Of all the animals of prey, man is the only sociable one.
Every one of us preys upon his neighbour, and yet we herd together.
The Beggar's Opera: John Gay

Friday 13 December 2013

Festive quote of the day - it's not big and it's not clever

‘In today’s youth society the F word is used as an adjective to creative emphasis on the phrase/situation/circumstance.’
These, apparently, are the words of the 'Senior buyer home & lifestyle' at Urban Outfitters, in response to complaints from a Roman Catholic customer upset by the shop's seasonal merchandise.

Items include wrapping paper, cards and bunting emblazoned with the words 'Happy F***ing Christmas', the ideal accompaniment for their gifts of piggy banks in the form of the Virgin Mary and hip-flasks printed with an image of Jesus and the words 'Holy Water'.

It is, as the article's writer points out, unlikely they would do the same with Ramadan or Hanukkah, but, since I can't abide offence-seeking on behalf of others and the Catholic religion has long been associated with a certain element of kitsch, I'll avoid the religious aspect; what strikes me here is the paucity of imagination implied by the use of language.

The clear intention is to shock, and to enjoy the sense of doing so. The problem with this approach, as Miley Cyrus found recently, is that current aesthetic and moral standards have sunk so low that, in order to be noticed, you have to plumb ever-greater depths of tastelessness in a race to the bottom (or other body part of choice).

It's nothing new, of course; the more egregious antics of Caligula or Heliogabalus - minus the overt sadism and bloodshed - would fit seamlessly into today's TV schedules, along with the exploits of the Hell Fire Clubs or the Bright Young Things.

What is interesting is that such behaviour, until relatively recently, has largely been the preserve of the wealthy and privileged - everyone else has been too preoccupied with the necessity of earning a living to waste time and resources in this way.

Bad language and behaviour have long been associated with the less well-off too, but using it purely to shock someone else was once the preserve of childhood; for it to have the desired impact, there must be someone there to be shocked - someone older, wiser or more morally staid and responsible.

This merchandise is as good an indication as any that today's young people are being fed a cultural diet designed to keep them young and impressionable by a myriad of vested retail interests, as demonstrated by the breathtaking cynicism of the Urban Outfitters' spokeswoman:
‘It has not been used as a direct insult to any person or religion. It has simply been used to capture the minds of our youth market and celebrate the season.'


  1. In those happy days long past when I was preparing to take my Drill Certificates in the Army it was quite simple. We had to be capable of differentiating the situation from the need. So at the most basic level, NCO plus squad doing square bash training a full range of imaginative language fortified by obscenities might be used. If, however, a Warrant or Commissioned officer might be present as watchers, then ornate wording minus rude ones would do. But at the formal level when officer on parade or other persons around then one stuck to the essential words of command. Later in manual work gangs much the same criteria applied as well as factory workplaces. Today, it seems that the young are unable to cope with subtlety or flexibility and have a very limited language function. To say that youth of the past were not aware of these days and that they are the preserve of modern youth it idiot in the extreme. I would like the chance to get that lot on a square and explain in simple terms while they were marching about, or else.

  2. Demetrius, you're right; it's all a question of context.

    We all know the words, but which ones we use and in front of whom requires a degree of subtlety which, sadly, appears to be on the decline.

  3. Oh come, Macheath, don't you do a bit of twerking now and again in public?

  4. JH, I admit I once demonstrated a credible approximation to the manoeuvre on a Greek holiday - to the great amusement of several bystanders - when a large hornet flew down the back of my shirt.

    Believe me, it's not an experience I'm keen to repeat!


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