Saturday, November 14, 2009

NYT's "Douche" Move: Page-One Trend Story Based On Numbers Requested From Arch-Conservative Parents Television Council.

Today's NYT offers one of those tasty page-one trend stories everybody reads -- this one noting that more television shows now use the word "douche" than ever before.

It may be true, and probably is.

But seeing TV reporter Edward Wyatt and the NYT base its front-page reporting on numbers the paper actually requested from the Parents Television Council -- a notoriously conservative TV watchdog group that has brought 99 percent of all indecency complaints before the FCC (we learned that from an excellent 2004 NYT story) -- makes us a little sick.

The PTC has been around since 1995, founded by conservative commentator L. Brent Bozell, and is responsible for complaints to the FCC about the Janet Jackson nipple slip and cursing on "NYPD Blue."

Okay, we'll admit it -- we have a horse in this race. We think the indecency obsession that governs television, and the NYT itself, is outmoded and anachronistic in the 21st century. Isn't it time for television and newspapers to realize they're not shielding anyone from anything?

For example, we know that when David Carr referred the other day in the NYT to a Twitter page with an "unprintable" word in its title, he was talking about "ShitMyDadSays." Is that really unprintable? No. It's unprintable only by the standards of a newspaper clinging to old rules and ancient ways.

But seeing Wyatt and the NYT team up with the PTC to do a story about "douche" as a new curse word reflected a new low in the NYT reporting approach. The PTC is an activist group with a cause -- one that got mentioned in Wyatt's story after the jump. He described them as "conservative interest group that monitors (and opposes) profanity on television."

Wyatt's story reports that the NYT asked the PTC to compile the numbers for its "douche" census.

Is that really a reliable way to compile statistics? The PTC has a stated, singular bias, and its interests are served by Wyatt's story in promoting its cause. Shouldn't the NYT do its own monitoring and reporting on these trends? Well, obviously it wouldn't be worth it. And, well, that's what the PTC does, right? They like to listen for bad words on TV!

Beyond that, Wyatt's story is merely ridiculous. He's essentially trying to prove that the increased use of words like "douche" show the effort that TV writers will make to avoid words that will get the network fined -- usually as a result of PTC efforts.

Wyatt admits that the word "douche" doesn't really merit attention alongside George Carlin's "Seven Words You Can Never Say On Television," which he cites:

And "while the word “douche” is neither obscene nor profane — although this usage is certainly offensive to many people — it seems to represent the latest of broadcast television’s continuing efforts to expand the boundaries of taste, in part to stem the tide of defections by its audience to largely unregulated cable television.

Offensive to whom? Wyatt doesn't say. Presumably he means to his friends at the PTC!

Wyatt goes on to quote the creator of the new hit comedy "Community," Dan Harmon, describing "douche" as "a thing that sounds like a thing you can't say."

Funny line. Unfortunately, it's just the kind of thing that will now incite the PTC, with its NYT page-one clipping in hand, to approach the FCC in search of a new ban.


Anonymous said...

You know, when it comes right down to it, it's kind of offensive to me. I try not to swear and I don't really enjoy the company of anyone who uses these words unless do something like drop a wrench on a toe. So I'm happy the newspaper doesn't print these words and the networks used to avoid them. I don't usually watch TV, but now I've got another reason to avoid it.

And it has as much to do with the tenor and the attitude of the people. Old television shows like "Maude" are unpleasant for me to watch even though they don't use yicky words like the D-word. (Bea Arthur would probably make some snarky feminist argument about repurposing the word or something like that.) The characters just have yicky attitudes and the humor revolves around insulting each other.

The real problem with these shows isn't words like the D word, it's the nasty attitude and the cabal of writers who think that humor revolves around putting down one and other.

Anonymous said...

To the previous Anonymous: Fuck off, you uptight cunt.

Roberto said...

To the first Anonymous: "the D word"??? "Yicky???" Bea motherfucking Arthur as an early warning sign of the apocalypse??? Mom, is that YOU???

To the second Anonymous: well said.

Anonymous said...

In this battle between those who can craft a sentence with wit and those who choose shock over any original insight to give power to their voice, I'm going to place my vote with the first anonymous.

It's so sad to watch the second anonymous miss such obvious ways to connect the cleansing spray of one so-called yicky word with the literal meaning of another.

The reason we ban these words is not because they're offensive, it's because we want the writers to work a bit harder to enlighten and entertain us.

Anonymous said...

Here's one of the few times a four letter word might appear in a decent publication:

Anonymous said...

"The reason we ban these words is not because they're offensive, it's because we want the writers to work a bit harder to enlighten and entertain us."

Well, that's just horseshit. Don't watch shows that traffick in the lowest common denominator if they don't rise to your standards of entertainment. In this battle between those who can craft a sentence with wit and those who choose shock over any original insight to give power to their voice, I'm going to place my vote with the First Amendment.

Anonymous said...

"First amendment"? The last refuge of scoundrels is patriotism or in this case wrapping yourself in the Constitution.

There's nothing stopping people saying these words or even putting out movies like "Scarface" that are nothing but four-letter words. But using a publicly granted monopoly requires political support and I think the networks wisely embraced a certain amount of censorship as a nod to this political control.

In any case, the mass market is dying. Not much of this matters. People with money are choosing their own walled gardens that cater to their own tastes. The Christians have their own DVDs and those who love foul language can buy their own DVDs. It all works out.

Anonymous said...

I don't care if these words are on the tube, but it's rather telling that nobody could respond to the first anonymous without resorting to profanity.

As for relying on numbers from a right wing activist group -- well, so what. The Times parrots the findings of left-wing enviro groups all the time. Anybody who watches TV knows that these words are popping up more often than in the past, and you'd expect this group to be one of the few that care.

The only question is, should we care? And that is the question posed by the article. My answer is, eh, maybe. I'd rather see the times ask why so much TV writing is just plain shitty.

But this feels like another made-up NYTpicker controversy.

Anonymous said...

I, too, cast my vote with the first anonymous. Resorting to name-calling or to words that some find offensive, even if Wyatt doesn't detail exactly who these people are, is a real failure of language. I forgive it in cats, dogs and babies, who cannot express themselves in words. But it shouldn't be a point of pride for these television shows that they are unable to be clever, smart, funny, etc. The use of gutter language in a scripted show just makes me think there are lots of unemployed writers who could do a way better job.

Anonymous said...

Douché, anonymous!

Sound Guidance said...

Cunt is a tight four-letter word. It tightens, up and down, all throughout. Mothers have cunts. Mothers mostly fuck via cunt to be so. Some mothers are fatter than the fucking fattest mother of all.

To be fucked may be yicky. To be fucked over, might suck. To offensively fuck up the little fly who couldn't zip it but mistakenly told the wrong mama to fuck off, is routine, it's basic business as usual.

So take a chance, go ahead, take it literally.