[Dirty jokes] express a fundamental cynicism, not only about society, but about life itself. Kings and queens go to bed, and commit the same furtive and “dirty” acts as a drunken sailor in a brothel; therefore, in a basic sense, they are no better than the sailor…. Human dignity is a fraud.
~Colin Wilson, Lingard
I have always detested that attitude. Even as a child – I remember that once my first grade class went to an art museum, and my classmates hooted and giggled over a painting of a naked woman. Then in fourth grade, one of our vocabulary words in French class was the word for “seal” (the animal), which happens to sound like a certain English word of Germanic origin which I cannot write here, as gentlemen frequent this blog. All my classmates snickered when that word came up, and I couldn’t figure out why at first. There was also the titter-laden day that same year when the science chapter we were assigned to read in class talked about “dams”.
In all of these cases, my reaction was a contemptuous “That’s so babyish,” which probably goes a long way to explain why I had so few friends in school. But surely my innate assumption that of course I and any other human being were above noticing such silly things must once have been fairly normal, or none of the art and literature of previous centuries could have existed. Surely earlier generations of women, unlike me, could use the word “posterity” around their collegiate beaux without having to listen to unfunny puns about posteriors.
A large part of the reason for modern crudeness was elucidated in the essay The Cursing Ape. (Though I must state again that my citing one work on a site does not imply general endorsement of it.)
In the past an angry person would seek to express her anger in terms that were most in keeping with what she conceived herself to be – an intelligent being, ultimately a reflection of the Divine. High rhetoric was her natural mode for expressing passion.
What does the modern person think of high rhetoric? That it is “artificial”.
Why – in the end – will she not use it in anger? Because she feels her hearers will dismiss her anger as “phony”.
The “real” and “natural” way to express anger is in inarticulate shouts, in monosyllabic grunts that refer to irrelevant animal functions.
Why? Because ultimately, we are animals. Any attempt to bring the refinements of civilization to our anger just prove that is not “real anger” because in extremis we should be reduced to our animal base.
That is why pre-Darwin anger was expressed in high rhetoric and post-Darwin anger in monkey monosyllables.
When I was a child my brain usually dismissed such tiresome plays on words, but by my mid-teens I had in self-defense acquired the habit of catching them, since the alternative was listening to hours of sniggering and taunts over unintentional and not particularly funny double entendres. Yesterday I was watching the Betty Grable movie Pin-Up Girl, and during one of the musical numbers, I could not help noticing that the lyrics to this wholesome, innocent song could only too easily be interpreted in a dirty-minded way. That was the last thing I wanted to be thinking about, but my brain has this habit. I feel that my mental chastity has been violated against my will. A lifetime’s imprisonment among dirty-minded people has dirtied mine.
Many conservatives – and even quite a few liberals – object to the crudity of today’s culture. But to my exasperation, others seldom object to the worst of it. I refer to bathroom “humor”. Not only do I never hear anyone other than myself complaining about this, but it is tolerated in family movies, which parents watch with their children. Operation Dumbo Drop, The Lion King, The Princess and the Frog, Ever After, and countless others. The children’s movie Shrek was nothing but a series of unappetizing bodily functions, sexual references, and swearwords – at least the first half hour was, at which point I could endure no more and left the theater. But as far as I know, I am the only person who has objected to that disgusting movie. And in movies made for adults, even otherwise good ones, we are forced to watch and listen to people relieving themselves.
Were I a Freudian, I would argue that our entire culture has been stunted at the anal stage of development.
Plenty of people object to the sex in movies and television, but one could argue that sex is natural, sex is good, not everybody does it, but everybody should. Plenty of people object to the violence, but one could argue that watching good people beat up bad people on a screen is cathartic in an era when we are supposed to passively endure endless physical and verbal mistreatment and later sue our abusers or have them sentenced to therapy. I am not necessarily making either argument, simply pointing out that justification of these things is possible. There is no such justification of bathroom humor and depiction of bathroom functions. Its sole purpose is to degrade the viewer, to remind us that we are mere apes with delusions of grandeur.
In an episode of The Tudors (I love that series, but would have liked it better if there were a lot less sex), we see Henry VIII gratifying himself into a towel held by a servant while thinking about Anne Boleyn. The scene was hardly necessary to the plot; even a bowdlerized network tv version of the show thus far would have made it clear enough that His Majesty had the hots for the Lady Anne. I think that part of the point of the scene was to horrify us with the idea of a servant being humiliated that way, so that we shall continue to obediently disapprove of monarchs and servants. (Indeed, much of traditional “hypocrisy” about bodily functions was invented in eras when privacy was much less attainable, when only enormous tact and numerous polite fictions made living above an animal level possible.) But what I felt was that we, the viewers, were the ones humiliated by having this scene broadcast to us.