Lockport Union-Sun & Journal Online

January 13, 2014

Wondering whether any dirty words still exist

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Lockport Union-Sun & Journal

Lockport Union-Sun & Journal — In 1972 George Carlin listed his famous - or infamous, depending on your point of view - seven dirty words that, at the time, could not be said on TV. 

Of course, fast forward 40 years and now all you need to do is watch some of the most critically acclaimed shows of the past few years and you can hear them frequently. I’ve seen many of them and while the use of the words on Carlin’s list is not always necessary, if used properly they can add a bit of humor.

I’m not listing the words here. I enjoy being employed.

No, I’m going to instead wonder whether the use of those words, combined with an increasingly voyeuristic society (Reality shows anyone?) and the cultivation of a society that communicates via Twitter has led to the list no longer being applicable.

I bring this up because twice in the past six weeks I’ve attended Orleans County Legislature meetings when a certain word has been used out of context. I must stress, this word was used by citizens in open forum and not legislators.

Both times, I honestly was shocked. Maybe it was my upbringing, maybe it’s chivalry of some sort, or maybe it’s the fact that I have a daughter (and one on the way). I don’t know.

That being said, sitting in a public meeting and hearing a citizen voice concern over rising taxes or the sale of the nursing home, and likening either situation to rape - yes, that was the word used - in any way is disheartening.

Have we really fallen so far as a society that one of the most despicable crimes a person can commit is now the go-to analogy for people to use when voicing concern over certain aspects of government administration? Can no other words be used? Sure, none conjure the horrifying image of the one in question, but other terms can still work. Ripped off. Violation of trust. Heck, even screw would be better.

Sure, if you want you can watch an episode of Law and Order: SVU and see fictionalized accounts or “ripped-from-the-headlines” type of stories involving the crime mentioned. Other shows on multiple networks use it as a plot device, and it can be argued it’s used too often, but that’s a different argument.

No, the point here is that in a public forum I think it can be expected to have people in attendance exhibit some sense of decorum. And if that doesn’t happen, perhaps some remorse would be appreciated.

When I first started out as a full-time reporter in the Southern Tier almost 12 years ago I was at a meeting during which residents expressed their displeasure with a recent reassessment. One outspoken resident got quite animated and accused the town board in question of simply raising local values to make more money. The town supervisor had enough and told the person, “Sir, we do not rape you on your taxes.”

I was still very new and, honestly, I didn’t feel comfortable using the word. I also knew that the quote needed to be in the story. It was, but I used parentheses to turn the word to “cheat.”

The next day I actually was set to meet the supervisor for a different story. His first words to me were about how I censored him. I apologized profusely, but he said it wasn’t necessary. He realized he messed up, and he was glad I hadn’t embarrassed him in print for a temporary lapse in judgement. 

There was genuine remorse in his voice.

However, the voices of the citizens at the meetings I’ve attended, and yes, even the shows I choose to watch, at least in my opinion, just seem to fall back on the word like a punchline.

No remorse.

You’ll have to forgive me, but I don’t get it. Maybe I shouldn’t be so offended or upset or whatever word you want to use. But then again, maybe someone smarter than I can try to draw a parallel between the lack of sensitivity about the subject and the fact that the crime itself too often goes unreported.

There are a lot of ways to voice displeasure with government. And in public there have to be better ways.

At least I hope so.

Howard Balaban is not easily offended. If his being offended offends you, email him at howard.balaban@lockportjournal.com.