Tuned In

R__d My L_ps: The Rise of the Barely-Bleeped Curse

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Speaking of Bravo reality shows, anyone who’s watched them for several years–anyone who’s watched any TV for several years–has witnessed an evolving phenomenon: the gradual shrinking of the censor’s bleep. It used to be that even on a Bravo reality show–or, say, a network show like Fox’s Action–one of the major curse words would be blanked or bleeped out entirely. But the networks seem to have gotten the art of curse-shaving down to a science. An f-word used to become “____”; then it was “f___”; now, on shows like Top Chef, it’s more like “f_ck,” and sometimes I could swear you get the tiniest sliver of vowel in there.

These bleeps are the pasties of the TV world: for all practical purposes they may as well not exist, yet there they are. Which raises the question of why they’re even necessary, and just what it is that makes a dirty word dirty. Is it the f or the u or the c or the k? Are vowels dirtier than consonants? (Maybe they are. Maybe because people use them more often in sex.)

You’ll notice that I generally take out letters within curse words in Tuned In, though sometimes, when the word is in a quote or the post is specifically about the curse, I’ll leave it in with a warning, as I did here. (I don’t censor curses in the Comments–and don’t plan to unless forced to–though I’ve very occasionally deleted downright disgusting stuff, racist rants, etc.) The print magazine tends to have a heavier hand with the dashes; in a feature on Deadwood, I once had to argue for keeping in more of a certain word that began with “c,” because with only the first letter it would have been unclear if the speaker meant a male or female naughty bit.

Personally, I’d rather spell out profanities (or offensive epithets) altogether, because I think this blog is either for adults or for children with a higher-than-usual interest in John from Cincinnati. But my editors don’t always agree, and there comes the point where it’s just not worth the trouble to deal with the occasional, but highly vocal, offend-ee.

But you tell me. Do you see any point to micro-bleeping words on TV (or in blogs about TV)? Or should we all just say ____ it?

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