets. A group of teens passed by. One of them uttered the S-word. My dad rose like a grizzly bear. “Hey! There’s decent families here! Watch your mouths!” They may have made fun of him, but not until they were very far away.

(photo by mana5280 on Upsplash)

******  The bookstore

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The Graduate Author Who Ran from Success—Where Have You Gone, Mrs Robinson?

The guy who wrote The Graduate—the book, not the movie—gave away all the money he made from writing it. He bought a house with his one-time movie rights. He gave it away within weeks—he would give three away during his lifetime—a lifetime that ended July 2020, He was 81.

The movie ‘The Graduate’ was a sensation—the highest grossing film of 1967, with seven academy award nominations. It is fussed over to this day for capturing the “alienation of modern youth”—though they are not so modern anymore, have long since put their alienation behind them, and many have done quite well for themselves, thank you very much. Many ultimately chose the life of plastic that the Graduate protagonist rejected.

But not author Charles Webb and his wife. Several times they came into money, and each time they would give it away. The Graduate movie is ranked the 17th greatest American film of all time by the American Film Institute; the “coming of age story is indeed one for the ages,” gushes Rotten Tomatoes. Webb didn’t make a dime off it and didn’t want to. He wouldn’t even do book signings—they were “a sin against decency.”

What kind of a guy does this? Many times he received windfalls. Each time he gave it away. “Mercifully I wasn’t written into [the Graduate movie] deal,” he told the AP. “Nobody understands why I felt so relieved, but I count my longevity to not being swept into that. My wife and I have done a lot of things we wouldn’t have done if we were rich people. ... I would have been counting my money instead of educating my children.”

He’s not kidding about educating his children. He and his wife Fred—she took that name so as to identify with a group of men named Fred afflicted with low self-esteem (your guess is as good as mine)—pulled their two children from school. They homeschooled. This resonates with me because I did the same, only mine were not pulled out—they never saw the inside of a school other than an experimental 6th grade, after which both chose to homeschool again.

Homeschooling wasn’t legal when Webbs did it. It was when we did, even if a little dicey—there were always unpredictable hoops to jump through. Once, the school district turned down my curriculum plan on the basis of, of all things, a weak music curriculum. The kids were enrolled in Suzuki violin, for crying out loud! I went to the library, copied and submitted some gobbledygook from a music textbook, and they were as happy as pigs in mud.

A set of older friends in another jurisdiction were constantly harassed over their homeschooling—much more so than us. Yet my pal later reflected on his younger kids that were homeschooled vs his older ones that were not, and observed that the those of the first batch were far better at interacting with all factions of the community. Pretty much the same experience here—not that we had the contrast but we did have the experience of kids who readily mixed with all ages—whereas when I was in grade school, those kids in even one grade up might have been on another planet, to say nothing of adults. “I had no idea that there were so many stupid people,” said my son in complete innocence after he enrolled in the community college at age 16 and began his second experience in the classroom.

The Webbs moved around a lot, sometimes camping, sometimes living out of a Volkswagen bus. Oldest son John called that part of his education “unschooling.” I know what unschooling is, too. We did it at times. It is simply a less rigid homeschooling, with more forbearance for letting youngsters pursue their own interests. I’d love to speak with these two kids—now adults. How did they turn out? “Not a lot of people picked up on it, but the title of ‘The Graduate’ was supposed to convey it was about education,” Webb told some reporter in 2006. He wasn’t keen on the mainstream model.

Meanwhile, he and/or his artist wife did stints at KMart, picked fruit, cleaned houses. “When you run out of money, it’s a purifying experience,” he said. Besides the VW bus, they lived in motels, trailer parks, even a nudist colony—they managed that place during their tenure. They named their dog ‘Mrs. Robinson.’

Now, these two were not Jehovah’s Witnesses. I don’t want to imply that they were. (Have JWs ever preached in a nudist colony?) Yet we have so many people who have renounced financial comfort so as to “have a greater share in the ministry” that when I see it elsewhere, it resonates no less than the homeschooling. I count as a friend today someone whose pursuit of a full-time ministry within Jehovah’s Witnesses triggered estrangement from his unbelieving oil baron family. “Look, Eric! Texas tea!” I call his attention to any gas station that we pass.

The book that became the movie is not autobiographical. “I got interested in the wife of a good friend of my parents and ... [realized] it might be better to write about it than to do it,” he told the online publication Thoughtcat in 2006. Yet much of it was his life—his remoteness from his wealthy connected parents, for example, along with their world that he found so superficial. His relationship with his heart specialist dad was “reasonably bad,” he said, and with his socialite mom, he “was always looking for crumbs of approval.” He had figured he might get a considerable number of those crumbs with the publication of his book, for she was an avid reader who might boast “My son is an author!” but he didn’t—probably the skewering of her lifestyle had something to do with it.

Still, whether you give up every dime or not—you don’t have to do it just for the sake of doing it. The ministry of the apostle Paul caused him to know both “how to have an abundance and how to do without.” (Philippians 4:12) He knew and was comfortable in both places. This fellow was good at doing without, but he seems to have panicked at having an abundance. Sometimes you have to renounce your past. Sometimes in doing so, you swing too far the other way.

Maybe it was a starving artist kind of thing. He even made a cliche over it: “The penniless author has always been the stereotype that works for me. . . . When in doubt, be down and out.” But not for any romantic reason—he pushed back at that notion. “We hope to make the point that the creative process is really a defense mechanism on the part of artists — that creativity is not a romantic notion.” It’s not like he would recommend it to others, or maybe even to himself. It is more like he felt driven to it, half against his will. I think of how so many comedians developed and honed their comedy as a means of defendIng themselves from school-age bullies. There is even a video that suggests that.

A character from one of his other books—he wrote eight—an alcoholic painter, says: “What’s important for me is that I keep doing it, keep painting, and hold on to that feeling which goes along with putting the paint on the canvas,” he wrote. “It’s all I have and all I need.” This, too, resonates with me, a fellow who imagines himself a writer—and inherits the pluses along with the minuses.

“Lots of people momentarily embrace the idea of leaving the rat race, like the characters in The Graduate,” said one obit writer. “Mr. Webb [and his wife] did it, with all the consequences it entailed. If they regretted the choice, they did not say so.” And, “Webb has such an easygoing charm about him, such a friendly and sincere presence,” another wrote years prior. This also resonates with me, who is just as pleasant as—no, that is going too far. In the dog park I constantly have to apologize for my dog, who has become grouchy in his old age toward other dogs, “just like me,” I say.

As though to get in the final word, the condensed obituary in TheWeek Magazine read: “The Graduate author who ran from success” Did he? Or is it that they can only imagine their own definition of success there at TheWeek?

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Tight Pants, Wide Ties, Volkswagen Buses, and Holding the Watchtower

When Anthony Morris, at the 2016 Regional in Atlanta, spoke of coming down south, and his sons had asked him ‘What is a redneck?’ he replied that they “would know them when they saw them.”

He was having fun with his opening remarks. Everyone....well, almost everyone....took it in that spirit. In case there was someone who did not, in a subsequent talk he walked it back, referring to the gentle “folk wisdom” of the south.

He speaks off the cuff sometimes. Rise, for he too is human. He probably regrets that remark about the tight pants, because various soreheads have made it their year text ever since. 

It is very difficult counseling a huge and diverse group of people One will say: “Thanks for the new RULE!!” and his companion will say: “Huh? Did you say something?” I think he and those of his group just don’t want to find themselves in the shoes of Lot, whose sons-in-law thought he was joking.

Even at the Watchtower study last Sunday, the conductor gave an aside about the tight pants, observing that they must have to be put on when wet, so as to allow the fabric to stretch over the feet. Strictly speaking, (even loosely speaking) it is not necessary. But an 80-year old can be forgiven for a few seconds (it was no more than that, and he is universally regarded as a man of integrity and good judgment) of scratching his head and expressing bewilderment at the world that is today.

This is the same Watchtower conductor whose lifelong secular work was that of a Porsche dealer mechanic, and who quit in disgust when Porsche began manufacturing SUVs, as though an elite art museum commenced displaying that painting of the dogs playing poker. It’s not true, he tells me. He was about to retire anyway, but he does nothing to counter the crotchety-sounding meme that others have spread around. 

This is the same Watchtower Study, on how the wisdom of Jehovah is superior to the wisdom of this world, in which I thought the artwork was wrong. The VW bus is one from the 70’s, whereas it should have been one with a funky grill that was from the 60’s. The impeccably dressed brother with the hat is from the 50s—hadn’t dress hats pretty well faded out by the mid-60s? And don’t get me going about the “hippy” conversing with him, who no doubt took off his wig and clothes thereafter and resumed his place analyzing a computer spreadsheet at Bethel.

And while I am on the topic of that Watchtower:

My daughter is in town for a few weeks. At the study observation of how some say God-given sexual desire argues for promiscuity, she said: “Well, that’s stupid! God made me to have to pee, too. Does that mean I should pee my pants?”

“That’s my daughter!” I told the family gathering, as she related her remark. Frankly, I wish I had thought of it.

But back to the tight pants. They were tight in the early 60s, too, and I can remember battles with my [non-Witness] Dad because I wanted to wear them and he had a fit over it, though I gradually won out. Even the “spray-on” descriptions are from the past. I wore clamdiggers, too, cool pants that came in pastel colors, had a stripe down the side, and ended mid-shin. I wore them when visiting my uncle who lived way way out in the sticks, and he said: “What are you doing wearing peddle-pushers? Those are girls’ pants!!” They weren’t peddlepushers, you hillbilly. They were cool clamdiggers.

It’s not just pants. Ties widened in the late 60’s as well, regaining the status they previously had given up. I remember Brother Park giving a talk about how the Bethel brothers were very concerned for Brother Knorr, who showed up for meals day after day with very wide ties at a time when the styles were changing—I think he said they ultimately became as thin as a pencil. Those brothers were so worried about him, because he was “not in style.”

“BUT DO YOU KNOW WHAT HAPPENED?!” he gasped. Ties began to reverse and became wider and wider—and now Brother Knorr is “in style!”

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