Jonah Goldberg

I don't think the vulgarians realize how hard that is when producers and executives refuse to stay in their lanes. Even family-oriented TV shows are punctuated with commercials not just for erectile dysfunction pills and utterly unromantic romantic aids but also inappropriate ads for incredibly inappropriate movies and TV shows. And sometimes family-friendly networks are family-friendly in name only (I'm looking at you, ABC Family Channel). And don't get me started about the Internet.

Consider one of the Goldberg family's favorite shows: Bravo's "Top Chef," in which the "cheftestants" compete in various culinary challenges for the title of -- duh -- Top Chef. Surely, a cooking show should be safe viewing for all ages. But for 10 years running, the cast has cursed nonstop. Worse, the profanity isn't really bleeped out, merely "bleeped at," in the words of the New York Times.

In 2008, head judge Tom Colicchio rightly chastised the cast and posted an apology on the show's website for all the "gutter language." Nothing's changed. Defenders of the cursing insist it reflects the reality of culinary culture. I'm sure that's true. But journalistic accuracy is a pretty hypocritical defense for a show that has chefs making haute cuisine from vending machines amid egregiously staged product placements. (Also, the cursing is utterly gratuitous. I, for one, have never concluded a delicious meal with the exclamation, "Wow, the guy who made this must be really foul-mouthed!")

And such hypocrisy gets at the core of the problem. Vulgarity has become cultural shorthand for everything from seriousness to rebelliousness to "keeping it real." But it's closer to the opposite.

Colicchio notes the chefs are always "on their best behavior" when they're around him. They never curse in front of the judges. Nor would they, one hopes, around their kids or customers. But when they're on TV -- broadcast to millions (including the judges, their customers and their kids) -- they think it's obligatory to let the expletives fly.

In other words, the standards of the common culture are lower than they are in nearly every other walk of life. Which means they're not really standards at all. If anything, the new taboo is decency.


Jonah Goldberg

Jonah Goldberg is editor-at-large of National Review Online,and the author of the book The Tyranny of Clichés. You can reach him via Twitter @JonahNRO.
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