I was pottering in the kitchen (probably making tea or some such) while WeatherGirl was listening to a comedy program on the radio in the sitting room. I’m half hearing the words as they gently waft my direction, when a woman on the program says “shit” quite clearly and plainly. Matter of fact, no big deal, middle of the sentence.
But it popped out at me like a glowing ember and smacked that neural structure from 1974 that said “Hey – people aren’t supposed to say things like that on radio!” Which was a little odd, since I’m typically not very good at noticing such things (which is sometimes a problem when reviewing CDs for the radio station). Yet there it was, and it certainly caught my attention this time.
I suspect that in 1974 the BBC never would have never aired such language, except perhaps in the wee hours, or with bleeping. Times change, however, as the recent UK re-rating of Christopher Lee’s 1958 Dracula from X to 12A (!) makes clear.
In a larger sense, however, it seems like we’ve turned a huge collective corner and, short of some catastrophic change, aren’t likely to come back. It’s clear that people swear, are quite fascinated by sex, and enjoy the occasional fart joke. Various folks like the Victorians and the FCC might have attempted to deny these basic facts, but it didn’t make them any less true, it just drove them underground.
The web, however, is rapidly washing away any such pretense. Without any sort of centralized control over content (and none on the horizon), we end up with the great unwashed, and almost entirely unedited, rambling burps of the world. And we can no longer pretend that it’s not out there, that people don’t say these things. All these past forms of mass censorship have been based on the flimsy notion that we were protecting someone from something. Now, short of an off-grid survivalist camp in Montana (where I’m sure no one swears, talks about sex, or tells fart jokes), you just can’t pretend it’s not out there. Mulder would be proud.
As a result, we’ll just have to grow up and take some responsibility, for ourselves and our children, and not assume that someone else will handle it for us. We’ll no doubt run across some things that aren’t to our liking (American Idol anyone?). Assuming they’re not illegal or harming others, we’ll need to just look away and hit the back button. Kids are gonna run into things that lead to awkward questions. But heaven knows they talked some crazy shit in the playground when I was in elementary school, so I suspect all that’s really changed is our ability to pretend it wasn’t happening.
This is one of those moments where something huge has changed, incrementally but fairly quickly, and will not likely change back in many-a-lifetime. And that little “shit” was just one of the hinge creaks as the door opened on this new world.