As a bit of a follow-up to yesterday's FTRW post about an attempt to ban “Fahrenheit 451” in Texas last fall, here's an earlier essay by Ray Bradbury, on various attempts to censor his work over the years.
In other news, my appearance on the “Book Chick” radio show a couple nights ago talking about FTRW was great fun and not just because I managed to say “scrotum” a couple times as well as “nut sack” at least once! Podcast hopefully to follow in the next few weeks.
Some of our discussion during the show inspired me enough to go back and add a couple more points to my list of “What Freedom to Read Week is not”, especially since she's probably going to have a chat with the manager since I said “nut sack” on the air and, whether you agree or not, there are restrictions on your freedom of expression including what can be said during the daytime hours on a Canadian radio station (neither of us were sure if “nut sack” crossed the line or not.)
The “Book Chick” radio show is a legacy of an SPG program called “Sask Books Go Public” that the Book Chick started and I took over for a few months in 2005 when she was on maternity leave. There was some controversy when she started it because the station obviously has their regulations and yet, by booking authors (poets being the worst offenders! ), there's a good chance you'd have the occasional “bad word” slip out during a reading or whatever, especially since the show airs at noon on Wednesdays when many are listening during their lunch break. In the end, a language disclaimer that played at the start and mid-point of the show seemed like a reasonable compromise on both sides.
Speaking of, anybody have any thoughts on “bad” words? What are they? And more importantly, why are they?
On the radio show, I talked about the movie “The Aristrocrats” and how the whole point of that documentary is to show various comedians telling the same insider joke with the same set-up and the same punchline with the jazz-like beauty being the improvisations they do in between to make it as foul and offensive as possible, yet while also capturing their own individual styles. In fact, in some ways, the show reaches a point where the words the people say doesn't even matter as much as how they say it.
I agree with this commentator (halfway down for their review) that the best versions of the joke are from the comedians who twist the standard set-up/improv/punchline in some unique fashion. Sarah Silverman's performance, where she blurs reality and fiction by describing herself as part of “The Aristrocrats” act as a child, was called “Oscar-worthy” by some.)
(Some people have a NSFW – not safe for work – note on links like that last one. I think I need to invent “NSFMIL” – NotSafeForMotherInLaw. Joan, if you're reading this, please don't click that link!)
Anyhow, another great twist was one comedian who told the middle part of the joke in a very G-rated, straight-laced fashion then inverted the standard punchline (which is always something like: “Wow, that's quite an act. What do you call yourselves again?” The Aristrocrats!) except this comedian tells it, “Wow, that's quite an act. What do you call yourselves again?” The Nigger Cunts! By using what are often considered the two most offensive words in the English language, the comedian distills the joke to its essence, subverts it, and shows the incredible power words have over us. (It is notable that the commentator I linked to earlier admits to enjoying some of the jokes, being offended by much of the movie but was especially outraged by this particular telling.)
So if I have a point, what is it? One of the things that you have to keep in mind with Freedom of Expression issues is that if you believe in Freedom of Expression, it is an all or nothing proposition. You can't draw the line by saying “well, I support Freedom of Expression except when it involves sex scenes (or Neo-Nazi propaganda or blasphemy or violence or whatever.)
This quote, from Evelyn Beatrice Hall, is appropriate:
“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
And although that last quote would make a beautiful finale for this post, because of the subject at hand I thought it might be more appropriate to link to the Bob Saget (yes, wholesome father Danny Tanner on “Full House” and the one-time host of the innocuous crotch-shot follies that was and are “America's Funniest Home Videos”) version of the joke, widely regarded as the most obscene of any of them in the documentary. (Again, NSFMIL.)