Author’s program note. It’s easy to sympathize with the good citizens of Middleborough, Massachusetts. Like all of us, they are assaulted — and I’m talking about every single day — with one expletive most assuredly not deleted after another.
Men, women, and (to our residual dismay) even children let loose these days with a string of oaths which would once have made a sailor blush. In fact, the very first word of a toddler today is likely to be a word starting with “f” that isn’t “father.”
Mrs. Smythe, age 80, stubs her toe at the mall. One sharp unladylike expletive ensues.
Bobby Jones, union member, drops a hammer on his left foot. A string of expletives, too many to count but the air stays blue for hours after.
Richie Westover watches “his” girl kissing his arch rival and nemesis. He opens his mouth to react… and it isn’t Shakespeare that comes out…
But you get the picture.
A substantial, and growing, number of the words we hear (and worse use) every single day are words which would once have sent grannie for the lye soap and grandpa to his wide belt for 10 of the best. “Assume the position, buster.”
Citizens said, “We’re mad as (deleted) and we’re not going to take it any more”… especially from…. teen-agers, the worst offenders.
Centre Street, Middleborough ground zero.
Did you ever see the acclaimed Broadway musical “The Most Happy Fella” (1956) with its popular song, “Standing on the Corner (Watching All the Girls Go By”)? Or listen to Mungo Jerry sing about the summertime, when you’ve “got women, you’ve got women on your mind” (1970)… or watch the iconic footage of “American Graffiti (1973) which elevated cruising main street to an art form?
If so, I don’t have to tell you what the hormone-poppin’ adolescents were doing on Centre Street…we’ve all been there, done that. It’s as American as blueberry pie and as old as the hills. The behavior by the enfants terribles of Middleborough is raucous, obstreperous, rude, crude, vulgar to a degree… each outrageous antic accompanied by language which was once (and not so very long ago either) unprintable… something good boys and girls might know, but could only be used upon the greatest provocation.
Action, not just talk.
Police chief (since 2009) Bruce D. Gates had a bright idea, part of a set of tools to cope with the problem, namely to decriminalize an existing unenforced by-law against profane language in public. Decriminalization effectively revived the by-law, giving police power to hand out $20 tickets to offenders without worrying about bringing a criminal case to court.
Middleborough’s exasperated town meeting overwhelmingly endorsed this idea, 183-50. The citizens applauded their action; Chief Gates was lauded, the recipient of plaudits, perhaps even a raise. All was well. Everything was in place for an assault on the miscreants whose egregious words constituted a constant assault on civility and suitable speech. Only one thing had been forgotten: The First Amendment of the Constitution of the Great Republic. Thus,
“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the people peaceably to assemble, or to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
About the First Amendment, what Middleborough forgot, or, worse, never knew.
Passage of the Constitution, the first ever written on this Earth, was impeded because it conspicuously failed to enumerate the rights of citizens. Many reasonable people were unwilling to proceed until they knew. There followed arguably the most important and urgent work of the Founding Fathers… making clear what citizenship meant, its rights and responsibilities.
Thus, immediately after freedom of religion, these audacious visionaries put freedom of speech, its adamant importance made clear by its positioning in the very first amendment.
Now, here’s the great irony of this matter. Middleborough was founded in 1661, well before the inauguration of the Great Republic itself. Its citizens were amongst the chary who insisted upon the clear enumeration of their rights. It is because of such citizens that 13 disconnected royal colonies became 13 united states, the ultimate power for progressive change on Earth.
To protect these sacred rights the righteous citizens of Middleborough left home and hearth, bled and died on battle fields domestic and universal… and willingly gave, gave, and gave still more of their treasure. They believed in what they had wrought and went to all lengths to defend and strengthen it.
But all this was forgotten this early June evening when citizens abridged not just the rights of foul-mouthed, anti-social adolescents… but their own rights, too. At the request of the police authorities (hardly pace setters in the defence of rights) they gave away a portion of what their very ancestors worked so hard and diligently to gain and keep. And there was hardly a peep of opposition, much less comprehension.
Of course, since this story broke the police have bent over backwards to limit how and when their new powers will be used. Will they be used against that sweet lady and good neighbor Mrs. Smythe? The police say no, but the law is unclear. Perhaps the police could use it, but Chief Gates says they won’t. Quite frankly that isn’t good enough. I prefer the tested wisdom of the Founding Fathers to the self-serving policies of any police authority. Where were the citizens of Middleborough when the need was pressing to say this?
And what of all the other oaths, the ones by people like Bobby Jones and Richie Westover? Who will determine what oaths deserve the $20 ticket… and which ones, in which situations do not? Who will decide… and who will monitor the monitors? Here, again, I prefer the position of the Founding Fathers. They did not say this speech will be free… and this speech (especially if made by teen-agers) will not. They said, unequivocally, that “Congress shall make NO law… abridging the freedom of speech.” And that includes Middleborough….
I do not expect Chief Gates to understand this. After all, it’s his baby. He wants to clear the streets of profanity, because no one wants to listen (in his infelicitous phrase) to that “baloney”. It’s a line that demonstrates how little he understands the issue at hand. None of us, including me, likes that baloney, the license to mangle our language, be vulgar, uncouth, bothersome, disturbing, distressing. I am as one with the Chief on this.
However, the First Amendment trumps our momentary unease at language which is generally unacceptable. Its preservation intact is, therefore, the objective; for this vigilance is eternally necessary, whatever the Chief says.
As for the foul-mouthed teen-agers in question, let’s put Michael Jackson’s 1987 triumph “Bad” to work helping. They are, and we all know and see it every single day, arrogant, thoughtless, obstinate, spoilers of so many hours. This is all true, but telling them that a million times only make things worse. Rather, we need to find better outlets for that stupendous energy.
What about dance….. where their prowess is unmistakable, a joy to watch, impossible to emulate? We could help them be good by allowing them to dance “Bad”, insinuating our objective through these lyrics.
“I’m telling you Just watch your mouth I know your game What you’re about.”
It’s certainly worth a try… and compromises no one’s Constitutional rights. Chief Gates take note.
(Now go find “Bad” in any search engine. It’s impossible to pontificate while listening. You’ll be too busy gyrating and being just plain awesome).
About the Author
Harvard-educated Dr. Jeffrey Lant is CEO of Worldprofit, Inc., providing a wide range of online services for small and-home based businesses. Services include home business training, affiliate marketing training, earn-at-home programs, traffic tools, advertising, webcasting, hosting, design, WordPress Blogs and more. Find out why Worldprofit is considered the # 1 online Home Business Training program by getting a free Associate Membership today at http://www.Worldprofit.com
Author: Jeffrey LantThis author has published 572 articles so far. More info about the author is coming soon.