Monday, March 21, 2011

Swearing on TV: It's All About Context

The same swear words are seen differently depending on the kind of television channel they're heard, according to a new study in Mass Communication and Society.

In the press release, the study found "some TV viewers believe swearing on premium channels and cable is less offensive than vulgarity on broadcast channels. Similarly, viewers are more tolerant of swearing on the premium channels than they are on the cable options."

The rest of the release follows:
This breaks from previous research stating that how swear words reach people does not effect how offensive they are. Authors Daniel Shafer and the late Barry Sapolsky, both from Florida State, and Barbara Kaye from Tennessee also found sexually suggestive words as the most offensive and excretory language as moderately offensive, while more mild language and religious blasphemy were less offensive. This applies in general conversation or TV viewing.

How offended they are by profanity was linked to the social, religious, or political group they are affiliated with. College student swearing, for instance, is generally more accepted perhaps because it often not taken literally:

College-age participants may be habituated to these words and do not find them as troubling as their status as indecent words banned from broadcast television would imply . . . indicating a connotative shift from their literal meanings to expressions of anger.”

The study also found that women tend to be more offended by swearing than men, as are conservatives compared to liberals, and regular churchgoers compared to less religious individuals.
Now a lot of the latter stuff falls into that "duh" category of masscomm daring to research the obvious.  I know.  I'm as guilty as anyone.  But actually you need to establish the obvious rather than merely assuming it to be so.  But the idea that people differ in their acceptance of vulgarity depending on the channel is rather interesting, and demonstrates once again the power of how people approach the media and the consequences those approaches can have on how we evaluate such content.

So cuss away, at least on HBO or FX or Comedy Central.

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