A nation of uncouth bastards
By now there would hardly be a person in Australia who has not seen the video of that shocking pair of morons on a bus in the Melbourne suburb of Frankston haranguing a young French woman who had committed the unforgivable sin of singing quietly to herself in her native tongue.
To call these blokes bogans is an insult to bogans. It’s hard to find the words to convey the depth of their stupidity.
The aggression they displayed was repulsive, telling the woman they were going to “fillet” her with a fishing knife, and their racism was truly repellent, with the usual suggestions that she should eff off back to her own country.
My colleague Joe Hildebrand wrote that hopefully if these two dills are ever caught by the cops they can be charged with some trumped-up offence and jailed for a period of 25 years under a terrific new judicial model which he called “exemplary sentencing”.
It’s a good idea, although Joe is a bit of a softie; personally, I can’t see why you’d bother letting them out at all as society would be the better for their indefinite exclusion from it.
The bit that interested me in this episode was less the racism than the extraordinarily casual and proud use of such profane language. The racism component has been lazily and predictably overblown, with these two individuals being held up by some as further proof that our entire nation has a problem with racism. Unless I haven’t been paying attention, there doesn’t appear to have been a surge in anti-French violence in recent years. Relations between Canberra and Paris remain on track. The behaviour of these two blokes says everything about them and not much at all about the rest of us, especially as we are one of the most multicultural nations on earth, and a generally happy one at that, built as we are on successive waves of migration, and usually capable of making it through the day without a race war.
The more confronting part of the video was that it confirmed the modern trend whereby there is no longer any sense of context or setting when it comes to the deployment or that word starting with the letter “f” and even the word beginning with “c”. I am not a prude, I have nothing against swearing and am not offended at all by it in conversation with friends, ideally if the kids aren’t around, although they do get a kick out of pinging me for ripe language and demanding a 50 cent deposit in the swear jar.
The depressing thing is the rise of what you could call artless swearing, where a word such as “f…k” becomes a verb, noun and preposition in every sentence which emanates from people’s mouths. Swearing should be used for impact, and it should also not be used in front of strangers, yet in Australia these days the reverse applies. It is used indiscriminately, and it is used everywhere.
A couple of months ago I was going into town on the tram for a Friday night dinner where I intended to have a number of drinks and thought best to leave the car at home. On the way into the city there was a young mother, dressed quite normally, who was having trouble getting her toddler to sit still and behave. In front of a tram full of peak-hour passengers she told her young boy to get his feet off the f…ing seats, to f…ing sit still, to f…ing shut up, to stop being a little shit, to stop giving Mummy the shits, and so on. It was the worst example I have seen of public swearing, but hardly the only example. The really frustrating thing is when you are actually out with your own kids, sitting in a coffee shop or queuing up at the supermarket, and you will hear people casually peppering their conversation with f this, f that, indifferent to the fact that the kids are hanging on every word.
Australia is a nation which has long had a terrific tradition of profanity, of off-colour or politically incorrect humour, and has not just tolerated but revered public figures who use blue language to great effect. Sledging is considered an art form in cricket, politics has been the venue for some top-shelf name-calling, and many of our best books and films celebrate the richness of profane Australian speech. Often it involves the use of conventional words with one really offensive one. The key is that it involves a degree of artfulness, absent in the casual exchanges you hear so commonly these days as you go about your business.
There is almost no longer any point teaching kids that swearing is bad. It makes almost as much sense as telling them breathing or walking is bad as it has been incorporated into almost every aspect of daily life. You can understand why it confuses kids, as if swearing is as bad as we tell them it is, there must be a lot of bad people out there. It used to be a massive story if anyone ever dropped the f word – I can remember in the early 1980s when Norwood won the premiership in the South Australian football league, and one of their players said on live television that he felt “f***ing fantastic” after the win. The story ran for days, these days it would barely rate a mention.
It’s not a case of not swearing, but thinking about when and how we swear, as so many of us sound almost as half-witted as those rolled-gold, card-carrying, dead-set drongos on the Frankston bus.
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