Bill Murchison

The great state of Texas' seegar-puffing poseur of a gubernatorial candidate, Kinky Friedman, is in trouble over a comedy skit from 25 ago years wherein the future candidate employed something commonly known as "the n-word." Calls for his withdrawal from the race, if not for the immediate application of tar and feather to his person, have duly gone forth.

The immediate furor will die down, but the appropriately named Kinky -- offbeat author and entertainer -- will find himself even farther from the Governor's Mansion door than before, which was pretty far, actually. Only reason for bringing up the whole episode, so far as I can see, is to remark on what's happened lately to public standards.

What's happened is that all our present standards are political rather than cultural, the way they used to be.

I'll explain. Thoughtless use of "the n-word" -- long forbidden, and rightly so, to well-brought-up Southern youths -- can still sabotage a political campaign in Texas, just as Virginia Sen. George Allen's use of "macaca" to deride an ethnic Indian dogging his campaign appearances has clouded Allen's once bright prospects for re-election. Nobody but nobody -- even a veteran jester like Kinky -- wants to be seen as disparaging a non-Anglo-Saxon race, or for that matter non-heterosexuality, now that "diversity" is among the supreme political goods.

What of the culture, even so?

Seen any movies lately -- "Jackass 2," for instance? Watched "The Sopranos"? Eavesdropped on any Gen-X or Gen-Y conversations? No verbal taboos in venues such as these. None.

Whereas in days of old, use of " bad language" in "mixed company" was out -- way, way out -- today it seems de rigueur; the expected thing. You hear in public settings the sort of language that once brought forth exclamations like, "Watch your language," or, "Excuse me, ma'am."

It was always "ma'am."

A gentleman -- for the term was not yet applicable to males in general -- was presumed to have obligations toward women, as toward fellow gentlemen who didn't hold with verbal pollution.

That's what I mean by the standards of that day being "cultural." They applied to almost the whole of life. Of which politics was a part, and by no means the largest part.

People cared in some degree about the "tone" of life -- whether it was coarse, offensive, rude. On such grounds, no small number of Southern parents specifically outlawed "the n-word." It was all those things -- coarse, offensive, rude. We weren't going to have it.

Bill Murchison

Bill Murchison is the former senior columns writer for The Dallas Morning News and author of There's More to Life Than Politics.
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