Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Profanity, Censorship, and Mixed Martial Arts

This past Saturday, I got a real treat: an hour of unexpected free time and control of the TV remote. This is the kind of opportunity I rarely get to experience (Like on Mother's Day, my birthday, or really early in the morning when everyone else is asleep). Possession of the remote is golden in this house. The race to acquire it is like the battle at the cornucopia in The Hunger Games. The strongest and bravest usually gains possession. It's never me because, to be perfectly honest... my kids kind of frighten me.

It was just sitting there all alone and unguarded on the arm of the couch with not a child in sight, so I risked it. I slipped off my shoes, propped up me feet, and started surfing channels like a pro. (This didn't actually happen. I'm rather unversed in the technical workings of the remote due to my infrequent possession of such a sacred object. There are too many confusing buttons for me to use it with any confidence, authority, or professionalism. I do at least know how to use the channel and volume buttons without tech help from the children.)

I settled on the UFC 188 prelims. Don't judge me. It was 2 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. The choice was between MMA and some landscaping show on the Home & Garden channel. Watching men pummel each other in the face is way more entertaining than watching men plant begonias. Just sayin'. (UFC stands for Ultimate Fighting Championship for those of you who prefer gardening.)

As I was sitting there stretched out on my couch, snacking on junk food, and watching blood splatter across the floor as one guy repeatedly hammer-fisted this other guy in the ear, I realized something odd.  It didn't seem particularly odd that I, a middle-aged, minivan-driving, suburban mother of four, was spending her free Saturday afternoon thoroughly engrossed in mixed martial arts (in spite of this episode's disappointing lack of Ronda Rousey). No, that something odd was the bleeping of television censorship. Now if the bleeping had been a public service to save viewers' ears from the glass-shattering eardrum-splitting irritation that is Joe Rogan's voice, I would have been eternally grateful. But it wasn't. It was censorship bleeping to cover offensive language... you know? Psychologically scarring words like "shit" and "damn" and horrific f-bombs and who knows what else because I couldn't hear it over that irritable bleeping noise.

I realize that it was 2 o'clock on a Saturday afternoon. I realize that impressionable young children are awake and aware and quite possibly watching television at that hour of the day. I realize that many parents don't want the purity of their children's ears tainted with profane language. Some adults consider profanity to be the gateway to all sorts of delinquent behavior. (If it weren't for those vigilant broadcast censors we'd probably have a whole generation of gangster thugs looting shops and setting fire to stolen vehicles all through the streets of Baltimore.)

Oh my BLEEP! That's a lot of BLEEPing blood!
Photo Source: chrislicona
Oh, the irony!

If you missed it, let me paint you a clearer picture. Two half-naked guys in a cage are beating each other. There is blood everywhere, streaming down one guy's face, covering the other's hands, splattering across the floor with each successive punch. One guy gets slammed to the ground and held there while he is repeatedly elbowed across his already broken and bloody nose. I've seen less blood in an episode of The Walking Dead.

Meanwhile, all of the curse words are painstakingly covered with inserted bleeps... because impressionable children and other people with delicate constitutions might be tuning in.

But this is the UFC, not The Walking Dead. This isn't fantasy violence cooked up in some Hollywood studio. There is no CGI (computer generated imagery) and that's not Karo syrup tinted with red food coloring pooling around that guy's ear. Those aren't actors wincing in pain. They are very real people covered in each other's blood and actually beating the shit out of each other. (Only I can't say "shit" because it might mentally scar someone.)

This is a joke, right?

Are there people out there that are more disturbed by certain four letter words than by actual human blood spray? I'm not sure I want to meet those people.

I'm not insinuating that UFC or other televised mixed martial arts should be censored. I'm not even insinuating that they are generally disturbing. I did sit and watch it with genuine enthusiasm while binging on junk food. And while there were more than a few moments that made me cringe in empathized pain, I was still able to appreciate the skill and athleticism that such intense competition demands. I am confused, however, that broadcasters and viewers don't bat an eyelash at the twisted logic of censoring language over violence (because there's no getting around the fact that mixed martial arts is violent. It might be somewhat controlled violence... but it's still violence.)

If we are censoring out of concern for children emulating behavior viewed on television, we might need to reconsider our censoring priorities. If Little Johnny, repeats one of those bleeped out words, if he drops an f-bomb at Sunday dinner, the only casualty would be Grandma's gasp of shock and horror that caused her to choke on the mashed potatoes (and maybe Little Johnny's bottom... but that depends on his family's parenting style). However, if Little Johnny attempts the flying armbar he witnessed during a UFC bout on his neighborhood buddies, there's liable to be a trip to the emergency room. And let's just pray he doesn't try out a sleeper choke on his baby sister.

If we are bleeping out filthy language out of concern for the consequences of children imitating behavior, then it seems like blurring out the blood and the blows would be of a higher concern.

Words are just words. They aren't dangerous or damaging in and of themselves. Shouting "F*ck!" at the top of your lungs isn't going to hurt anyone (unless they actually trip over their own shock and disgust). The intentions behind words is what makes them hurtful and damaging, not the words themselves.

This isn't true of violence. Plenty of convicted murderers have walked away from a trial saying "I didn't mean to kill him." People hurt each other in fits of anger on a regular basis. And if a child mirrors a maneuver he witnessed on television, he could hurt someone, even if his intentions aren't violent.

But there are also plenty of studies done on the long-term emotional and cognitive effects on children who witness violence. Does it really matter if the violence is filtered through a television screen and marketed as entertainment?

Then there is the desensitization over violence for entertainment. There are enough YouTube videos of actual violence to prove that citizens are more apt to capture a beating to share with social media followers than to actually intervene. Violence is entertaining, after all.

One would think that a world that seems to regularly experience the horrors of mass-shootings and the rise of violent crime might be more concerned with children viewing public, blood-soaked brawls (especially those packaged as entertainment) than with their tender ears hearing an arbitrary list of words that some television officials have rather arbitrarily deemed inappropriate.

Or maybe I'm crazy. My children have been know to (occasionally) have potty mouths.

But perhaps I shouldn't be so surprised. We live in a world where what people say is more important than what they do (Don't believe me? Take a look at our elected officials), a world where simply saying something politically incorrect can ruin public image beyond repair, a world where a person's accomplishments don't hold as much weight as their promises.

We live in a world that exalts symbolism over substance.

And words are just symbols.

I admit that they are sometimes powerful symbols, although probably not as powerful as Gabriel Benitez' leg kicks.

It's a messed up world, and I don't know the answer. What I suggest: sign Little Johnny up for karate lessons. Let him learn the discipline, respect, and self-control (not to mention proper application of technique) that serious study in martial arts helps foster. In the long run, it might help temper a violent world.

And while you're at it... sign his baby sister up, too. She might need to learn when to "tap out".

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Thank you!
I get so frustrated by the Beep that replaces the swearing. It is more irritating than any dialogue, I can hear the Bleep all over my house,
and in many shows there are times there are more Bleeps than any thing else.

Enough already stop Bleeping the swear words. Every body knows what is being said anyway.