Swearing off the profanities
The Straits Times
18 June 2012
PROFANITY on the Web is so common these days that it has lost much of its impact. It is poor substitute for wit or a clever argument, of course, but it's a no-brainer for some bloggers when words fail them.
Consequently, swearing for effect tends to be seen in a negative light, as noted by Glen Matlock, formerly of the Sex Pistols, in a television interview: 'It's pathetic when people just swear for the sake of it.' He should know as the punk band didn't do itself any favours by spewing vulgarities for no apparent reason on the most inappropriate occasions.
What is appropriate, of course, depends on the context of a group and a verbal exchange. In working class interactions and the online chatter of the young, foul words are so routinely traded that some would consider it a way of merely building rapport.
Hence, the measured response to the expletive-filled blog post of a junior college student commenting on this year's annual Pre-U Seminar where Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean was the key speaker. The student deleted the post afterwards and apologised for his words, which an Education Ministry spokesman noted were 'rude and unbecoming'. The spokesman added: 'We hope to turn this into a teachable moment both for the student blogger and students in general.'
More troubling than just the language was the student's attitude - he wanted answers to national issues from the minister rather than to be asked for his views on them. It spoke of a lack of understanding that citizens own and shape the societies they live in, not government leaders or officials. Carried to extremes, this much lamented what's-in-it-for-me attitude is antithetical to fostering social cohesion and consensus on the way forward on the many challenges this country faces. Beyond this, the swearing incident raises questions of public manners and how public discourse should be conducted.
Even so, it would be unrealistic for language gestapos to even try to stamp out such conduct entirely. Swearing is so much a part of popular culture that it has surfaced everywhere, from acclaimed books like J. D. Salinger's The Catcher In The Rye to the HBO drama Deadwood. In real life, however, if the intent is to show disrespect or desecration, it can spark a chain of reactions that can spin out of control.
Worse, profanity for its own sake can vulgarise a community and degenerate the tone of public discussions. It could foster a cynical culture, more ready to knock down than to nurture and build. With maturity, the young may come to see that it is all a question of the time, tone and place.