Another Word Goes Mainstream?

Posted on November 18, 2009 at 8:00 am

In my concern for the continuing coarsening of language, I last wrote about whether the term “pimp” had become acceptable for children after it was used in the PG film “G-Force.”
The New York Times writes about another word that has crossed into the mainstream and has become a go-to insult on television and in movies.

On many nights this fall, it has been possible to tune in to broadcast network television during prime time and hear a character call someone else a “douche.”

In just the last several weeks, it has happened on CBS’s “The New Adventures of Old Christine” and the CW’s “The Vampire Diaries,” which are broadcast at 8 p.m., during what used to be known as the family hour. It has been heard this fall on Fox’s new series “The Cleveland Show,” which begins at 8:30, and on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy.” On NBC, its use has spanned the old and the new, blurted out on the freshman comedy “Community” and the seasoned drama “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit.”

In total, the word has surfaced at least 76 times already this year on 26 prime-time network series, according to research by the Parents Television Council, which compiled the statistics at the request of The New York Times. That is up from 30 uses on 15 shows in all of 2007 and just six instances on four programs in 2005….And while the word “douche” is neither obscene nor profane — although this usage is certainly offensive to many people — it seems to represent the latest of broadcast television’s continuing efforts to expand the boundaries of taste, in part to stem the tide of defections by its audience to largely unregulated cable television….”As a writer, you’re always reaching for a more potent way to call somebody a jerk,” Dan Harmon, the creator of “Community,” said about the word “douche.” “This is a word that has evolved in the last couple of years — a thing that sounds like a thing you can’t say.”

Unquestionably, the language on television has become more vulgar. And the argument that this is acceptable because it can be limited to a particular time slot has become less supportable. When television programs like “Law and Order” and “CSI” (and their variations and spin-offs) seem to be on 24/7 and raunchy sit-coms like “Two and a Half Men” run in syndication in the early evening. I find this word particularly ugly and misogynistic and am sorry to see it become mainstream.

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Commentary Understanding Media and Pop Culture

Has ‘Pimp’ Become an Acceptable Term for Children?

Posted on May 12, 2009 at 10:00 am

“G-Force” is an upcoming PG-rated comedy from Disney about a crack team of super-agents who happen to be guinea pigs, assisted by a mole and a fly, with voice talent including Tracy Morgan and Steve Buscemi. The trailer makes it look like fairly harmless nonsense, though I winced a bit when the girl guinea pig dances to “don’t you wish your girlfriend was hot like me.” But what really made me pause was the line “pimp my ride.” Has that term become so thoroughly sanitized that it is now acceptable in a children’s film from Disney?

It is the nature of words and other elements of culture to move from the edge to the mainstream and that is often a very good thing; it is what keeps our culture vital, engaging, and challenging. The word “pimp” has expanded from its original meaning as a man who manages prostitutes. Last year, when a journalist used it to describe the way Hilary Clinton’s campaign was deploying her daughter Chelsea, however, the candidate’s response was more as a mother than a politician, saying “Nothing justifies the kind of debasing language that David Shuster used and no temporary suspension or half-hearted apology is sufficient.” The reporter and the network apologized unreservedly and whole-heartedly.

MTV’s television series “Pimp My Ride” has popularized the use of the term as a reference to tricking up something, making it more glamorous and show-offy (like the popular notion of the pimp lifestyle), and it is in that sense that the word is used in this film. But I was sorry to see both Disney and the MPAA find that it is appropriate language for a PG. I believe it is inappropriate language for children to hear and use and a troubling contribution to the coarsening of our culture and discourse.

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Parenting Understanding Media and Pop Culture
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