Remember when the television censors finally caved in and let the word ‘ass’ on reg’lar television? Suddenly it was like every character on tv was organizing every exchange to culminate in the word ‘ass’. The writers were having a field day both fitting ‘ass’ in cleverly designed gags and just tossing it in whenever it felt ‘right’ or ‘real’ or whatever.
The censors were bowing to Cable, where everyone could already say ‘ass’ of course, and anything else they want to say. I had the HBO series ‘Deadwood’ soundtrack a while back, and I couldn’t play it if there was a chance that the kids were anywhere around. There were lots of words that it’s not my job to teach them, since I’m trying to teach them to speak as though they have an education.
I’ve addressed the larger phenomena in my syndicated strip ‘The Buckets’. Frank the grandpa explains in one Sunday cartoon that when he was a boy, there was no real incentive to stay a kid- you WANTED to grow up because all the movies and most of the TV shows and all the good stuff in the stores were for adults. Now, of course, it seems like everything is geared if not for kids, then for adults who want to have all the same great stuff they were sold as kids. Kids get all the best stuff, and so there’s no incentive to want to be an adult, or in common parlance, “to get boring.” So now there are cartoons just for adults with language that used to be associated with sailors who had a third grade education and hadn’t been in the company of a non-professional woman for months. Tricky to explain to your kids that ‘Ugly Americans’ is a cartoon show they’re not allowed to watch, even when the commercial shows one character ordering another character to poop in front of him. Kids’ll tell ya, that %$#@s hiLARious.
The newspaper comics are still mostly under fifty-year old restrictions about what you can and can’t say. Widow Churchchoir down the street can surely kick up a ruckus in the newspaper editor’s office if she complains about the language in a comic strip these days. I’m thinking the widow doesn’t have cable.
Comics on the web are different. Many have been accused of being nothing but a series of fart and dick jokes. Early on, that might have been more true. Or maybe even now- amongst the sorts of comics that the younger crowds are doodling and reading. I tend toward the slicker, more carefully written and drawn material. It’s full of the same kinds of exchanges that current cable TV is full of, though. ‘Issues’. Gay and lesbian characters, relationship angst, bathroom humor, guys and girls, … ‘Real’ stuff, to be sure. As real as the kinds of jokes that people used to trade in private but you’d never hear from the cardboard lips of the contrived characters on TV before ‘ass’ was allowed.
So I wonder where Hubris is going. It’s up to me, but it’s not. So far, the gentle humor in the Hubris comic strips is the sort of indirect wording and situation from P.G. Wodehouse stories. Bertie Wooster might call a rival an “Excrescence”, but he’d NEVER call him a “shithead.” That kind of thing. Soon though, I’m going to run out of gentle humor strips written for the newspapers and the new material will flow. I’m old enough to want the Sociological Pendulum to go ahead and swing back toward educated, sophisticated humor- oblique stuff where you can refer to someone as a ‘Son of a Bachelor’ and it’ll be cute. That, instead of saying “Yo mama a whore” and throwing a laughtrack of rough hoots and howls over it. The latter ain’t funny, it’s designed to make you laugh, but not to think while you’re at it.