Chase Utley, the “F” word, and bad taste

Perhaps it was the placement of a new William Penn atop the Comcast Building which undid the curse. Perhaps the curse was just a false religion. In either case, there is no curse now, and the Philadelphia Phillies have won the World Series.

Having lived in the middle of all the celebrating, I can say for certain that not much work has been accomplished in this city the past several days. The World Series victory has been a diversion for everyone, regardless of whether they were looking for one or not. Even I, who generally would rather sit at home and read my Murray Rothbard books than go out and try to patch together a pleasant evening in an oppressively noisy bar, got caught up in the revelry. I attended Friday’s victory parade and then walked the four blocks back to my apartment to watch the ceremony held at the ballpark.

Now, when events like this happen in Philadelphia, everyone holds his breath. Will people destroy the city? As it turns out, no. There was just one bump in the road on Friday. As part of a queue of speakers, Phillies shortstop Chase Utley stepped up to the microphone and unleashed the dreaded “F” word (no….not Federal Reserve!) before any of the TV producers could get a finger on the mute button.

Uh oh.

Now, before I say another word I ought to say this: I am not in the least offended by profanity, and in fact I enjoy using a good bit of it myself. Sometimes, there is just no other way to express a thought. This is because language, beyond the literal meaning of the words, has tendency, and it has sentiment. Surely, after a 25 year long championship drought in Philadelphia, there’s plenty of what could be (loosely) called sentiment to go around.

However, this episode frankly gave me a sinking feeling, a feeling of disappointment. Utley’s comment was completely unnecessary, though I suspect it was the result of an unguarded moment. Ever forget where you are and say something you shouldn’t? This could be what happened to Utley.

Various reactions to this episode poured onto local websites. Most common were the “What’s the big deal?” reactions. (We could call these the “libertines.”) In second place we had the Sheila Broflovskys, who were all concerned about the children. There is another response that often happens in situations like this which might be called the “theocratic” reaction, though it seems to be happily underrepresented here in Philadelphia. These are the people who write the local newspapers and call down the wrath of God on the person who said the bad word (would he be called by these people the “f**ker”?). They call for laws and all sorts of other tyrannical imbecilities which are supposed to protect the innocence of our Great Society. These are the people who give the FCC what legitimacy it has, and they’re responsible for that stupid TV ratings system that no one pays attention to.

The truth is that all of these people have missed the point. Start with the children. Let’s get serious for a minute: How many of them had never heard this word before? Thinking realistically and leaving aside puritanical-Utopian fantasy, we can surmise that most of them have already heard it. And for those who haven’t, I don’t see that such an experience will make a dime’s worth of difference in the development of their long term character, which really comes from good parenting. A good parent doubtlessly took the time to explain that they don’t want to hear that kind of language in their house. So, Sheila Broflovsky can go home now.

We have already explained the problem of the theocrats, but what’s the problem with the libertines? In truth, the libertines and the theocrats suffer from the same inability to properly identify the problem with public, TV-broadcast profanity. They are blind to the actual malady, which is really quite simple.

The problem is bad taste–no more, no less. (This is not to put down Utley as more tasteless than the general population; he is only a product of his culture, just like the rest of us.) Our society tends to group various actions into two broad categories: actions which are legal, and actions which are not–or perhaps one might say actions which can be done and actions which cannot be done. There is little sense of ought and ought not. This is where taste–or one could call it good manners–comes in. It is not moral law, it is not civic law, it is the agreed-upon code of conduct between men, and it is perhaps more responsible for peaceable relationships among us than the nun’s clicker or the policeman’s baton.

The problem with an absence of manners is that positive law is more quickly appealed to in order to rectify an issue which really belongs to the province of good taste. We don’t need the FCC telling us what we can and cannot say on television. Nor do we need to exaggerate and treat the “F” word as a mortal sin, a colossal upsetting of the Order of the Universe. What we need is good taste, so that we can all agree that Chase Utley shouldn’t have said what he said.

And then leave it at that.

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2 Responses

  1. GIVE ME A BREAK!

    Would you agree that most kids watch the post-season baseball games? I would. So, Chase Utley uses the F-word, a word that every kid has heard at least once in his life. And MLB and the media are so worried about it’s effect on the little ones. Tell me this, why is MLB not worried about the effect the Viagra banners or the Cialis ads have on the little ones? It was much much easier for me to explain to my children on that day that sometimes adults use inappropriate language and the trick is not to repeat it. That’s what I said and we moved on, never discussed it again. But during this entire post-season, my two sons, age 13 and 8 had invited their friends over to watch all of the games. I have the 57-inch TV – they all want to be here. How embarrassing is it that after every inning, we have to hear “if you have an erection lasting more than four hours, consult your doctor”. It’s what I call selective censorship. We only care about the negative impact on the kids when we’re not making money.

    Grow up. Parents who raise their children right are well-adjusted enough to handle a four letter word every once in a while. So are their kids. But I’m not so sure about the guy trying to turn on his wife by wearing his wedding tux or the two 60 year olds in the bathtub.

    The height of hypocracy. GO CHASE!

  2. Hmm. Somehow I suspect you missed my point.

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