In advertising, and in general, we are no longer capable of being appalled.

August 10, 2009

f bomb
Everyone’s dropping “F” bombs…

Remember appalling? Remember when being intrusive or disruptive was a bad thing? Whether it was a terrible TV commercial or a gruesome homicide, we used to grimace at the offensive, raise hell about it if necessary. We were capable of being aghast.

Now words like “appalling” and “aghast” are nearly superlatives: “I was appalled by that beheading video on You Tube. I’ll send you the link!” If we’re not there yet as a society we’re close. Certainly those words have become archaic reminders of our very recent past. Old ladies get appalled. Nobody else.

Why? You’ve heard the reason before. We have become inured by the proliferation of content. What mass media started the digital age is finishing. In order to stand out (be it advertisement, film, book, commentary, even acts of criminality), one now has to continuously up the ante.

Examples: Burger King relies on a sinister, plastic golem for a pitchman, his permanent smile as unsettling as Sardonicus. Horror, once the odd niche, has become immensely popular in mainstream culture, even as the content has gotten darker. The term “torture porn” says it all. And what about porn? It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. Chester the Molester is richer than Bill Gates. He is your neighbor.

Speaking of the “F” word, it’s on everyone’s tongue. Heroes and villains use it willy-nilly in movies…in real life. For me the tipping point was overhearing a trio of well-to-do teen-aged girls dropping F-bombs all over Starbucks. That, my friends, used to be appalling. But these girls were only aping their role models. Have you seen any of the countless reality shows targeting young women? The actresses are as vulgar as the actors, their countless, glaring bleeps only highlighting the point. I guess that’s what makes it real. You’ve come a long way baby!

Is anyone appalled? I’m transfixed.

While not a fan of “torture porn” and the like, I adore the horror genre, in particular the zombie film. George Romero appalled the world with his truly terrifying film, Night of the Living Dead. I do not regret him crossing the line, which he most certainly did. I applaud his courage for rendering the movie the way he did, pulling no punches.

As a young man, I remember Eddie Murphy shocking America with Raw. It was scary funny. Now, however, Murphy’s dark blue rants would be right at home in an Judd Apatow film. Indeed, the last two comedies I saw, The Hangover and Funny People were completely obscene and, I might add, hilarious. That my wife agrees with this assessment tells you all you need to know about mainstreaming vulgarity. Ironically, Eddie Murphy is now most often seen in tame family fare like Dr. Dolittle or Shrek. Eddie, baby. WTF?

Regrettably, I use the “F” word far too often. As the father of three little girls, I wish I could stop. After all, It won’t be long before they’re the same age as the profane trio I eavesdropped on at Starbucks.

Swear on my Twitter!

5 Responses to “In advertising, and in general, we are no longer capable of being appalled.”

  1. Curtis Smith said

    Lots of good points, Steffan. Behavior that was once off-limits and shocking, then became merely frowned upon, and is now tolerated, perhaps even expected, and certainly a surprise to no one any more. David Carradine dies in an auto-erotic asphyxiation incident (to cite just one meaningless example)? It’s ront page new the world over, but no one’s stunned by it. Yawn.

    And it does reach into all corners of society, even as you point out, to “acts of criminality.” Scary to think of how many recent killers have posted on-line video and blogs commenting on what they were about to do.

    Anything to get attention.

  2. SRP said

    True…true…
    Curtis-
    Did you know David Carradine had just filmed a new zombie thriller, “Autumn” when he died? The fact that I know this and that you know the creepy cause of his death show just how knowledgeable yet sick our society has become. We know so much that is superficial and sexy, less and less about what matters. Or maybe I’m just nuts.😉

    • Curtis Smith said

      I guess that makes me nuts, too. I certainly know that it makes David Carradine nuts, and that his actual nuts were part of what caused his death. Sorry for the word play there, couldn’t help myself.

  3. I am not as bothered by the F-bomb or other swear words as I am disappointed with them. They are too easy and have become cliche go to words. I want the profanity I read or hear to be more creative – or at least more unusual.

    For example, I just read in a blog post the other day where someone referred to some politicians they didn’t approve of as ‘ass hats.’ That made me stop and take note way more than if they just said those F’ing politicians.

  4. You are preaching to the choir here. It is amazing how vulgar and graphic advertising, marketing and culture in general has become. I think there is something to be said for being morally responsible in advertising and marketing. I feel that most customers appreciate a business that is willing to set themselves apart by not upping the ante.

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