In these times of moral relativism, its head-spinning to see how the profanity quotient of a word seems to depend entirely on who is using it and who is on the receiving end.
Fans of Hillary Clinton were scandalized a few weeks ago when a voter in New Hampshire stood up and asked Sen. John McCain about her. The old woman stunned the crowd by asking, "How do we beat the bitch?"
On PBS, Bill Moyers used the episode to decry that this "language of degeneration" is unique to women, and then tried to suggest the B-words profanity quotient should be raised to the top of the no-no scale: "And you couldn't say, How are we going to defeat the nigger? Which is the word that was so common when I was growing up in the South. How are you going to defeat the kike? referring to Jews That woman would not have done that, I don't think."
Moyers heart is in the right place, but hes not living in the real world. The B-word in no way, shape, or form approaches our vilest racial or religious slur words. Its become so increasingly common and acceptable in our popular culture and all over television, whether its the B-word of the son of a B-word. The censors dont even bother bleeping it out any more.
The B-word is even launching off the bookshelf. USA Today is heralding the latest book craze, "Skinny Bitch in the Kitch." The first book of this series, simply titled "Skinny Bitch," was published in 2005 with 15,000 copies, but it became a sales breakout last summer when Victoria Beckham, known as "Posh Spice" in the Spice Girls singing group, was photographed carrying a copy. (Oddly enough, Beckham claimed she had neither purchased the book nor endorsed it.) Now 850,000 copies are in print, and the authors have signed a six-figure deal for two more B-word books, including In the Kitch. The new tome has a first printing of 150,000.
Reporter Deirdre Donahue noted that the two female authors, Kim Barnouin and Rory Freedman, are moralists of a different stripe: Theyre profane on behalf of extreme vegetarianism. "The authors are not lab-coated diet docs; they talk girlfriend to girlfriend with potty-mouthed candor," she wrote. They promote a strict vegan diet -- no meat, no fish, no poultry, no dairy products, no additives, no sugar, no white flour. Its dietary puritanism, sold with linguistic libertinism: "You shouldn't put garbage in your mouth any sooner than you'd go to church wearing crotchless panties."
The book is salted with the B-word and other profanities. An excerpt in USA Today was filled with them. Their Internet home page begins with a letter addressed to Fellow bitches. If it weren't so commercially calculated, it might sound like Tourette Syndrome.
From Entertainment Tonight to the Associated Press, few media outlets have raised an iota of moral concern for the books language. AP called it the snappiest-titled diet book on the market. The New York Times could only say the book employed a spoonful of spice. A spoonful? Try a greasy 10-gallon tub of lard.
Readers have responded to "the title, the humor and the rude language," Karin Stratton, diet and fitness buyer at Borders, told USA Today. But the attention-grabbing, faux-religious tone is also interspersed: soda pop is "liquid Satan."
When the Skinny authors appeared on NBCs Today in April, host Meredith Vieira was the exception to the media rule. She instructed parents of young children they may want to turn the volume down for the segment. She asked the authors about the tone of the book. We had a very important message about health and nutrition. We felt that, you know, this would catch peoples attention a little more, said Barnouin. Freedman added that shes from New Jersey, and thats how they talk there. We really wanted to give people something fun to read, and we didnt want to make it a boring, clinical, science-diet book. We wanted to make it really accessible. The authors seemed much more concerned about defending the books scientific credentials (neither of them have any medical credentials) than its raunchy tone.
Even in the book world, shock sells big. These authors can claim that the meat-is-murder message is more important than manners, or claim that all the profanity is simply a way to make your work really accessible. But their calculated rudeness is running over the last vestiges of decorum in our everyday speech.
Bill Moyers is rightfully indignant. But its a lost cause.
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