Bill Murchison

What some of us -- well, anyway I do -- refer to as the Slobbification of America made a good showing the other day on the front page of The Wall Street Journal: the tale of a town talking up a ban on public profanity of the grosser sort. Which ban is up for consideration by the assembled citizenry of Middleborough, Mass. The local police chief, the Journal reported, wanted to fine anyone $20 who "accosts or addresses another person with profane or obscene language in a street."

I write before the actual vote. I think I know the outcome all the same: futility, of the constitutional or the cultural sort, likely both. The Journal quotes a retired policy officer -- and supporter of the chief's move -- as saying, "Back when I was younger you wouldn't think of saying foul language on the street, but now it's (bleep) you or stick it up your whatever. It's not unique to this town..."

"Back when I was younger... "! There's the damning -- er, the condemnatory -- detail. The retired cop, as the Journal reports, is my contemporary. He knows whereof he speaks. No, indeed, back when Ike and JFK were president, "you wouldn't think of saying" X, Y and Z. You "wouldn't think" of doing other things of, shall we say, an informal or relaxed nature, such as tattooing yourself going abroad in your underwear or suggesting, in preference to a first-date peck on the cheek, that we just get right down to it: all marks of the slobbery of our age.

"Men," noted Machiavelli, back in the early 16th century -- which was before even my time -- "ever praise the olden time and find fault with the present." Yes, and you may recall Paul Lynde crooning dejectedly in "Bye, Bye, Birdie:" "Why can't they be like we were -- perfect in every way?" He was referring to "Kids" -- the title and topic of the song. Duly appropriating this historical knowledge, shall we return to the Middleborough police chief's point -- to wit, there's maybe a limit, and if so, someone ought to signal and set it?

A couple of geezers like the chief and me are what you need to note, amid the cultural libertarianism of our time, that slobs and the slobbery they routinely commit against the public weal are disagreeable features of any landscape.

We're not supposed to be offended anymore, it would seem, by anything anybody else does. To take offense is to show inconsideration for others and their "rights." Nothing anyone does is supposed to matter to anyone else. It's all self-expression. Hey, man, we've got a right!

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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