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Word power

KANSAS CITY, Kan. (BP)–Words, according to England’s Lord Chesterfield, are “the dress of thoughts; which should no more be presented in rags, tatters, and dirt, than your person should.”

I find it somewhat satisfying that days after I wrote a Baptist Press column concerning obscenity in the arts, a radio shock joke was fired for expressing hate and bigotry through words. Not that I want to see any man lose his job, but the media aftermath of Don Imus’ fall has furthered the discussion of artistic expression, with many reexamining the crudeness of that expression. It’s dawning on some that there really is power in language and that we should take care in how we use it. Still, others justify its abuse. And they’re the ones making all the money. Go figure.

At times the entertainment industry professes an influence on our society, while at other times its members maintain that they only reflect the culture. The truth is, it’s a community that embraces any illustrative conduct, so long as they can say at the end of the day, “Show me the money.” But thanks to Mr. Imus, now is the time when we should hold those in the communication fields accountable for how they affect society. And now is the time when we all should take Ephesians 4:29 seriously: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

I suppose it would be wrong to single out the music industry for its assault on decency. But it’s a start. The vulgarity associated with hip-hop and rap performers has long been the percussion of their profession. Though it’s impossible for most to hear this hostile or dehumanizing speech as anything but anti-civility, we are nonetheless being barraged by commentators defending these performers. Again, go figure.

Moviemakers are just as guilty. In the recent film “Grindhouse” (Rated R), one character, a sharp-tongued black woman, uses the n-word when talking to or describing her friend. In the movie, the epithet is used in place of “girlfriend” or some other expression of sisterhood. The trouble with that word, however, is that it contains a subliminal edginess, no matter how it’s spoken or by whom it’s being spoken. What’s more, it continues to give life to a noun most reasonable people have long since buried.

“If it’s demeaning for white people to utter the n-word, why is it acceptable for blacks to use it?” That’s a frequent question that never seems to receive a reasonable answer. Rappers justify its inclusion as a part of their “artistry.” But while Chris Rock or Snoop Dogg justify their utilization of the word, it remains a confusion to the rest of America. No mater the justification, we see it as fragmenting.

But it isn’t just words that seem to be affecting the culture. It’s the tone behind them. Ever watch those comic news shows on cable? Do the hosts ever open their mouths without spewing cynicism? Though some of it can be witty and even proverbial, after 20 minutes of the mocking attitude, I feel my spirit grieved. It’s a form of humor that tears down, and seldom lifts up.

Certainly it would be naïve to think Hollywood or even the society in general will ever turn from such discourse. But aren’t we as Christians supposed to? “For out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks.” (Matthew 12:34)

If you are soaking up cynicism, foul language and hateful remarks through the media, pretty soon it will become a part of your thought pattern. Since the secular worldview is impossible to escape, we should make Bible reading a valued part of our day. The inspired Word of God prepares us for the future life while helping us maintain a balanced existence in this one.
Phil Boatwright is the film reviewer for previewonline.org.

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  • Phil Boatwright