Photo from CBSThe very funny Twitter feed Sh*t My Dad Says is really coming to CBS (starring William Shatner as the dad). And its title really is "$#*! My Dad Says," special characters intact. So far, announcers are calling it Bleep My Dad Says. With the word "bleep" intact.
I remember the first time I realized grownups cursed on TV. It was Skip Stephenson, one of the hosts of the '70s era show Real People, and I was shocked -- shocked, I tell you! -- when the screen froze and a black oval appeared over his mouth (just in case there were any lip-readers in the audience).
Who knew we'd later think the sex-soaked '70s were a more innocent time?
Soon after the Skip Stephenson Incident, it became a total joke to me -- the way we knew what TV people were saying but had to play "I know that you know that I know that you know what you really mean."
On TV shows like Hill Street Blues, snappy dialogue would suddenly fall flat when a totally stupid-sounding ersatz curse like "motherflipper" would come out of the mouths of otherwise hard-boiled cops. Not to mention the way televised versions of the movie The Breakfast Club put "Damn you!" in the mouth of Judd Nelson when we could all see what he was really saying. It sounded so fake, I couldn't understand why they bothered!
So, I was oddly relieved when the animated Comedy Central show South Park started bleeping obscenities rather than pretending kids would actually say "What the frig." It was a funny moment: There's no way, obviously, that an animated fifth grader could blurt out a blooper, but because we were so conditioned to hearing that "bleep" and making the correction in our minds, it worked as a comic device.
Soon, we were hearing S-bombs on TV. Chicago Hope, a late-night drama that wasn't on when most kids were watching, was the first to drop one in October of 1999. After that, South Park went plumb crazy with a takeoff episode that used the word 162 times. It's popped up on late-night cable shows now and then, and the world hasn't spun off its axis. We've come a long way since Charles Rocket was fired for accidentally saying the F-word on Saturday Night Live in 1981. In fact, Jenny Slate did the same thing at the start of the 2009 season and remains on the show. Because it's not really a bomb. It's just a word.
But this is different. At least I think it might be.
I'm a dedicated student of Lenny Bruce and really do believe that words, in themselves, are not going to destroy society. On the other hand, as the survivor of pretty brutal bullying as a kid, I also know that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt you" is total, total bullsh*t. The clincher: Now that I have a 13-year-old stepson who lights up like a Christmas tree when he hears a swear word and literally cannot stop himself from repeating it ad nauseum while saying, "But I'm just repeating it!" I frankly don't want any extra temptation on prime-time TV.
Especially since just yesterday, my toddler slammed a cabinet closed and cursed like a sailor. My fault. And really? Not funny after all.
So what do you think? Is it going too far to have an ersatz S-bomb on prime-time TV, or will kids learn to say "bleep" like we did?