Economist Thomas Sowell has retired from writing his column. The world will be poorer for it that is for sure. The 86-year-old signed off for good with his final column on December 27. I do encourage you to read his backlog because he’s a man who bothered to check the facts before he wrote and he used a remarkable clear common sense so lacking in analysis today.
His next to the last column probably was a foretaste that the end was near. It can be read HERE, and you owe it to yourself to read it. (His final column is HERE!) It’s so profound and so simple, with too numerous of memorable quotes to add to this post. But I wanted to focus in on this one line he wrote – “… the word ‘risque’ would be almost impossible to explain to young people, in a world where gross vulgarity is widespread and widely accepted.”
The loss of “risque” is certainly a fact. Whatever kind of media – movies, TV, books – have pushed “acceptable morality” and “standards of behavior” out the window. The f-word is embraced in every form of entertainment where it is allowed. It hasn’t made it’s way to network TV yet. The visual imagery of sex and violence at any level would no longer be “risque.” It’s all been done. It’s all being done. But the question must be asked? Has it made our storytelling better?
We’ve certainly come a long way. I remember watching an episode of M*A*S*H in the late 1970s and my dad was in the room. He wasn’t watching and he never watched TV. I mean never. And in this rather poignant episode, Hawkeye played by Alan Alda looked over at one of the low-life characters who had done something despicable, and he said “you son-of-a-b**ch!” I remember it all vividly, because I was shocked to hear that work, and my dad turned around from his desk and asked “What are you watching? Turn that off!”
“Risque” has come and gone, and we are not better off. Now the vast majority of writers have jumped on the f-train, thinking their new found freedom to express themselves has opened a door to a new level of gripping storytelling. It hasn’t. I haven’t joined that train and I never will. Vulgarity is not appealing to me. Never has been, and any good writer should know that you don’t have to use vulgarity to have a vulgar character.
Another reason I won’t shed the “risque” in my writing is this: why would I want to do what everyone else is doing? I do, at times, use some swear words in my book. They are the mild ones, used only when I think they further the elements and emotions of the story. But I make it a point never to turn away a reader because they don’t like to read vulgarity. Especially when it’s pointless.