TV’s crossing the decency line

Published 12:00 pm Friday, February 26, 2016

By TJ Ray

The succession of folks coming “out of the closet” goes on. And now I must join them. I hereby confess — despite my reputation as a rogue, a bon vivant, a crazy party guy, a let-it-all-hang-out gent: I am a prude. Today’s world seems to have declared an All Clear on some language and some topics that were rarely heard.

In a way, words have been my profession. In semantics classes, I used to have students watch and listen for inappropriate or out-of-place language. Recently a wonderful elderly lady shocked me by repeatedly saying “friggin.” I concluded quickly that she had no inkling of its origin or meaning. Had I said the word it came from, I imagine she would have reached for the soap to wash my mouth out.

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The Turner Broadcasting System currently has an advertisement for an upcoming series, the words proclaiming that it may “piss” someone off. Words such as that one were once found only on subscription channels, but have lately crept into common use. Even news broadcasts are often sprinkled with four-letter words.

If you are like me, you have an impulse to contact the offending company to protest. Well, good luck with that. Just try to find a phone number for TBS or CBS or XYZ to tell them they’ve crossed the decency line.

Along with words that Grandma called no-no words come subjects that perhaps should be taboo. Sex sells. Or to put it another way, businesses sell sex. A recent example is provocative ads for Viagra.

One viewer wrote this: “The Viagra commercial came on as my 5- and 7-year-old sons were getting ready for school. The woman was talking about sex, erection and lying on a bed. This was very uncomfortable with small children in the room and my 5-year-old actually asked ‘what’s an erection?’” Another fellow wrote, “My 11-year-old daughter just asked what the Viagra ad was about. Not sure how to respond especially now that she knows I work for Pfizer.”

Is it not likely that soon graphic depictions of that medical problem will cross our TV screens? Just as a current “humorous” piece about circumcision already is on the air. Explain that to a 5-year-old!

Yes, I confess to having used some of that taboo language in these lines, but I couldn’t think of ways to make the point without them. Of course, I might have dodged behind F-word or P-word, but in my book using those abbreviations only calls more attention to the word not being uttered.

T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at