#7 Where is the Line for “APPROPRIATE” Behavior–and Who Draws the Line?

This week’s blog post draws its inspiration from an Arkansas news story a colleague shared with me.

The brief version:

  • According to ArkansasBusiness.com four employees (including three on-air personalities) filmed and posted “two profanity-laced spoof videos” on YouTube.
  • The general manager of the NBC affiliate KARK stated, “A number of KARK employees acted on their own accord to produce unauthorized, offensive and distasteful videos that were subsequently posted to the internet.  I am personally shocked and saddened by the behavior of these employees. KARK has no tolerance for this type of behavior and messages that degrade and discredit our community and our employees. As a result, those involved have faced swift and appropriate disciplinary action….”
  • The four employees were fired.   (http://www.arkansasbusiness.com/article.aspx?zone=AB_DailyReport_Friday&lID=&sID=&ms=&cID=Z&aID=122987.54928.135113)

Discussing the story with colleagues and my wife brought thoughts about what constitutes appropriate behavior; or for that matter, appropriate speech. I realize the courts deal with this at the highest legal level—but what about at the level of each of us as members of a community?  Is everything game? Is nothing too sacred for skewering? Can anything be said?

I can remember when I was beginning my teaching career.  A veteran teacher on my team came unglued when she heard a student use the phrase, “that’s screwed up.”  When I asked about her concern, she said, “Don’t you know what screwed up really means?”  In her eyes, the student’s speech (and probably society in general) had slipped a bit on the civility scale. I did not see the big deal.

Now, with 30 more years in my rearview mirror, I understand my former colleague’s concern. For instance, growing up, my generation used the phrase “I am ticked off.” Well, we know what that was code for, don’t we?  But, now, I hear more and more people in both the classroom and professional settings blurt out, “That really p@@@es me off!”  Have we slipped a bit more? Is civility a casualty of informality and shock value?

The video spoof mentioned above uses the F-bomb numerous times. Two of my colleagues found other references in the videos offensive to women. Yet some people might make the argument there is nothing wrong with these videos—and nothing inappropriate about using the F-bomb in such creative endeavors. “It’s merely an attention grabber,” they might say.

The questions raised—and they are not new to this time period—are (1) “How do we determine the line of appropriateness?” (2) “Who should draw that line?”  (3) “Should there even be a line?”

What do you think?

© Steve Piscitelli and Steve Piscitelli’s Blog, 2010.

About stevepiscitelli

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7 Responses to #7 Where is the Line for “APPROPRIATE” Behavior–and Who Draws the Line?

  1. TCA says:

    Interesting blog entry, Professor P. My first response is “how do we balance one person’s freedom of speech and self expression against another person’s right not to endure language or discussion they find offensive, thus negatively impacting their ‘pursuit of happiness’? For me, that line is somewhere in the neighborhood of
    ‘voluntary exposure.’. Listening to degrading rants in a public place is not the same as turning to a radio or tv station, or YouTube, where one voluntarily entered and is free to leave at any time.

    As for the anchors in Arkansas, perhaps your next blog entry should be about judgment – how and when to use it.


  2. TCA’s point about judgment is on target. We may have freedom of speech, but that right evaporates if we are simply being self-indulgent, thinking that the world revolves around anything we think and say. It doesn’t. We also need to keep in mind that, if there’s a firing and a resultant court case, a typical Southern jury isn’t going to tolerate potty-mouths. They’d say, “I’d be fired in a minute if I said/did that. Who does this guy think he is?”

    Newspapers and TV stations have the right to restrict the on-air/on-paper language of their employees. When I worked for The Birmingham News back in 1960s, we weren’t permitted to use the expression “Coke party,” as in “The Daffodil Club will hold a Coke party at 3 p.m. Saturday at” blah blah blah. Today, of course, the term might be confused with a cocaine party, but back then the publisher owned stock in the Royal Crown Cola company.

    Creative writing students are often overwhelmed when they are told they don’t have any restrictions on their language. I tell them that the f-words and others may work for Playboy and Penthouse, but not for Redbook and family publications. There’s a second problem. If a writer has used f-this and that for every other word, what does he or she use when the f-word is really needed (say, a character smashes his thumb with a hammer)? A film can show the body language, but paper has to make do with what’s available. So why waste a good f?

    Final thought: Cussing is like sneezing. It requires almost no brain activity. When I was 18 or so, a friend taught me some absolutely filthy gutter language from Naples. Ages and ages later, I’ve forgotten most of the periodic table, the order of most of the presidents, and ranking plants/animals according to kingdom, phylum, and so on. But I can still curse like a Napolitan cabbie (which I don’t do because I don’t want my throat cut).


  3. Shawn says:

    I am a singer/songwriter and some folks have approached me with concerns that my music is sometimes TOO suggestive or just downright filth. I rarely use an actual curse word but imply plenty through colorful metaphor. I try hard to be ONLY suggestive that way those who don’t mind, or actually live with their minds in the gutter are sated, and those who don’t will only be a little embarrassed if they are caught smiling. For me it all boils down to manners….remember those? That and common sense, perhaps another rarity. There is a line but it is mostly arcing in it’s nature. It all depends on the demographic that surrounds you at the time. Going to a website and viewing something disturbing IS my fault. Accosting my aural canals with a deafening bass and lyrics that suggest less than loving acts of sexuality while I take my 10 year old daughter out for an ice cream should be considered criminally rude. Freedom of speech used to guarantee that we wouldn’t be imprisoned for speaking out against the government. But in recent decades it has been broadened to allow all forms of self expression under the guise of the pursuit of happiness. Unfortunately that means even those who wish to express the fact that they are selfish @@@holes with no regard for human dignity are also allowed to do so publicly. I say get a panel of mothers and grandmothers together and let them choose the line. The only folks that would have a hard time living with it would most likely be those that have no respect for their mothers and grandmothers to begin with…. and I for one don’t care if they are happy or not.


  4. Marianna Rader says:

    Hmmmm, very good point! While I don’t personally enjoy the type of video posted, some people do. I guess what I’m saying is that some behaviors are appropriate in some places and some in others. Example: I wore a relatively short skirt out with friends last night. I wouldn’t DREAM of wearing that skirt to work or church. Being the “grammar gustapo” as my kids put it, I hate when students use poor grammar in class or out in the work place. On the other hand, how they choose to speak among friends and family does not concern me. I guess what we all have to keep in mind is that we present ourselves to others in every action, word, gesture, or statement. What is it that we want others to know or think about us? If I wake up at 8am and I’m out of milk, do I care if I wear flip flops and sweats to run up to the store? No. My behavior tells others that getting items I need is more important than my appearance. Now these guys who made the video… They are portraying a side of themselves that they don’t usually show the public. They have a right to show and make the video, just like I have the right not to watch it. Is it appropriate? I guess for them it’s humor… more power to them, but I have other things I’d rather do with my time.


  5. Marianne p says:

    I like this blog. I agree there should be a line drawn somewhere with the lanuage use out in public. People should have courtesy for others. I would say a foul word every now and then isnt a big deal but if someone is consatly dropping the F bomb or any other word for that matter is very disrespectful not only to that person using the lanuage but also to the people around them. A question that came to mind when reading this blog was if people make such a big deal about the lanuage use in public and the bad beahavioral use in public why is nobody making a big fuss about the lanuage usage in movies,telvison,and music. I know there has been disscussions about it but doing has been done and the last time i checked movies are getting worse and worse by adding more cussing and even putting more sexual refernces and still people go and pay to see them even though they say that its offenseive and disresctful.


  6. brunzell says:

    Many companies has modified their policies on distastful internet and videos. many firms as revised its algroithm so that it could detect this type of behavior. Their is a greater concern in our community that allow this type of conduct without severe penalties. Each of us has a obligation to contact our politcal respresentive and address our concern.


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