There is a new proto-juvenile book just published, Go The F**k To Sleep, written by Adam Mansbach and illustrated by Ricardo Cortés. Oh, that’s the way it is billed, with all of the asterisks intact. That is the way we show “concealed profanity,” or for that matter, any of the concealed nasty words (the N-word, the B-word, and for all I know the Ψ-word.)
And no, at this point, I will not fling out some “forbidden words” to demonstrate my already well-documented fluency in profanity and demonstrate how I can flout convention and decency with the very best of them. Right at the moment, those simply do not belong in this context. Maybe later.
I have some heartburn about Go The F**k to Sleep. My reservations cover a couple of major areas, proliferation and context. “Nasty words” are used more and more (proliferation) and for more and more reasons and in more and more places (expanding context). The book itself is indeed cute and funny. (Mind you, at $14.95 for 32 pages, it is rather overpriced.) Mansbach touches a humorous if sensitive nerve as he expresses the frustration of parents of little children as they do little-child-frustrating things like refuse to go to sleep and eternally bug you late into the night.
But there are simply some places we don’t want to go because it is unwise to do so. Sometimes there are places we don’t want to go in thought or verbally, not because it’s “bad” or “immoral,” but because it is simply unwise and somehow damages us and our surroundings. This is not a legal concept, this is a responsible social and moral concept. The First Amendment protects speech and speech-like symbolic action. Do you want to burn a flag? Okay, go right ahead, you can do so, that’s the law. Now people who do burn flags are flaming assholes, but they are exercising their First Amendment constitutional right to that speech. [There is an example of “nasty words” used in what I believe to be the proper context. Obviously, that is a metaphor. Those who burn flags may have about them the anatomical feature “anus,” but they are not in the literal sense that anatomical feature. Rather, the use of the word denotes disgust and association with foul things. In other words, they are assholes.]
We would never tell a little child “go the f**k to sleep,” would we? Now here is some news from my world, from the world of the courts of our land. Very sadly, some children – many children – are subject to just that and much more. If you shop at Walmart, it’s difficult to fill up your cart without observing some examples of really miserable parenting. You are also apt on occasion to see just plain piss-poor and abusive parenting. [Again, the excretory reference is a metaphor, although since it is urological and not scatological, it denotes some lesser degree of disgust.] It’s rather sad that some of these people are so nasty that many people hesitate to intervene.
Sometimes the reviews on Amazon can be quite humorous. To Go The F**k To Sleep, there are couple of the ilk “I read this book to my daughter and it really scared her” variety. That concept is funny because it’s so outrageously stupid. And yet, there are parents who absolutely don’t know any better. For the responsible parent, you just know that there are some lines you don’t cross. Now this doesn’t disturb me in such a way to call to “ban the book,” but to suggest that we should be thinking about making affirmative decisions about what is and what is not in good and bad taste. And, yes, “taste” is a valid consideration for taking or refraining from taking action. Life is not a Jackass movie. (Yes, I know that one of the stars of the movies recently died. That is unfortunate. That should not affect our qualitative opinions of the so-called artistic work.)
Each of our lives is a wall made up of lots and lots and lots of bricks. Everybody has some bad bricks, some weak bricks, some bricks which just don’t match and which are covered with distasteful graffiti. I sure do. Indeed, we’re suspicious of somebody whose wall is just too perfect to straight and too uniform, the people who have made no missteps and who have not endured the bitter which comes with the sweet. But when you get too many bad bricks, your wall is weak, or it just plain falls down.
Crossing the line, mixing F-bombs and our babies, mixing the profane with the beloved, weakens you. And so this is not some magnificent, stirring call to save society by this one thing of watching our language. I’m just suggesting we use better bricks.
I have a couple more comments that may be relevant. If you watch the If you watch the Naudet video of the first airliner hitting the World Trade Center on 11 September 2001, you will see stress in action and a touch of profanity. Filmmakers were with New York fire crews making a documentary when they heard the plane fly over at low altitude. The camera caught the plane hitting the tower, and one of the firefighters immediately exclaimed “Holy shit!” Then that is repeated. [See note below to those who think that the fire department was in on the attack, that the building was stuffed with "thermite" and so forth.] Here was an instance where those firefighters knew in the space of less than 5 seconds that they were right there at “The Big One,” the single incident which would largely define their entire careers. They had fire on about the 80th floor of a very tall building, obvious major loss of life already, and even without knowing that the buildings were going to come down, they were at the cusp of a nightmare. The reaction? “Holy shit!” Under the circumstances, that was pretty weak tea. They didn’t even need to “drop an F bomb.”
Those who know me also know that my own “command” of “colorful language” is at times prodigious. It’s still a bad idea. Here at No. 3 Equity Court, we’ve started a little reminder. On the desks are cups with the legend “Temperate Language Encouragement Depository,” into which goes a nickel for the animal shelter every time profanity is used. I know that sounds absurdly simple and even quite juvenile but, indeed, it is had a salutatory effect on the tenor of the verbal communications ‘round No. 3.
Old dogs and new tricks? Or good sense for a change?
[Note to the 9-11 conspiracy theorists: Do you think that the Fire Department was in on it because of the guys checking a possible gas leak were not wearing bunker gear [Coats and helmets and so forth)? Do you think that the buildings were stuffed with “thermite” and that’s what brought them down? Okay, a final question: Do you know the difference between ignorant and stupid? Ignorant means you’ve never heard good sense. Stupid means you’ve heard but you don’t have the capacity to process the information. Those of you who believe in the 9-11 conspiracies are suffering from malignant, refractory, can't-pour-piss-out-of-a-boot-with-the-instructions-written-on-the-sole stupidity. Your ideas defy physics, metallurgy, fire science, and reason. Those few pathetic nitwits who have military titles or degree letters before or after their names are simply people suffering from malignant and refractory stupidity who have titles or letters. The First Amendment protects their goofy beliefs. They are still goofy. Please do me a favor and Shut The F**k Up.]