What Would You Do?
Back when I was growing up, there were two kinds of kids: the ones whose parents would allow them to listen to George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex” (unedited version) and the ones whose parents wouldn’t allow them to listen to it. Radio stations had a highly edited version which removed any reference to sex, therefore rendering the song meaningless. What did George Michael want? The kids who could only listen to the radio version didn’t know. Okay, so there were actually three kinds of kids: those who could listen to the unedited version, those who could listen to the edited version, and those who were not allowed to listen to the song in any form as well as the entire Wham! songbook because now “Careless Whisper” was tainted by George Michael’s dirty video.
It’s sort of shocking that this song created such a controversy when it came out. There are none of George Carlin’s 7 Words You Can’t Say on Television in the lyrics. In fact, George Michael is preaching extremely tame, vanilla-flavoured, monogamous sex between — at least assumed from the video — men and women. I loved how he wrote on the woman: “explore monogamy” — as if monogamy was this unusual path that no adult took but perhaps might want to try for its titillation factor.
My parents not only allowed me to listen to the unedited version, but we also owned the video. I had just turned 13 years old when the song came out, and I remember being on the bus for a school field trip that fall. The kids were talking about the song, taking a poll as to whom was allowed to listen to which version. A friend of mine informed the group that not only was I allowed to listen to it and sing the lyrics at home, but I was allowed to watch the video and didn’t even have to sneak it. And even more shocking, any lyrics I didn’t understand, I had questioned and received definitive answers (“What does he mean by boys you can trust and girls that you don’t?”). Oh we were so innocent back then.
But the point is that while I wasn’t allowed to watch violent films, I was allowed to listen to the Violent Femmes at home (my friend at Hebrew school gave me my first Femmes cassette when I was 10 or 11), Madonna, and George Michael’s “I Want Your Sex.” As an adult, I appreciate that my parents didn’t make sexuality or words taboo. It meant that I grew up with a comfortable space where I could ask frank questions and receive frank answers. I never had to sneak around or be confused or make poor choices.
Fast forward to parenthood.
I’m totally comfortable answering any question the twins throw my way including discussion on how babies are made or come out, body parts, why the Victoria Secret models are wearing such little clothing and why some women want to own such fancy bras. And yet, I am totally squeamish about playing curse words in front of the kids. We have a mute button on the steering wheel. I allow them to play any song they want, BUT I mute out the curse words.
Which is odd because as long as it is just the four of us, they are allowed to use any word they want to use as long as it is not used in anger at another person. At this age, it isn’t really an issue; though I know that they know curse words because they’ve come to me before to ask what various curse words mean. They hear them from older kids on the playground and people we’re walking past in the mall. (Yes, when you are saying “fuck that!” into your cell phone, everyone else around you can hear you too.) I don’t like the concept of “bad words” and wholeheartedly agree with Mr. Carlin:
I love words. I thank you for hearing my words. I want to tell you something about words that I think is important. They’re my work, they’re my play, they’re my passion. Words are all we have, really. We have thoughts but thoughts are fluid. Then we assign a word to a thought, and we’re stuck with that word for that thought, so be careful with words. I like to think that the same words that hurt can heal; it is a matter of how you pick them.
There are some people that are not into all the words. There are some that would have you not use certain words. There are 400,000 words in the English language and there are 7 of them you can’t say on television. What a ratio that is: 399,993 to 7. They must really be bad. They’d have to be outrageous to be separated from a group that large. “All of you over here. You 7, Bad Words.”
That’s what they told us they were, remember? “That’s a bad word!” No bad words. Bad thoughts, bad intentions, and words. You know the 7, don’t you, that you can’t say on television? Shit, Piss, Fuck, Cunt, CockSucker, MotherFucker, and Tits. Those are the heavy seven.
As a writer, it’s a dangerous game when you start outlawing words. Actions, yes. I can comfortably ban actions from my house such as poking your sister over and over again even as she’s screaming at you to stop touching her. But words, no. There are certain times when you need certain words. They’re not appropriate for all occasions or all company, but when they are needed, there is not another words that will do quite as well.
But as a mother, I feel as if it’s part of my job not to use those words in front of them casually; and that includes playing them in music. Hence the mute button. And I feel no qualms about that censorship, especially because I once read an interview with the lead singer of Green Day who admitted that he coughed loudly to cover the curse words in his own music for his kids when they were younger. If he can censor his own music, I don’t feel badly when I censor it for the time being too.
So we arrive at the situation:
Green Day released three albums this year. Yay! We received the first one as a free download with our concert tickets. The kids were eager to hear the new music. I listened to it a few times, trying to memorize the location of all the curse words. Then I played it for them in the car. And I realized just how many curse words were in there as I hit the mute button over and over again. And I missed a bunch. Which made the kids laugh hysterically. And then I just gave up and took the CD out of the player.
I haven’t purchased the other two albums because I didn’t know what to do.
You see, for the first time ever, Green Day released radio edit versions of all three albums. No more muting. So why don’t I purchase those versions, you ask? Because they’re not done in the same vein as CeeLo Green’s “Forget You” vs. “Fuck You.” In that case, the “Forget You” version is just as good as the original, and the kids don’t even realize that they’re missing anything. The Green Day version simply is the same song and someone has garbled the curse words. It sounds awful. They are not versions I’d want to listen to on my own.
So muting really isn’t a viable option with these albums (too many curse words). But the clean versions sound awful to my adult ears. And I only want to purchase one copy — that’s the limitation we’re working with. That’s where things stand.
So my options, as I see them (though if you can think of other ones, let me know):
- Purchase the clean versions. Play them in the car for the kids. No muting necessary. Grit my teeth and grow to hate the albums.
- Purchase the real versions. Don’t play them at all for the kids. Own the good versions. Want to listen to them in the car but be unable to do so.
- Purchase the real versions. Play them without muting for the kids. Have them hear all these words which aren’t “bad” (as George Carlin points out) but which I feel squeamish playing. Wonder if I’m noble or should just get over this.
Josh knows which one of those three options he wants to do. I do not.
Within those three options, for children who are 8 years old and fairly mature (as in, they know better than to use these words at school), what would you do? And why?