Friday, April 11, 2008

Is The F-Word Really Family Friendly?

Is The F-Word Really Family Friendly?

As most of my dear readers know, I love great theatre and don't shy away from much in the way of content.

In fact, my favorite show of the past year is the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Tracy Letts, August: Osage County, which is not only littered with broken dreams, but sprinkled with plenty of prickly four letter words.

But I was struck a few weeks ago when watching one local New York City television critic tout the Latino-themed In The Heights as "family friendly." My curiosity was piqued because, quite ironically, I was about to see the musical that very evening. Given this critics' ringing endorsement for the whole family, I was more than a little surprised when I heard the F-bomb dropped during my performance.

Now, as regular readers also know, the F-word is not used on this site. I don't use it here, nor do I allow commenters to use it, because quite frankly, when it comes right down to it, I think it's ultimately a lazy word used too freely and gratuitously by poseurs afraid of being deemed unhip -- sort of analogous to teenagers who think that smoking makes them look cool. I also don't use it because I want this site to remain family-friendly, a place I wouldn't be embarrassed if my own mother checked it out (and lo and behold, after a google search, she has, all on her own).

Personally, while I have become inured to hearing this word uttered in almost every major new play or musical I've seen, as well as added to productions like the new revival of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, I still don't believe this, ahem, rutting word (thank you very much, Tennessee Williams!) is exactly family friendly.

It may come as a shock to some people in the entertainment industry that some parents would prefer to shield their children's tender young ears from the assault of the F-bomb. But those same parents would be forgiven for mistakenly thinking that a critic's declaration of "family-friendly" provides the all-clear sign, that they won't have to hear what is still ostensibly considered the English language's most vulgar word.

Within days of my seeing In The Heights, which by the way, I actually liked, I was struck by an editorial in USA Today on how technology has outpaced the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in its "crackdown on obscenity." I was struck by the following passage from that March 31 editorial:

For the record, here's what started the ruckus: Cher said critics had been predicting for 40 years that she was on her way out, adding, "So f—- 'em." At the Golden Globes, Bono called his award "really, really f——— brilliant!"

Not exactly family fare, obviously, and over time viewers complained, as did assorted members of Congress and a group called the
Parents Television Council, which seeks to reduce indecency in the entertainment industry.
* * *
(The FCC's crackdown on broadcasters) comes from good intentions. Network television has grown both cruder and more sexually explicit over the years, leaving many a family uncomfortably surprised.
So, dear readers, what do you think? Should critics and others be more prudent when recommending a show for the whole family? Or have we reached a point in our civilization where it no longer matters?

I'll be curious to hear what you have to say -- but please avoid any obscenities!

This is Steve On Broadway (SOB).

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At 11 April, 2008, Blogger Kari said...

Full disclosure: I use it all the time, and frequently in writing (I've never understood how it's lazier than any other word?). But no, it's not family friendly, not child appropriate, and I take care to use it in a controlled, adult environment. Boundaries, boundaries...

At 12 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Kari, I really appreciate your comments.

Let me explain what I mean by lazy. Historically, I believe in the majority of cases, the word had been used to shock and to titillate. However, during the course of my adult life, the profanity has evolved dramatically -- it now seems to come much too easily and in some cases as a crutch for lack of anything more creative to say.

Yes, as the Washington Post story I had linked to above (see F-Bomb) illustrates, it has basically become an all-purpose word for some, but not all, parts of society. Technically, it still remains outside the bounds of decency, even though, at least for me, it has long since lost all its shock value.

Nevertheless, what does the word really offer that creative minds can't muster in a much more clever fashion? Little, if you ask me.

At 12 April, 2008, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Bravo, SOB. Most people I know don't consciously use vulgar language and are smart enough to use more constructive, civil dialog.

I hate the creep of the f-bomb into supposedly PG rated material, and it's why I never take my kids to a movie, including Disney stuff, without pre-screening it myself.

At 12 April, 2008, Blogger Erica said...

I'm with you on "strong" language of any sort and always try to let my readers know that they should take a look at a particular show (a synopsis if nothing else) because there are shows I wouldn't take a child to - Pippin, Rocky Horror, or Brighton Beach ... that contain both language and content that merits further discussion.

It's sad how often the F-bomb is dropped today. Perhaps it's not as shocking as it once was, but it certainly isn't "Family Friendly" by any means.

At 13 April, 2008, Blogger Kari said...

Indirectly related: the new ads for "Gossip Girl," which feature the prominent headline "OMFG." I find that inappropriate and reprehensible in any circumstance (even delivered via acronym), and particularly given the age range of that show's target audience. When it's used ONLY for provocative purposes, ONLY to shock, that I do find lazy.

And of course when I use it, it's with a wink and all vulgarity is removed ;-)

At 13 April, 2008, Blogger Esther said...

Hey Steve,
Wow, this is a very interesting, thought-provoking post. (Great graphic, too!)

I think I've become so accustomed to hearing it that I didn't even notice the f-bomb in "In the Heights." But now that you mention it, I can see your point.

On the one hand, I think that any child old enough to really appreciate "In the Heights" has heard the word numerous times and isn't shocked by it. (Let's say a teenager). But still, I think you're right that parents have certain expectations about what family friendly means, especially for younger children, and that probably excludes hearing four-letter words.

I kind of felt the same way about "The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee," which I also saw described as family friendly, even though it has a song titled "My Unfortunate Erection." I just felt an obligation to mention it in my review. (There were still lots of kids at the touring production I attended). Likewise, when I reviewed the novel "Wicked" I went back and added a sentence saying that this is not a book for preteens who might have loved the musical. And I'll certainly be more cognizant of doing things like that in the future.

I agree that a lot of times, it's just used to be titillating. (Even though it's not a very titillating word anymore). As a writer and editor I've never worked for a publication that would allow the word in print, and I guess I've just carried over the same standard in my blog. I just wouldn't feel comfortable using it.

I don't know, it may be a generational thing. The publication I work for also discourages use of the "s" word that rhymes with the "f" word. It may not be as vulgar, but I think it's still considered lazy and just too colloquial. But I think younger writers, who have grown up with it as part of their daily vocabulary don't see a problem with it at all.

At 14 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Esther, I just had a work colleague of about 60 years old come by my office this morning to tell me he had just seen Jersey Boys over the weekend. He said he and his wife almost walked out at intermission because they were so turned off by the use of the F-Bomb. He remarked, "I grew up in the fifties and sixties and no one I know ever talked like that."

So to your point, I believe you are correct in saying it may be a generational thing. And as much as I've grown used to hearing it in most theatrical performances I take in, I don't have many work colleagues or friends who lace their conversations with it. But perhaps most of my friends are not twenty-somethings, either.

At 14 April, 2008, Blogger Tor Hershman said...

Phuck Fonics

At 14 April, 2008, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Tor, That's perilously close to the edge and I can see you're testing me, but given you're the self-proclaimed world's funniest ïconoclast, I'll let it stand. Plus you get extra credit for making me laugh.

At 22 March, 2009, Blogger jim said...

Steve, I am taking a junior high Student Council group (all 13 and 14 year olds) to NYC this summer. I had considered In The Heights as a possible Broadway selection, but I would feel uncomfortable watching a show with my students where the F-Word was sometimes used. S now I have narrowed it down to Lion King, Mamma Mia, and Wicked. Which of these do you think this age group would most enjoy? The majority of these students will be freshmen in high school in the fall. Thanks.

At 22 March, 2009, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...


Thanks for your note. You really can't go wrong with The Lion King or Wicked. both are still going strong, and the latter helps turn the classic "The Wizard of Oz" inside out.


At 20 April, 2010, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The F-word is NOT family friendly. It's sad that we even have to ask that question.

I agree, it is a lazy word and has lost all shock value. Hollywood and the media have done a good job of normalizing it (and other things).

We still have an obligation to our children. Allowing the F word to be "family friendly" is sick and twisted. People who support that idea probaly don't have children and don't understand what is at risk.

At 20 April, 2010, Blogger Steve On Broadway (SOB) said...

Thanks Anonymous for your comments. Even without children of my own, I recognize that this word is never family-appropriate.


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