Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The cussin' mayor

Reams have been written about Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson's recent unguarded moment in front of a live microphone and reams more will likely come. For those who haven't heard, the mayor was caught on tape using profanities in describing some of the speakers at a public meeting on some city hall plans. We tend to be so cutesy about rude language: I've had just about enough of the expression "dropped the F-bomb" in the past couple of days.

Hizzoner is by no means alone in the league of leaders caught saying or doing rude things. There was Richard Nixon, caught on tape using male anatomical references to describe Pierre Trudeau; Trudeau, for that matter, raising his middle finger to protesters outside his train in Salmon Arm, BC; Ronald Reagan doing a mike check and saying “My fellow Americans, I’m pleased to tell you that I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

There are others (although I greatly doubt whether Queen Elizabeth would really say "buggah!" when her Land Rover broke down, as portrayed by Helen Mirren in "Queen").

But politics aside, what bothers me is the rush to justification for using profanity. One columnist in the Vancouver Sun came out with a "history" of the F-Bomb. Another cited a study that found profanity is a reaction to pain. It's as if people who are offended need to lighten up -- "everybody" does it now (in a follow-up story, Mayor Gregor talked frankly about his language on the rugby field in younger days) and we should be more tolerant. Translation: don't get outraged; just acquiesce and abase ourselves to accommodate the lowest common denominator -- even if we voted for him. (I didn't.)

Apparently, someone got paid for that study, which really could have been published in the journal Duh. I could have saved them a lot of money with my own experience -- or at least, cashed the check, myself. As a 22-year-old acting student in London, we were given an exercise to imagine that a heavy metal gate had slammed shut on our hand and then act out our reaction.

Being of a "progressive" mind at the time, my "acting" involved grimacing in pain and "dropping the f-bomb", and then adding la bombe "c*", in French, just to show off my bilingual gifts.

Later that afternoon, I went back to my squalid little garret in a B&B a few blocks away, and as I closed the door I was distracted by something: a gust of wind blew the door shut on my hand, thereby proving that my "performance" in class was amazingly true-to-life. But I digress ...

To me, profanity is a cop-out: it's the mark of a badly written play, an unfunny comedian or a punk who tries to project a tough-kid image. When I came to Christ, one of the changes that happened to me was that I became greatly offended at hearing the f-word and other profanity. I used to have a rather foul mouth, myself; profanity still slips out on occasion, I'm ashamed to say -- even ashamed if it happens when I'm alone and supposedly no one can hear me.

Swearing is a reaction to pain? That's the same as a wounded animal -- but aren't we actually higher beings than animals? The Bible also warns us against acting like the heathens: we are to follow the way God wants us to follow -- not the base reactions of animals.

But it seems that the world's agenda has always been to try to get us to accept that we're really no better than the animals -- and considering we're supposed to be caring for and protecting them and all of God's Creation, that's kind of a silly concept. We can't allow ourselves to be dragged down by excusing "animalistic" behaviour -- whether it's in our actions or our words.

The Commandments God gave us -- for our own protection, don't forget -- involve dealing with situations in ways that don't involve reacting like animals but responding like children of God: with circumspection, wisdom and, at the heart of it all, with prayer. As with everything else, though, following those commandments is a "learned behaviour" -- which is why we have to be commanded to do it, come to think of it. We can also do what David did, and call on God to set a watch over our mouths. I might point out that David was under a whole lot more pain and pressure than Mayor Gregor. We can do it: it just takes a sense of responsibility and a refusal to let ourselves and others excuse base behaviour.

Jesus, James and Paul all warn us to watch our tongues and not to give offence: Jesus says that if we so much as call someone a fool, we're in danger of hellfire. How much more do we risk by calling someone a " ******* hack"?

*That would be the French word for the wine cup Jesus passed around at The Last Supper -- it's apparently one of the vilest things you can say to a Quebecois, as I found out when I jokingly (I thought) said it to Rene Simard when I was his dialogue coach on his English-language TV show. He looked like I'd hit him with a halibut. When I realized the impact of what I'd done, the show was long out of production and contrition was a bit late.

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