Breaking News: Moral Conservatives are [Blanking] [Blanks]. Also: V*a*g*i*n*a.
As you probably have heard, last week, a female Michigan lawmaker was banned from speaking by that state’s House Republicans, whose tender sensibilities were offended when she uttered the word “vagina”. This recalls to mind last year’s incident in the Florida House of Representatives, when Republicans threw a hissy fit over one of their Democrat colleagues saying the word “uterus”.
I am heartened that in this day and age, and in this great country of ours, we elect lawmakers who apparently believe that certain body parts are so dirty, so evil, that even naming them by proper scientific terms risks disrupting the space-time continuum, and that all discussions taking place in a legislative body should be suitable for small children’s ears. (Personally, I don’t see why small children should even be present at a legislative debate, much less why such debate should be conformed to children’s level of discourse, but what do I know? I’m just a godless Liberal. I wouldn’t be surprised if plenty of Republicans would fully legalize rape and domestic violence simply so that law makers, judges and lawyers never again have to say the word “penetration” in a sexual sense, thereby scandalizing polite society and endangering children.) What is particularly remarkable, is that this intense fear of mere words used to describe that which is perfectly healthy and natural is only matched by Conservatives’ ungodly obsession with ladybits and regulating them. (Is saying “ladybits” still allowed? Sorry, I’m too lazy to check with my local Slutty Language Police.)
It’s generally against my principles to post an entry that consists almost entirely of a quote, but I am going to make an exception here. No one has ever excoriated hypocrites’ obsession with “bad words” better than Jaroslav Hasek, an early 20th-century Czech writer, soldier and journalist. I couldn’t possibly match the power of his pen, and so I won’t try. I’ll just let him tell you in his own words what he thought about the kind of linguistic oversensitivity we have seen Republicans exhibit.
Towards the end of his life, Hasek wrote — but alas, did not finish — a novel called The Good Soldier Svejk, which is a satirical account of his World War I experiences, peppered with profanity and poop jokes. Needless to say, when Book One of the novel was published circa 1920, it elicited a strong reaction from critics and the public alike. This prompted Hasek to write an afterword, from which an excerpt is reproduced below.
I note, parenthetically, that The Good Soldier Svejk is one of my favorite books and one of the best, perhaps THE best novel about World War I. Alas, it is virtually unknown on this side of the Atlantic. The sense that I have gotten from Americans who have tried reading this amazing work is that they find Hasek’s irreverent approach to the topic shocking. Writings about World War I in this country are subject to a convention that dictates solemnity and does not tolerate even an ounce of humor, much less the kind of humor that Hasek employed. It is noteworthy that elsewhere in the novel, in parts I am not going to quote, Hasek also absolutely excoriated the kind of romanticized, sanitized view of warfare that Americans have embraced in the last decade or so.* Truly, it is a timeless book — even if it IS, at times, offensive to some people’s sensibilities. But I digress.
The passage below deals explicitly with the subject of profanity and references to bodily functions — not the mention of scientific terms denoting parts of the human anatomy. Still, clearly, everything he says applies to the incidents in Michigan and Florida; even more so because the issue there wasn’t even profanity.
And now, without further ado, I give the floor to Hasek.
Life is not a finishing school for socialites. Everyone speaks as he is best able. The Master of Ceremonies, Doctor Guth, speaks differently than the pub-keeper Palivec does at the Chalice. This novel is not a manual on fine manners nor a scholarly treatise on what sorts of expressions are acceptable in polite society. It is an historical account of a certain time.
If it is necessary to employ a strong expression that was in fact used, I do not hesitate to relate it here. I consider the use of euphemisms and asterisks to be a most asinine hypocrisy. After all, such words are used in parliaments.**
It was justly noted once that a well-bred person can read anything. Only shameless, perverted vulgarians, followers of filthy pseudomorality, can denounce that which is natural. It is they who ignore the content and instead viciously attack isolated words.
A few years ago, I was reading a review of some novella. The critic was outraged because the author had written: “He blew and wiped his nose.” He said this crass expression was contrary to everything aesthetic and exalted that literature is supposed to convey to the people. This is but one garden-variety example of what bloody fools are born under the sun.
People who cringe at strong expressions are merely cowards, scared of real life. Such oversensitive types cause the greatest harm to culture and society’s morals. They would turn everyone into sentimental dweebs, masturbators of pedestrian culture of the type of St. Aloysius. It is said in a book by monk Eustace that when St. Aloysius once heard a man break wind, he began to weep, and only prayer was able to console him. Such people act horribly offended in front of others, but take great pleasure in visiting public washrooms just to read vulgar inscriptions on the walls.
By using several strong expressions in my book, I merely captured the way people talk to each other in real life. We cannot expect the pub-keeper, Palivec, to express himself as gracefully as Ms. Laudova, Doctor Guth, Ms. Olga Fastrova and a number of others who would be happy to turn the entire Czechoslovak Republic into one great salon with parquet floors, where people wear tails and gloves. They speak in the most sophisticated manner and cultivate the finest salon mores, but behind the screen of superficial refinement, the lions of society indulge in the filthiest and most unnatural vices.
Depressing, isn’t it? In Hasek’s time, these “lions of society” merely wrote idiotic book reviews. In the twenty-first century, they run much of our country. But do not despair, o reader, not all is bleak: for while the words “vagina” and “uterus” are verboten, Republicans still find the word “slut” perfectly acceptable, and calling upon a woman to post videos of herself having sex as punishment for speaking is perfectly agreeable to their morality.
Who says you can’t be a badass moralizing hypocrite?
*Growing up in the Soviet Union, I got my fill of that romanticized portrayal of warfare, where soldiers always behave with dignity and die dramatically, gracefully. So when I read Svejk for the first time at the age of twelve, I too found it quite shocking. What stuck with me the most at that time was the revelation that it’s apparently common for soldiers (at least as Hasek relates it) to lose control of their bowels during combat, and to throw up. Or both, almost simultaneously. “No worries,” says Hasek, “If in the midst of a skirmish you fall into a cesspit, lick yourself off and move on.”
**Not in Michigan or Florida they ain’t!