Sunday, January 16, 2011

Vulgarity as a Servant of the Common Good


For quite some time now, I have been noticing bumper stickers with this logo:
The pink ribbon, of course, is a symbol of breast cancer awareness.  But this logo is an example of how, in recent years, the crusade to find a cure for breast cancer has been coupled with fifth-grade-boy-humor slogans like "Honk if you love boobies!" and "I love my big tatas" and "Caught you looking at my tatas."  So I started wondering: how did the cause of breast cancer research, of all things, fall into the hands of the vulgarians?

It turns out that "Save the Tatas" is a brand.  "Save the Tatas" sells a wide variety of products, from T-shirts to ball caps to baby and dog attire to something called "Boob Lube" soap, all sporting the above logo or some similar specimen of mammary-gland humor, a percentage of the proceeds of which (the website claims 25%, totaling $606,000.00) is supposed to go to funding breast cancer research.

But "Save the Tatas" has competitors.  There is another outfit out there called "Feel Your Boobies," which also sells merchandise, whose goal is to issue a constant stream of adolescent reminders to women to perform breast self-examinations -- or, as they can't get enough of calling it, to feel their boobies.  Then there is "Save2ndBase," another hawker of merchandise, including T-shirts with slogans such as "Take Care of Your Rack," surmounted by an image of deer antlers, and "Save 2nd Base, surmounted by two large, strategically-located baseballs.   (At least now, at long last, I finally understand what "getting to second base" means.)

Clearly, there is money to be made with all this breast cancer merchandising, and the adolescent gimmickry is a tool for making money.  The purpose of this inquiry, however, is not to determine whether the money for all the pink ribbon junk is really going to fund breast cancer research (and there are those who say that very little of it actually does).   Nor is it to find out how much of the money raised actually goes to the abortion industry (in fact, donees of  the above groups include the Susan G. Komen Foundation, which in turn gives money to Planned Parenthood, and also takes time out to publish documents that purport to debunk the theory that abortion contributes to breast cancer). For our present purposes, we can assume that every last dime raised by the sale of "Save a Life, Grope Your Wife" T-shirts actually goes to fund legitimate breast cancer research.  The question here is whether a net gain redounds to the common good by pressing vulgarity into the service of finding a cure for this deadly disease, even if it raises huge quantities of money that would not otherwise be raised.

I can already hear the howls of opposition.  "But this is about breast cancer research!  This is about curing a disease that kills thousands of women every year!  This is about raising awareness for early diagnosis!  What could be more important than saving lives?"  Certainly, saving lives is important (although, as noted above, the Susan G. Komen Foundation does not further the cause of life by contributing to the already overflowing coffers of Planned Parenthood).  And breast cancer is no joke: the National Cancer Institute says it is the most common cancer in women after skin cancer. 

But there are other values.  We are not put on this earth either for the sole purpose of prolonging our time on it, or to devote ourselves entirely to eating, drinking and being merry.  Our overriding duty is to view this life in the light of eternity, and act accordingly; and we ought, while we are here, to do all we can to create a society that is conducive to this end.

The coarsening of public discourse, and the celebration of the low and the crass, is destructive of this end; nor can it really be said to achieve its ostensible purpose.  So far from drawing attention to the seriousness of breast cancer, the vulgarisms peddled on bracelets and T-shirts and hats really draw attention only to themselves, and to those who sport them -- witness the websites that peddle these wares, which encourage customers to send in photos of themselves wearing or displaying them.  All these things really are are a way for people who feel straitened and confined by the requirements of decorum to publicly flout the rules of polite society; to congratulate themselves on "caring" while avoiding the grueling and messy toil that making a real difference requires; and to win admiration and validation for their impudence, which is touted as courage or forthrightness.

And by exalting coarsened sensibilities, all we end up with is the transformation of people -- especially women -- into objects.  All this focusing on "boobies" and "tatas" does nothing but reduce women to nothing more than the sum of their body parts.  And since women are the ones pushing and promoting this garbage, we make the world safe for neanderthals by stripping ourselves of the social defenses that formerly kept their boorish behavior in check.   Worse, we lose the ability to distinguish between decorum and boorishness.  It should come as no surprise to us to find ourselves at the mercy of the mouthbreathers and knuckledraggers who regard us as nothing more than playthings.  But it will be our doing, because we encouraged it, and because we lashed out at the good, chivalrous men who would otherwise have intervened to prevent it.

When you stop and consider it, we really do not want a world that encourages the proliferation of this sort of thing:
But that is exactly where we are headed.  Crassness and vulgarity make treacherous servants, and we are fools to think we can harness them for the good.


  1. You'll appreciate

    The address looks convoluted. This is an article on, by Beverly Beckham entitled, "Ignoring words on the street." Read and shake your head.

  2. Thanks, Faith. I read the article, which I did appreciate. The comments from readers, on the other hand, tempt me to despair.

  3. I noticed one of my youth leaders wearing "I Love Boobies" bracelets at Mass. I asked him about its appropriateness and he replied, "It's for breast cancer awareness."

    And I replied: "Really? You can honestly tell me that's the reason you're wearing that, and not for the attention?"

    He had no response.

  4. Homeboy: precisely. If he thinks that's appropriate to wear to Mass, then maybe he should ask himself: what would he think if he saw the priest wearing it.

    By the bye, I have added you to my roster of Allies for Victory. I hope that a blog ministry will not prove incompatible with your new state of life; but if you find that it is, I hope you will at least not delete the blog, but keep it in the ether for the benefit of others who might draw some encouragement from it.

  5. Thanks! And no, it won't be frowned upon if I maintain my blog after vows. The one caveat is that our apostolic mission is in education; the teens we teach are net-savvy, so it's best that I and the name of the Order remain withheld.