Sex, Violence, and Bad Grammar

Minimally educated Russell ridicules the impeccable English of Timmy. (Rules of Engagement, David Spade and Adhir Kalyan)
Minimally educated Russell ridicules the impeccable English of Timmy. (Rules of Engagement, David Spade and Adhir Kalyan)

A common source of “humor” in television sit-coms–and even in some of the dramas–is the ridiculing of one character by another for the use of “a big word,” or the correct use of “whom.”
The practice fuels the attitude among many young people that evidence of education, such as a large vocabulary, or the ability to use standard English, is a bad thing. Presumably it is an indication of “elitism,” and everyone knows that elitism in education is a bad thing, (while in athletics or acting, to be a member of the “elite” is seen as a good thing).

If only the wealthiest class sent its children to school in the U.S., there might be some excuse for the bad grammar one hears on the lips of talk show hosts and actors playing adult characters with occupations that imply they’ve completed high school or college.

In a society that provides 12-13 years of free public education to every child of every social, ethnic, and economic background, there’s no justification for the attitude that the ability to speak a standard form of English is the marker and privilege of an “Ivy League” elite.

Television producers have a right to glorify ignorance in their offerings, but viewers are not obligated to go along. Perhaps some of the activists who campaign against obscene language, sex, and violence in the media could add “attacks on intelligence and education” to their list of what is unacceptable for general viewing.

TV’s War on Me and I

Television and the Present Perfect Tense

Colloquial Does Not Have to Equate with Ignorant

2 Responses

  1. Well said, Maeve. Kinda reminds me of the relatively recent trend in TV commercials that portray Dad (or boyfriend, or any available male, for that matter) as the clumsy, empty-headed fool.

    Television is a pervasive medium, and like it or not, its effects are powerful and widespread.

    When done well and smart (like … Twin Peaks, Seinfeld (except for the take/bring thing), Frasier, the Bob Newhart Show, St. Elsewhere, and Star Trek), it’s a good thing. When done poorly and carelessly (like … Friends, the local news, Roseanne, American Idol (all reality shows, I suppose), Oprah, and Rachel Ray on the Food Network), it’s inevitable that viewers will pick up bad habits and form misconceptions about language.

    But of course, I’m preaching to the choir. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *