We’re having a serious problem with undermined cultural mores these days. Whatever you believe religion and moral-wise, you’ve probably noticed the strain, everything from upticks in drug abuse and suicides to across-the-globe craziness to the general behavior of Washington, D.C.
I’m going to stick to a more prosaic symptom: the vulgar and profane t-shirt.
I’ve been seeing a lot of them lately. Language I wouldn’t use on this blog, slathered across cotton so all can see. So all pretty much have to see.
And that, is intolerably rude.
It’s also A Bad Sign.
It’s a generally accepted thing – or used to be – that you don’t swear in public. Doing so is low-class, vulgar, rude, shows a lack of self-control, etc., etc. You certainly don’t swear at random, or in front of children.
If you’re wearing a t-shirt with profane language in a public space such as a retail store, you are swearing in front of children. By default. Because people bring their kids there when they’re shopping, as they have every right to do, and whether or not the kids are old enough to read your shirt, their parents certainly are.
Any written language you wear, you are inviting people to read. More accurately, you are demanding people read it. Good readers decode language by default, whether we like it or not. Ask anyone made dizzy by automatically reading highway signs as you’re blazing past them at speed. This isn’t like a tagged fanfic site where the labels say “X is in here” and people can choose whether to read or avoid the ick. This is slapping the ick right in people’s faces. When they’re likely having a bad enough day already.
These t-shirts are meant to shock and offend. And frankly, I take offense to that. If you’re going to insult people, it should be like homicide: targeted, specific, and with malice aforethought. Possibly also afterthought. Insults are what you use in a stable society to clue someone in that they have crossed a line – and if they cross more, they won’t like what happens next.
Insulting all and sundry unlucky enough to cross your path? That’s a recipe for societal chaos, violence, and outlawry.
I know what I’m going to hear. “It’s just a t-shirt!” Well if it’s that simple, why couldn’t that person put on a plain t-shirt? Or one with a funny animal pic? Or gee, anything except a walking insult?
Refraining from profanity is along the same lines as using other common courtesy and manners; “Hi, how are you, how’s the weather?” It’s little things that buffer interactions between strangers and everyone just Having a Bad Day, so that despite everything society keeps working and we can all go home in one piece at the end of the day. It’s a safety valve, on the pressure cooker that’s mostly-strangers living and working and trying not to kill each other.
When people start wiring the safety valves open, I worry.
Think twice about the t-shirts. Really.