Please be warned that this post contains adult language. I am well aware that my warning readers about its content does, kind of, beg the question I am asking. But so does the post itself. This is a mainstream blog and it's going to include obscenities. How do you talk about whether you can talk about something without mentioning the thing you're supposed to talk about? Should I just use vague terms like "profanity" or should I rely on phrases like "the f-word." Alas, this a different problem. Those who are offended by profanity, be warned. One use is about to come up.
It is common knowledge that the song "Fuck You" was nominated for a Grammy (it didn't win). It's a great song and a great video, although I warn you that it's catchy and will stick in your head for hours. A related video has gone viral: a college student doing her final exam in a sign-language class. This too, I think, is worth watching and I shared it on Facebook. Here it is:
Now, I knew that there would be some people who would object to my complimenting the video and one person did indeed post this comment to my link:
"I don't like it. I was a teacher of the the hearing impaired at U of Mn and I don't think vulgarity should be part of a class test like this. Especially when it serves no purpose other than shock value."
I am struck by two aspects of this comment. The first is that the author of the comment seems to suggest that the impropriety is more connected to the teaching of the hearing impaired, although I don't know that this is what she meant. Should folks with hearing problems not be taught to curse, or should they only curse with other hearing impaired people? Should the young lady in the video not be taught curses even if, one can assume, she has interest in communicating in sign language? Or, do we want her to learn her curses "on the street" and from friends? This is how I learned to curse in German. I did not learn obscenity from a textbook. It was effective.
But really, there is a deeper philosophical question: is it ever acceptable to mainstream obscenity? One might argue that our culture is so comfortable with cursing that it is not only entirely appropriate to use such words in a college classroom, but that it may be a central method for a teacher to "keep it real" and connect with his or her students. On the other hand, cursing is rude and teachers ought to model more formal behavior. Teachers and students are not friends and they are not peers. Perhaps this language is only suitable for those more equal relationships?
I admit that on occasion many college teachers curse in class for shock value. When I want to challenge relativism, I very often use the example of "raping babies" to get students to think about where they stand on ethical issues. This is shock value too. Should I not rely on such techniques? Is it the shock value or is it the cursing?
I'm curious what others think about this. Is obscenity so mainstream now that what the woman in the video is doing ought to be perfectly acceptable, or should she be criticized for being inappropriate? I'd be really curious to hear what she says about her performance now that it's gotten all this attention.