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TV fills in the bleeps

POSTED: October 23, 2011 1:30 a.m.

I know a few cuss words and use them from time to time.

I’m not proud of that fact.

When striking my thumb with a hammer, I do not look skyward and say, "Thank you for this wonderful opportunity to experience excruciating pain."

There are some people in this world who speak with a vocabulary that would make a sailor blush. There is a guy who I run across regularly who mixes cuss words with regular words in nearly every sentence. When I’m around him, it is a reality check about my own language.

Before we go any further, let me qualify the term "cuss" words. That’s what they are. A curse is something that they get out of one of those big books on a Harry Potter movie (not that I’ve watched many Harry Potter movies). Swearing is what you do when you put your hand on the Bible in a courtroom.

Cussing is cussing.

Cussing used to be illegal on TV. Back in the earliest days of TV, it used to be against the rules to say the word "pregnant." They would use euphemisms, like "in a motherly way." Now they not only say it, they cuss about being pregnant.

If you use really strong cuss words on TV, they are supposed to bleep them out. There are some movies on TV that have about as many bleeps as they do words.

The first bleep I ever heard was in 1969, when Johnny Cash recorded his classic, "A Boy Named Sue." The song, written by Shel Silverstein is the tale of a young man who seeks revenge against his absent father who named him Sue.

There is a line in the song where the father says, "I’m the BLEEP that named you Sue." The song was recorded before a live audience at San Quentin State Prison in California.

San Quentin is where they take the really bad boys. Charles Manson is an alumnus of San Quentin. He is now at another state prison. Country music legend Merle Haggard spent three years there for robbing a bar.

Prisoners know a thing or two about cussing. I have visited a few prisons in my time and I’ve heard a few choice cuss words uttered. While it is a violation of Georgia law to cuss in front of a dead body, there are no current inmates in the Georgia prison system serving time for that crime alone.

As I listened to the Johnny Cash record one day, the infamous bleep came on and my mama came in the room. She had me play it again and then, much akin to a prison warden, she confiscated my record and put it on top of the breakfront. The top of the breakfront was the place where all confiscated goods were placed. My dart pistol also ended up there.

There is a whole new debate about cuss words on TV. Actors cuss on detective shows, doctor shows and reality shows. If you get kicked off a reality show, folks tend to cuss a lot. They even put a little graphic over the mouth, where nobody can read your lips.

Joe Friday, Ted Mack and Ben Casey never did cuss. Anyone who recognizes those ancient TV characters has probably forgotten most of the cuss words they once knew.

I’m trying to forget the ones I know.

Harris Blackwood is a Gainesville resident whose columns appear on the Sunday Life page and on gainesvilletimes.com/harris.



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