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Is Clive Hamilton a FCUKing hypocrite?

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Catallaxy readers will no doubt have noticed the ubiquitous FCUK clothing brand – their latest T-shirt efforts including “no fcukin worries” and “too busy to fcuk”. Clive Hamilton has noticed too, and he doesn’t like it:

The use of offensive words in public is a sign of the coarsening of the culture, a trend that the advertising industry is in large measure responsible for. The FCUK “joke” has gone beyond the name itself, what the company calls an anagram of a “cheeky word”. Of course, cheeky is a euphemism for offensive. Saying “f—” in public is not cheeky, it is unacceptable, which is why newspapers still use hyphens.

Now Clive does not come to this issue with entirely clean hands (or a clean mouth). This morning someone sent me a remark he made on a 1999 broadcast of 4 Corners about the Democrats and the GST. Hamilton had been advising the Democrats:

Dr. Clive Hamilton, Executive Director, Australia Institute:
We showed him, or John came into the room and the Democrats there showed him the list of demands that they were going to take into negotiations the next morning and he looked at it and the mood changed. He was very sceptical about some of the demands. We didn’t understand why. One of them he picked out and he said to me, “Well Treasury won’t wear this.” And I said, “Well fuck Treasury,” and he was really taken aback and he said, “Excuse me?” And I said, “Well fuck Treasury, nobody elected them and I mean, you’re the negotiators.”

It’s not quite clear whether John Cherry, the Democrats’ then economics adviser, was taken aback by the ‘fuck’ or by the idea of rejecting Treasury’s views. But by his own standards, Hamilton had used ‘unacceptable’ language not just in the original conversation but in then repeating it on national TV.

Hamilton may be a hypocrite, but does he have a point? I can’t say I am a fan of ‘FCUK’ clothes myself – the clothes may not be worn-out, but the joke is. But they are only popular because ‘fuck’ has already lost much of its force as an intrinsically offensive word. As Ruth Wajnryb points out in her book Language Most Foul ‘as an intensifier it no longer intensifies…nowadays it takes more FUCKS to achieve what one lone FUCK would have achieved ten years ago’. This is due partly to its versatility – verb, noun, adverb, adjective, exclamation, command and conjunction. The first Macquarie Dictionary back in 1981 offered 9 fuck-related headwords and 18 additional definitions. By the most recent 2005 edition, the list had grown to 17 headwords and 37 additional definitions.

These days the vulgarity or offensiveness of fuck-words comes mostly from their context. ‘No fucking worries’ wouldn’t usually be intended to offend, especially in all-male company. ‘Youse’ or the superfluous use of ‘like’ grate on me more. ‘Fuck’ in its original verb sense can be used almost neutrally. ‘Fuckwit’, however, strikes me as almost always meant to offend, and I haven’t seen any fcukwit T-shirts. FCUK ‘s ‘too busy to fcuk’ T-shirt shouldn’t be worn less because ‘fuck’ to describe sex is offensive than because it is tacky to announce one’s sex life (or lack thereof) to strangers. ‘Too busy to have sex’ would be just as bad.

The FCUK brand will further diminish ‘fuck’ as a word, bringing it closer to words like ‘bloody’ that upset British TV regulators but not too many other people. We are running out of words that offend in themselves, rather than in the ways they are put together. Only the c-word really retains its power – and being stuck as a noun its potential for taboo-diminishing overuse seems limited.


Written by Admin

March 30, 2006 at 8:47 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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