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Post Partisan
Posted at 03:23 PM ET, 06/18/2012

PostScript: Fining profanity editorial

Happy forking PostScript, everyone! Today’s installment concerns The Post’s editorial criticizing the city of Middleborough, Mass., for its recent decision to start giving out $20 tickets for public profanity. The Post found it ridonkulous because it appears to violate both First Amendment as well as commonsense common-law codicils against being fuddy old poops. Most readers seemed to agree. A tussle emerged in the comments as each one strove to fill the PostScript bunker with more delight. For example, dheller11 prefers solving the matter with casual violence:

In the old days, when someone dropped the “F-Bomb” in front of your kids, you’d pop that fool in the mouth with a quick right hook, and decency would comeback into their normative behavior.

Erasma2 contrives an intellectually dishonest but entertaining reason that the new law is constitutional:

These days, 99% of vulgar language isn’t “expression.” Words that formerly expressed anger or contempt are used as meaningless intensifiers both of pleasure and displeasure (and grammarians will tell you that intensifiers, even when meaningful, usually weaken expression). In that context, they aren’t expression and shouldn’t be protected.

A meta-comment conversation developed on whether this anti-censorship stance by The Post would mean some rules are changing here in the wilds of commentopia:

g-lo asked

Does this mean the Washington Post is now allowing cussing, profanity, and otherwise unsavory speech in its comment pages?

bethindc1 answered:

Nope. And you still can’t say v@g ina even when they’re talking about it.

It’s true! We in the bunker can say, uh, shmashmina sometimes, because we are trusted to use it only when appropriate, because we have jobs to lose!

joseph_engle notes that The Post grudgingly conceded that banning profanity — though unconstitutional — might lead to a “kinder, more genial place,” but found that irrelevant. He sees a straight line between enforced civility and enforced everything else:

Repression starts like this — something small and seemingly minor — and eventually moves on to different “crimes,” like “deviant political attitudes.” With their assumption, the WaPo editors seem to be channeling their inner Orwell this morning.

But LukeInVirginia wins the whole motherfinking thread. He begins his earnest plea for more civility with a comment that causes even us at PostScript, with our urbane, woman-of-the-world sensibilities, to wish there were a swooning couch in the bunker, instead of just the bags of aging carry-out condiments, packing crates and cinder-block chairs:

Most of these comments make my sphincter tingle uncomfortably. [The law] is a misguided effort, akin to banning books, but I certainly appreciate the sentiment. Sadly, such laws cannot stand in the way of societal evolution. It is the decline of western civilization, at the basic level, when so many people have no respect for civility. I suspect it will be shot down quickly when challenged, but will only inspire even worse displays until then.

THE POST responds:

As LukeInVirginia points out, the sentiment here isn’t exactly the issue. After all, what’s so bad – in theory – about a town where everyone is pleasant, civil, and well-behaved? (Imaging Washington as such a place is a delicious thought experiment.) As he writes, however, Middleborough’s ban “is a misguided effort, akin to banning books.” No matter how you slice it, attempting to restrict speech of any kind, public or private, is always a slippery slope. What’s worse? Having to listen to, in cricket44’s words, “offensive and tooth grindingly annoying” language? Or living in a place where certain things can’t be said? Especially given that it’s not even clear how Middleborough officers will draw the line between profanity and everything else, we vote the former.

By Rachel Manteuffel  |  03:23 PM ET, 06/18/2012

 
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