Why is it okay now?
Words used to have p o w e r
This seems to deflate them - so, is it a good thing, or, is it a bad thing?
The following is a re-post by Tom Bentley. He is a business and travel writer, an essayist and a novelist. He's published hundreds of freelance pieces in newspapers, magazines, and online. He is the author of three novels, a book of short stories and a how-to book on finding and cultivating your writing voice.
How did previously taboo profanities become de rigueur on cutesy merchandise?
By Tom Bentley May 4, 2020, 8:30am EDT
If you look around — and you don’t have to look very hard — you might have seen that there are a lot of items that now have the word “fuck” printed on them. These aren’t exotic or unusual things: socks, pencils, shirts, keychains, desk calendars, books, earrings. Even bars of soap, which might be handy for washing your mouth out after use.
I started to notice this commercial drift a few years ago when someone gave me a cup with a cartoony cat image and the statement “Cats Don’t Give a Fuck.” Not that that’s not true, but it is rather blunt. The cup seemed to be a clever novelty item, and its cheery presentation nothing taboo.
This was not long after I’d heard Samuel Jackson recite the text of the popular Adam Mansbach book Go the F**k to Sleep, to give modern parents some solace. There was something a bit daring in hearing Jackson shout the expletives in an alleged bedtime book, but, to me, more hilarious than blasphemous. And late last year, I read Mark Manson’s The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck, and checked to see what else he’d done, only to find his newest, Everything Is F*cked. It wasn’t until I received a set of 10 pencils as a Christmas gift — pencils labeled with phrases like “Fuck-a-doodle-doo” on them — that it seemed the product-profanity engine had reached fourth gear.
Those pencils (box-labeled “Fucking Brilliant: 10 Pencils for Writing Shit Down”) are the product of Chronicle Books, a San Francisco–based publisher of books and gift items. Chronicle’s Calligraphuck line has a high percentage of fucks (and shits) among its varied product roster. Kim Romero, senior editor at Chronicle, told me, “Calligraphuck uses profanity in an uplifting way, putting emphasis on positive messages and sentiments. Much of the appeal lies in the humor and surprise of seeing profanity rendered in lovely gold calligraphy. It’s an irresistible combination of irreverence and elegance.”
Chronicle doesn’t see a commercial risk in carrying products with a naughty message. “We’re always interested in offering our consumers something new. In this case: brilliant swear words with a twist, not just vulgarity,” says Christina Amini, executive publishing director of adult books and gift products at Chronicle. “Believe it or not, we spend a lot of time talking about which expletives are just right for this line. You can’t please everyone all the time, especially when you offer something with a strong flavor like our ‘Classy as Fuck’ flask. So we know that it won’t work for all retailers, but for the people who love this, they are all in,” she says.
When Will This End?
This pandemic is a reality that none of us has ever faced before. It’s more complex than the first time we picked up a Rubik Cube and struggled to realign those simple looking but devious color blocks. The Corona Virus has tentacles that seemingly shape shift on a whim. When scientists, epidemiologists and renowned doctors are still striving to understand the insidious symptoms and complications that come with this virus, of course it elevates our fear from so much being unknown. That, and that it is still seemingly unclear how this invisible menace chooses its victims. We come in all shapes, colors and ages and it doesn’t discriminate.
This uninvited formless monster snuck through the cracks of societies the world over, upending life, as we knew it. I know we feel helpless and more than a little aimless. So many people lost to this unseen enemy. So many families unable to console, cherish, or simply hold the hand of a sick or dying loved one. People are not sleeping well. Many of us are panicked about our future and how we will earn the money needed to pay for shelter, food, medicine, and education and on and on… Sigh! Businesses are falling like dominoes and it’s only been eight weeks since the apocalypse began to take hold. So many seeing their dreams shattered.
What I do know, is that history has proven that even this monstrous hydra will be brought down. It will take time. More time than we would like or have patience for. But patience is what’s needed. This is where our power lies. We need the willpower to keep social distancing, willpower to avoid crowed bars and beaches, willpower to resist temptation.
We are not powerless, if we spin this pandemic into an opportunity. We can learn from this dark time dimming the blue ball that we all cluster together on. Take a moment to understand our planet is breathing better, sparkling more, it’s letting the fish stocks replenish, the dolphins and whales have room to play without fear, every animal is finding it’s migration path and resting places in the sun. We humans can seize these days to find our place back in the sun. There are new and better ways to share what we have with those in need. There is technology to unite us all in our common goal. We don’t have to take to street to make change. We can unite and demand that the inequality between rich and poor be narrowed. We have the power to change. It starts with us. The Coronavirus gave us this!