- The Washington Times - Saturday, August 31, 2002

Scarlett O'Hara would blush a deep shade of crimson if she heard the language being uttered on television these days.
Blame a coarsening culture, Howard Stern or any other ripe target. But television language is getting ever more obscene.
A medium which once nixed the word "pregnant" on "I Love Lucy" now has little problem spewing syllables once the preserve of Lenny Bruce.
The list of offenders is mounting with every flip of the channel.
Basic pay channels such as FX and ESPN have taken liberties with the growing permissiveness, packing expletives into "The Shield" and the Bobby Knight biopic "A Season on the Brink" respectively.
This fall, a new, supposedly family friendly show on the WB network called "Everwood" has a teen uttering a crude reference to male genitalia during an argument with his father.
Even "ER" got into the fray this past spring at the end of Dr. Mark Greene's battle with a brain tumor when his character spat out one of George Carlin's "Seven Dirty Words."
And no roundup of televised obscenity is complete without MTV's "The Osbournes," a tapestry of bleeps which barely covers papa Ozzy's acrid tongue, or that of his kinfolk.
Such language is not only ugly, it's lazy.
Obscenity is the easy way out like a critic making fun of "The Anna Nicole Show."
The biggest factor fueling the change is broadcast television bigwigs' mad dash to compete with cable's wildly popular hits.
Emmy-collectors like "Sex and the City" and "The Sopranos" earn both high ratings and critical acclaim because: a) The show's characters can curse whenever they want: or b) They provide well written insights into the human condition, warts and all.
Apparently, network executives never even got to (b) before scrambling for their cell phones.
ABC's "NYPD Blue" which premiered in 1993, unofficially began the barrage with its occasional profanity and brief nude scenes.
The show's creator, Steven Bochco, told the Hollywood Reporter recently "There's no such thing as broadcast standards the standard is anything you can get them to let you do."
Does it have to be this way?
Remember "Seinfeld's" classic episode involving self-gratification? The script never soiled itself with ugly language, despite the unsavory subject. But, by dancing around the topic with a series of clever puns and knowing glances, the show's writers rose to the challenge and a legendary episode was born.
Obscene words are effective from time to time, of course.
Anyone who has ever accidentally pounded his or her thumb with a hammer can relate the healing power of a meaty expletive.
And few would argue that such comedians as Richard Pryor nail universal truths with their scabrous routines. But what happens when the words can be heard on an ubiquitous medium like prime time network television? The world doesn't really need to hear Monica drop an "F-bomb" when her "Friends" critique one of her casseroles.
Will a cultural release valve like cursing be extinguished by overuse, or will new, even worse language become commonplace?
I remember when my parents began allowing me to curse in front of them without repercussions. Perhaps I was a senior in high school at the time.
I felt a rush of freedom at the discovery, as if a whole new language had opened up before me. I began sprinkling the words into my conversations without fear of reprisal.
But eventually it felt wrong and I started censoring myself.
One can only hope a few Hollywood scribes and their network bosses will start to sense that the bond between product and audience also deserves a dash of respect. If so, maybe they will decide to leave out a few unnecessary words from their next juicy script.
Not &*%$ likely, I'll bet.Obscenity is the easy way out like a critic making fun of "The Anna Nicole Show."


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