Friday, March 4, 2011

WTF is the issue?

After skipping the television broadcast of the Academy Awards for years, on the grounds it was both a snooze- and narcissism- fest, I succumbed to my children's requests and watched last Sunday. They were excited because they'd actually seen one of the movies up for best picture. An R-rated one, no less.

We didn't take them to see "The King's Speech" without a little homework first. I skipped over to my Bible for parental movie decision making, This site is a gift for parents trying to figure out what exactly their darlings will be exposed to in the course of a 90 minute film. (Full disclosure: I was a reviewer for CSM for awhile, specializing in straight-to-DvD sequels with the numbers VI, VII, and VIII in their titles. You ain't lived until you've sat all the way through Buddies 6: Buddies in Space.)

According to the review, The King dropped a number of F-bombs, but other than that nothing seemed beyond the ken of our 10 and 13 year old girls. In fact, in the UK it was approved for audiences 12 and up. Prior to the movie we gave our caveat: you are going to hear language that you should never repeat. Even if you hear your parents use it on a weekly (Mom) or daily (Dad) basis.

Sure enough, the girls loved the movie - LOVED it - and we all cracked up during the one swearing scene. Nobody's ears withered and the children are not referring to each other or us by four letter words. Instead we've had some interesting discussions about WWII, about stuttering, about the rules for royal succession. That scene made a point, but it didn't overshadow the whole movie.

Cuss words in music can be the same way. Though I download the clean version of explicit songs if I think the kids are going to be listening, I'm not particularly bothered by the swearing if it's there for good reason, and I trust that my kids are not idiots who are going to sing the actual words out loud in mixed company. I've told them my view - that people who swear constantly are missing out on a whole wide world of more precise adjectives, nouns, and verbs. And no word has as much impact as a curse uttered by someone who usually takes pains to avoid them.

Please, a simple f-bomb would be a nice problem to have. What bothers me much more is lyrics that are sexually explicit and /or misogynistic, or as Flight of the Conchords put it in their rap Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros, "Some people say our lyrics are sexist, but you lovely bitches and 'hos should know I'm trying to correct this."  I flip the radio channel to something else when the singer talks about Shorty on the pole, or backing it up so he can milk the cow, or boys trying to touch her junk (that she's probably doused with the same bottle of Jack she uses to brush her teeth.)

Rihanna never swears, but she drives me INSANE. Here is an extremely talented singer who was herself a victim of domestic violence, and every song she has sung since that experience glorifies violence in the relationship - "Just gonna stand there and watch me burn, that's all right because I love the way it hurts." Each time that song comes on, I turn off the radio and give the kids yet another lecture on how violence has zero place in a romantic relationship.

The worst part is how some of those awful, demeaning lyrics are encased in songs that I am powerless to hate. We listen to a lot of hip hop and rap in this house, so pretty much everything by the Beastie Boys and Kanye falls into this category. "Carry Out" by Timbaland and Justin Timberlake - I cannot help but shrug my shoulders to the beat of those opening chimes. Yet when Justin asks "Is it full of myself to want you full of me?" I wince. Then I keep dancing.

Movies, song lyrics, books - is it rationalization to say that I treat the ones with questionable content as "teaching moments?" Maybe without the music of 50 Cent and Nelly I wouldn't constantly be telling my daughters that no one should ever get away with objectifying or talking down to them.

Of course, I could be totally wrong. In that spirit, I bring you Bruce Springsteen singing "Long Time Coming." When he gets to the line at 3:39 about his intentions to do a better job raising his unborn third child than he has with the first two, "I ain't gonna f* it up this time" is about the only phrase that can capture the power of his sentiment. It's also the parenting pledge I make, every morning.

Here's to a weekend of getting it right, friends -


  1. Yes, yes, yes on Rihanna - my kids know by now just how much I detest what she has evolved into. S&M - ARRG! Skylar Grey has a better voice anyway.

  2. Amen sister! I can't always explain it to my girls either, why I find some songs with bad words okay and others not (Kesha). It's led to some great open discussions though. I have such a bee in my bonnet about Rhianna my girls are tired of hearing it. Now it's become kind of a joke as I have to ask out loud "Why doesn't this girl know her name?" every time that stupid song comes on. When she posed nude on the cover of GQ after the domestic violence incident I couldn't believe it. I think it was Maureen Dowd who said, "It took only a few decades to create a brazen new world where the highest ideal is to acknowledge your inner slut." Come on girls. Reach higher! Can you tell you hit a nerve today? Louisa

  3. Nancy, I couldn't agree more - great post.

    I remember several years ago, back when "The Osbournes" was popular, I heard Sharon Osbourne in an interview responding to criticism about how much her family's banter involved cursing and the f-word. She said that f*** has no meaning the way they use it, she felt it was on the same level as darn or shoot. But words like "hate" and words used to judge and hurt people, those were not allowed in her house. I loved that and since that day, my kids grew up knowing in a visceral way that "hate" is a bad word in our house, and calling someone "stupid" is unacceptable. You will never hear my kids say those words (unless they are really, really mad at me and use it to get a reaction), and you won't hear it from us. I've been known to use the f-word on rare occasion, but I try to model better language choices. When my preteen includes "OMFG" in her Facebook update, I don't react. Should I? If she posted something disrespectful or hurtful, I'm all over it, but OMFG doesn't really phase me (much). My only fear is that her friends' parents may get the wrong impression of her.

  4. Louisa and Jill - the kids and I recently heard a radio DJ say that she thought the Rihanna song "What's my name" sounded like she was taunting an elderly relative with memory loss...ever since then we bust out laughing when that song comes on. Geez, first masochism then elder abuse, what's next from that girl? Wish she'd go back to singing about common household items like umbrellas.

    Michelle - funny, I WOULD say something to my kid if she put OMFG in a FB update, but not because of the F, rather because of the proximity of "F" to "G" in that phrase. As Molly Darling once said in a sermon about the 10 Commandments, "Don't say the name unless you are serious about calling out the big guns." But I am totally on board with the hate and the stupid clampdown - those are words that actually MEAN something.

  5. Nancy - see how naive I am? I assumed G meant "gosh" :) Just kidding, that's a great point!

  6. You are so right. I went to see this movie with my 14 and 15 yr old.

    Language like that doesn't bother me. It's all arbitrary.

    It's the radio with that trash, that denigrates women. As the mother of boys, it's that dang radio.

  7. Leave it to Bruce to use the f-bomb in a completely appropriate way!!!! I agree with the aformentioned comments...hate, stupid and shut up top the list of "don't say" words in our house. Funny though...the same words were forbidden in my childhood home. Coincidence???

  8. Hi nice to meet you. Jody here, Kiwi living in Oakland via London. Just came to you site and you have many subject I love, Oakland , Neil Finn _ our family pretends to be his (distant) cousins....Never been proven that we're not. Gosh I hadn't even remembered that the King's Speech has swearing in it - and I saw it last weekend. Maybe more of a reflection of my memory than moral. It was all in context though he actually said those words and would have been lacking without it. Have a great weekend!


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