When I was a kid, I knew that Dial hand soap tasted terrible, but that Irish Spring was even worse. And don’t even mention the aptly named Lava brand. You see, my siblings and I got our mouths washed out with soap for certain verbal infractions that included swearing and/or talking back to our parents. Not often, certainly. But often enough that – to this day – I think twice, then a third time, before letting certain words come out of my mouth. For example, take the word “butt.” As in “hind end,” “hiney,” “tush,” “bottom,” “rump,” bee-hind,” “fanny,” “booty” or as they say in country-music, “badonkadonk.” Today, of course, the word butt seems cute and innocuous – as harmless as it is prevalent. “Don’t be such a butt!” “Ouch, that guy just fell on his butt.” Or “That snarky columnist thinks he’s funny but he’s a real butthead.” Ahem. You get the idea.
Growing up, a serving of soap suds could be earned by simply saying “butt,” along with many other words that are so commonplace today, you hear students of all ages, teachers, newscasters, even government leaders say them unashamedly every single day.
If muttering a relatively innocuous word like butt got us in hot (or soapy) water, we dared not even think of worse names for the same nether region of the body. Which is why the title of a certain pre-summer movie in theaters right now drives me more than a little crazy. The film is “Kick A**.” I use asterisks not to maintain publishing standards, but to maintain my own resistance – as futile as it may be – against the ongoing coarsening of our culture. The film in question did very well its first couple of weeks in release, unfortunately, drawing its intended large audiences of preteen, teen and twenty-something video game jockeys who still live in their mothers’ spare bedrooms.
I’m thankful my own kids are old enough that I no longer instinctively dive across the coffee table for the remote when commercials like the ones for this movie invade our home. Even so, I drive past billboards for the film and shake my head, feeling a mixture of frustration and sadness that we’ve let our society get to this point. It seems to me we’re seeing a culture today that not only creates, but celebrates “broken windows.”
If you’re not familiar with this term, it comes from a theory that deals with a broken window in a heretofore nice neighborhood. If the window is not fixed soon, the area’s bad elements conclude that no one cares and proceed to move in – bringing with them increasing vandalism and blight. Conversely, if the broken window is quickly fixed, the bad elements see that caring people are active in the neighborhood and these undesirables go somewhere else. The state of the language in popular culture is one of these “windows” I’d like to see fixed – and quickly.
Thankfully, yet another Robin Hood remake, another Shrek and another Iron Man have already pushed their way to the top of movie marquees. The rest of the summer blockbusters are on their way. That means “Kick A**” will soon be headed for the obscure film trivia status it deserves. But in my mind, a film like this one leaves behind something no less foul than the contaminating sludge we hear so much about on the nightly news of late.
I only wish the same cultural elites in the entertainment industry who so loudly and relentlessly profess to be worried about the pollution of our air, oceans and rivers would be equally concerned about – and willing to fight against – the ever increasing pollution of the character of our society. After all, you don’t have to be responsible for a broken pipe on the ocean floor to be guilty of spewing dangerous toxins into the environment.
I’ll see you ‘round town.
Jim Chase is an award-winning advertising copywriter and lifetime CV resident. Find him online at www.wordchaser.com.