As everyone has surely heard by now, because these things really do breed like cockroaches, Jesse Jackson has apologized for saying something less than stellar about Barack Obama. And I have to say that I’m really tired of this stuff. It says something significant about these silly “apologies” that they’re usually thrown out there in a public speech — Reverend Jackson did not apologize to Senator Obama, but to us.
And maybe that’s actually appropriate, because what he really did wrong wasn’t to say something critical. Look, folks, people criticize other people. People who like and support each other say critical things too... and sometimes not in the most diplomatic ways. We should just get over it, and stop expecting everyone to apologize every time they open their mouths and someone, somewhere doesn’t like what comes out.
What he really did wrong was to forget that if there are microphones around, you have to act as though at least one of them is on. Haven’t we learned that by now? Geez.
But none of that is what I want to talk about here. I want to talk about how Mr Jackson’s mumble was covered.
You see, according to the New York Times article linked above, what he said “included a vulgar reference”. The version I saw on television bleeped one word in the audio, and subtitled the operative sentence as “I wanna cut his n_ts off.”
Excuse me? “N_ts”? “A vulgar reference”? This is such a strongly vulgar reference that we have to censor it? Especially as a news item, I’d think we’d let that go and consider it pretty tame these days. Network television shows, both comedy and drama, talk about having someone by the balls, and that sort of thing. On NYPD Blue, as I mentioned yesterday, if some “scumbag” was uncooperative, Andy Sipowicz would threaten to “beat his balls off”. On South Park, Eric Cartman tells his teacher to “suck my balls”; now that is a vulgar reference.
But we have to bleep Jesse Jackson on the news for whispering “cut his n_ts off”?
I’m confused. Have we collectively become six years old? Have we gone 35 years into the past, when George Carlin warned us about a certain “two-way word”?:
It’s OK for Curt Gowdy to say, “Roberto Clemente has two balls on him.” But he can’t say, “I think he hurt his balls on that play, Tony, don’t you? He’s holding them, he must have hurt them, by golly.”
Or are we just worried that all the little kids will see the video and start running around chanting “Cut his nuts off, cut his nuts off...”? No, see:
- Impressionable kids don’t watch the TV news.
- Here’s a secret: they’ve all heard the word anyway.
- Jesse Jackson simply doesn’t have that much influence.
Update, 14 July: Clark Hoyt, the “Public Editor” of the New York Times, devoted his column yesterday to this point.