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Malinauskas: Censoring profanity is ineffective at purifying content

Arturas Malinauskas, Columnist

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F*** bleeping on TV, conspicuous pauses in songs, sudden asterisks in text: This type of censorship is often distracting to audiences. Moreover, censoring explicit language is an ineffective means of obscuring explicit content from younger audience members. Despite the asterisks, I think the word at the beginning of this column is fairly obvious.

For films to be rated PG-13, the Motion Picture Association of America permits the use of the word f*** a single time. But well before age 13, I had definitely heard of and understood the meanings of the select words that our society has deemed improper for unrestricted use. The secret was not well kept.

Personally, I would be pleasantly surprised if there was anyone age 13 or under currently reading this paper. In my opinion, any 13-year-old mature enough to be interested in reading a newspaper primarily about local events is prepared to read expletives. I do not believe I read a full newspaper until well after turning 13, though I am part of a generation that rarely reads newspapers at all.

In fact, I clearly recall feeling the temptation to use prohibited words. Those short, monosyllabic words seemed so tantalizingly easy to say. I could quickly irk my caretakers with a mere sound. It’s ironic that I was first alerted to these words by their forbidden nature, given the measures taken to hide them. Kids are naturally curious about strange sounds and obscured words — it is exactly the type of oddity a kid wants to understand. My mind would have lacked reason to retain any information about curse words if it did not consider them forbidden fruit or ponder their inadequate disguises.

There are obviously places where such words do not belong, such as children’s shows and daycares, but we have overreached in efforts to sanitize the airwaves for children. What good is cleansing news broadcasts and sitcoms of these words when they cover violent wars or contain sexual innuendos regardless of censorship? Mature topics are not censored as rigorously as simple curse words on TV or radio broadcasts, yet they are arguably more corrupting to youth than expletives.

I like curse words. They add power and emotion to serious occurrences by allowing me to express my frustration and irritation. “Shoot” does not communicate the same type of astonishment that “s***” does — it is a watered down form of a common expression. Moreover, rap music does not maintain its flow when rhymes are removed by censorship, and I can still hear choppy versions of songs that objectify women, such as “No Type” by Rae Sremmurd, on the radio or the clean version of “F***in’ Problems” by A$AP Rocky at a high school dance. I think these clean versions are pointless. Not hearing b**** in these songs does not dull their focus on sex and subordinating women, which is a more alarming concern than simply hearing a dirty word.

Self-censorship is the most effective route to protecting youthful innocence. Content makers are aware of their audiences; they should have the decency to keep content clean if it is likely to be seen or heard by children. However, content dealing with mature subject matter shouldn’t be cleansed of curse words while still retaining information on adult subjects. It’s a half-measure which ultimately is ineffective.

Arturas Malinauskas is a McCormick freshman. He can be contacted at arturasmalinauskas2019@u.northwestern.edu. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to opinion@dailynorthwestern.comThe views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.

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