Yea or Nay: Profanity in Textual/Graphic Art

Lately it seems like all the design world is flippin’ me a big old bird, and I can’t quite decide how I feel about  it.


(cred: via Design Sponge)


(cred: Kimberly Genevieve for The Everygirl)


(cred: Winnie Au for Refinery 29)

Which is why I’m throwing the question out there: would you have this art in your home?

Before you answer, though, let me explain where I’m coming from. The #1 thing to convey here is that I’m not asking this in a CENSORSHIP kind of way. So not, “Is this ‘okay’? or “Should it be ‘allowed’?” or any other stupid question that might fall into that line of reasoning.

No, I see this more as an issue of language and of preserving the force and integrity of words. If you don’t already know this about me, I spent six years in university English departments (I have an MA in Literature–I didn’t just fail a lot), and one of the things you come to appreciate when you spend that much time in university English departments (aside from the fact that they are, sadly, institutions in crisis, though that’s a bedtime story for another night, kids) is that language really is one of the primary ways–even the primary  way–we human folk understand and make sense of the world.

So, even though I believe BIG TIME in humor and irreverence and individuality in design and decor, I’m also kind of left to wonder–if we put the F-word on a book case with a small, funny dinosaur or prop it up next to a nauseatingly adorable ukulele or a sublime brass fan, what word do we have left to express outrage, shock, disgust?

I’m not pretending like one plaque or poster is the reason that profanity has lost its punch in our culture. The process of deflating so-called “cuss words” has been ongoing for years now, and I myself am for sure guilty of dropping certain bombs more carelessly than I should. Still, I can’t help but think back to my childhood in the glorious, nostalgic ’90s, when your parents would legit wash your mouth out with soap or your gym teacher might give you detention for saying some of that stuff. Whereas in the two years I taught high school (up until last May), I heard more swearing than literally any other human who is not also a teacher or has not crewed a Tarantino film.

I guess my concern is that profanity in textual art will usher in the next phase in our desensitization toward strong language. We no longer flinch to hear the F-word, and maybe we will no longer flinch to see it, either–even on a mantelpiece with some tchotchkes or a picture of somebody’s cute baby.

What do you guys think? Will you dash out to buy a(nother) F-word poster?

Yea — This stuff is edgy and funny and does not at all contribute to cultural decline.
Nay — You’ve convinced me with your awesome points and/or this simply isn’t my taste.

VINE & LACE

16 comments

  1. This is such a great question! I appreciate you bringing this issue up, because I feel like I’ve been asking myself similar questions lately.

    Personally, although I completely agree with you on the power of words, I swear pretty profoundly with little provocation. I’m not religious and so I don’t really believe any words are inherently more bad than others, with the exception of ones that have atrocious historical context like the n-word. I feel like, all things considered, the f bomb is pretty harmless as is shit, damn, and a whole host of others. The ones I try and be conscientious of in my own daily life is using words that might offend others’ religion such as “Jesus” (although I have been known to say it anyways).

    Language changes and often words that used to be mild become more “bad” while “bad” words become more mild. If we’re embracing the f bomb in art right now, I think that’s pretty darn cool, and I just accept that that’s part of our always shifting vernacular.

    Cat
    http://oddlylovely.com

    1. I swear pretty casually, too, so I definitely don’t practice what I’m preaching here. I work in a pretty conservative office now, though, so I’ve had to try to be more aware and reign it in. That has been a little bit tough!

      I love your point about trends in swearing being another part of language change! I wonder if there are words that are becoming “more bad” (the linguistic term for this phenomenon is “pejoration”) right now and I just haven’t picked up on it yet. Might have to hit Google up on this one. 🙂

  2. I love swearing. I mean – not love it. That sounds bad. But I do swear in my everyday speech. Never in a way that is over the top and I’m always respectful of who I am around and my surroundings. But I see your point here. However, I personally think that there are lot of other things that are larger contributors to the “watering down” of swear words. I think it’s a cultural shift; like you mentioned, it used to be so much less acceptable and the societal discourse around it was so different.

    I find it interesting that you mention profanity as a way to express shock, outrage and disgust. It is – and obviously that’s what these words are used for – but to me, “shock”, “outrage” and “disgust” are all heavy words with a very emotional connotation. And for me, if I’m truly having an emotional response to something (whether positive or negative) I’m a lot more careful with the words that I choose. It’s in those moments that I find I am often much more deliberate in my language choices because I am trying to express how I’m feeling. Swear words are just filler words that don’t actually add anything to a point you’re trying to make, so I guess I associate them with more off the cuff conversation. Does that make any sense at all?

    Anyways, I feel like this kind of art is funny and I like to look at it, but I wouldn’t ever have it in my own house. It’s just not my style and I personally think I wouldn’t find it so funny after prolonged viewing.

    Thank you so much for this thoughtful post! You really started my morning off with in a good way with my brain wheels turning. 🙂

    x Kathryn
    Through the Thicket

    1. Your comment that you choose your words more carefully when having an emotional response (and so look for something more expressive than a swear word) is so interesting and rings very true. Nowadays swear words lack gravitas, and so we use them so much more casually. What I’m hoping, though, is that Cat is correct in suggesting that this is part of a shift, and potentially other words will fill the space that the F word once occupied. I would hate to think we’ve lost the ability altogether to express the emotions these words once represented.

      I also find that seeing these words in print is more affecting than hearing them. I’m so used to hearing them that they barely register. But to think about looking at it day after day is more visceral. I think you’re right that it would not stay funny for too long!

  3. I think that you have raised the general issue of when anything is overused (be it viewing violence, or hearing curse words) to the point of desensitisation, which I can definitely imagine can happen, but I really do not think that the addition of curse words into posters that will inevitably being hanging up in some hipster flat somewhere is going to cause that to happen. If you feel compelled to buy a poster like this, it’s cos there is still some level of shock value for you, otherwise it would not be funny. I think it is more the overuse of curse words in everyday speech that is more likely to cause some sort of desensitisation. Then again I swear up and down like a f-ing sailor but when I am mad I just increase the frequency at which I take the liberty to use the F word, interjecting it between every other word or between syllables, which generally gets my point across to myself and those around me, haha. 🙂

    Rae | love from berlin

    1. Really interesting point that people may choose this BECAUSE OF the shock value. Your description of these being found in a “hipster flat” made me laugh. What was surprising to me was that some of these were in the homes of people I wouldn’t have expected (the small sign with the dinosaur is in Stacy London’s apartment). Still, glad you think this won’t have a major impact. I do agree that the F word is getting overused, though, and I’m also helping with this!

  4. Very interesting! I definitely think people are becoming more desensitized to swear words, but to be honest, I just find it odd we have swear words in the first place. I do like swear words in art when they have impact, like I do quite like the carpe fucking diem one, but having swear ups just to swear, isn’t my cup of tea! xx

    Jasmin Charlotte | UK Lifestyle Blog

    1. Why do we have swear words in the first place?? Good question! You bring up an interesting question of intention–why have art featuring curse words? If it is to make an impact, then I guess there it purpose behind it. When it’s just for the sake of it, that seems a bit gratuitous. I like your balanced view on this issue. 🙂

  5. I definitely won’t be buying anything with swear words on it. I try my best to not use the words in real life (doesn’t always happen haha) so I don’t know why I would ever decorate my home with them haha I remember being in middle school and whenever someone said a bad word everyone (the students) were like “ooooooooh I’m telling!!!” Now it seems like it’s the norm for kids to say this kind of stuff to one another. It’s sad! :/

    Jessica
    the.pyreflies.org

    1. I totally commend you for trying to stick to polite language; slips are bound to happen for the best of us, so no shame in that! Swear words were SO taboo when I was a kid–even through high school I don’t remember swearing being so commonplace. I definitely felt like an old prude when I returned as a teacher!

  6. At first I was going to say that I don’t mind it at all- whenever I see something like that I usually just have a small chuckle and move on. But I thought it was interesting that you said, if we pop the words into little trinkets we decorate our house in, what will be left for occasions where the cuss words are relevant? I suppose it’s a hard line to walk. For example, I actually really like that “carpe fucking diem” poster…but that does dilute the word. Or does it intensify the statement of “carpe diem”? I can’t decide. Argg I can’t decide!

    Super interesting post 🙂 Slash my brain now hurts.

    xo marlen
    Messages on a Napkin

    1. Great example, and great question! Like you, I’m very split; I can really see the argument both ways. I do think it’s interesting to think about, though! Did not mean to make your brain hurt, lol! You probably need some chocolate to speed your recovery. 🙂

  7. I think that I agree with you in the sense that the high volume of curse words in media has reduced our sensitivity to them – I definitely find myself swearing a lot more than I used to these days. However, I do think that there is a kind of power in taking charge of swear words and using them in the right context. Sometimes I feel that when I say ‘fuck’ I did it accidentally, the context wasn’t right, and I feel bad for letting it slip. But, then other times I feel that ‘fuck’ actually adds to what I’m trying to say, even if I wasn’t saying something angry. I think I would definitely put this kind of art in my home. The only reason I wouldn’t is if people were coming over that it might offend. I know my immediately family and friends would find it funny and attractive, so I would. Maybe if my new boyfriend’s parents or my grandma was coming over I might take it down for the day, but for the most part, I like it. The Crafty Frugaler

    1. I totally think if you’re using swear words with purpose and for a purpose, you’re doing them justice and tapping into just what they’re meant to do. Great point about context being key here! Also a great point about perhaps keeping them away from the grannies–my grandmother has always had a terribly dirty mouth, but I’d bet even she wouldn’t think swear words were fit for the mantle piece. 😉

  8. hmmm…look it is a cheap trend because well…what do you mean by the f word?, it is not meaningless… making decor iteams with that f stuff is not creative… it is a sort of cultural decline, it is ok to use the words in anger once a while but not for everything…uncool… next they will use other stuff they say like shit and crap, I am surprised why they not making decor out of it… it loss of innocense and it is sad thing and it is stupid using them like that… but unfortunately songs, movies all have them in… and on hind sight it only means we are obsessed with the thing ‘f’ thing and seriously kids don’t need to be obsessed with that…turn them sick, it is unhealthy tread… and yeah it spoils the charm of english language too):…so I think it is uncool and I would not like to bring this into our way of living… sucks…anyway…don’t ban my comment(: centure it, I am coming here after long time.

    1. Haha, Maria, I would never ban your comment. I agree with your point that this kind of language is everywhere in culture (like movies, music, etc). That I have become used to, but for whatever reason I was still surprised to see people decorating their homes with it. Thank you for weighing in on this!

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