News that an off-duty Los Angeles cop had filed suit for the right to curse at NFL games demonstrates the depth of our unbridled sense of entitlement. Civility is a four-letter word meaning rude, as in the right to be vulgar. And personal responsibility means the right to do whatever you want since you can always blame – – – someone else when the feculence hits the fan.
A coarsening culture? Too late, it’s here. Look no further than Louis Helmburg, III, and his January 2012 negligence suit against Travis Hughes and the fraternity, Alpha Tau Omega (ATO), in Cabell County, West Virginia. According to the Complaint, Helmburg alleges damages suffered when Hughes supposedly breached his duty of reasonable care by underage drinking and attempting “to fire a bottle rocket out of his anus while under the influence.”
ATO also allegedly owed a duty to Helmburg “to provide a safe place, which included a duty to supervise its guests and its own fraternity members, such as Defendant Hughes, and other under age persons, from consuming alcohol on its premises, which leads to stupid and dangerous activities, such as shooting bottle rockets out of one’s own anus.” Also see Andrew Chow’s pun-replete post, “Fraternity Sued Over Bottle Rocket Shot From Anus.”
A Constitutional right to cuss?
In October 2010, Arizona Cardinals fan Eric Holguin was at a Cardinals v. San Diego Chargers game when he was ejected by stadium bouncers for uttering the obscenity, “F- -k you,” at two Chargers fans who had allegedly challenged him to a fight. Now he’s suing to defend his Constitutional right to cuss. “A fan has a right to say ‘[expletive] you’ in public. It’s a public place,” says his attorney, Mary Frances Prevost. Also see Bob Garfield’s interview of Mary Prevost at “Defending the First Amendment Right to Profanity,”
But hooliganism at sporting events has gotten old. Nothing surprises when it comes to “de-individuated” sports fans” and “Drunks, sports and getting stomped at Dodgers Stadium,” the latter discussing the beat-down suffered by San Francisco Giants fan Bryan Stow.
Nor would it be surprising that notwithstanding police officer Eric Holguin’s displeasure with the NFL’s fan code of conduct against“foul or abusive language or obscene gestures,” Officer Holguin might not have the equanimity or the inclination to indulge equally an arrestee’s Free Speech right to curse him out with a few F-bombs.
“Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” – Janis Joplin – “Me and Bobby McGee.”
But then what’s so bad about the F-bomb anyway? Marry unconstrained entitlement with unchecked freedom to do and say whatever you damned well please, and what’s left?
And besides, there’s at least one law school professor who thinks the word ought to be “set free.” In 2007, Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Christopher M. Fairman writing about the vulgar “F” word said: “Regardless of its source, when taboo becomes institutionalized through law, the effects of taboo are also institutionalized. If we want to diminish the taboo effect, the solution is not silence. Nor should offensive language be punished.”
Fairman argued for a recognition that such words “have a legitimate place in our daily life” and that “Scholars must take responsibility for eliminating ignorance about the psychological aspects of offensive speech and work to eliminate dualistic views of good words and bad words. Taboo language should be included in dictionaries, freely spoken and written in our schools and colleges, printed in our newspapers and magazines, and broadcast on radio and television. Fuck must be set free.”
When even legal scholarship descends to a treatise decrying the institutionalization of the “F” taboo, it’s little wonder I find myself agreeing with Mitchell H. Rubinstein’s comment on The Sad State Of Legal Scholarship Today, at Adjunct Law Prof Blog, i.e., that “most [law] students would be shocked to know that the doctrinal tenured faculty do not research anything worth writing.”
Any wonder, then, that last year, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts chided the academic irrelevance of seldom-if-ever-read law reviews when it comes to the work of lawyers and judges? See “Annual Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals Conference | C-SPAN.”
And then there’s the salaried time upwards of 30 to 50 percent allocated to law professors in creating this stuff that no one ever reads and which does little to advance the supposed “scholarly mission” of law schools. See law professor Paul L. Caron‘s post, “Cost of a Law Review Article: $100000; Student Debt to Pay for it: Priceless.”
Irony of ironies, the same year that Professor Fairman had his F-bomb article published in Volume 28 of the Cardozo Law Review, members of the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, notably Chief Judge Dennis G. Jacobs told an assembly of law professors at Cardozo Law School, “I haven’t opened up a law review in years. No one speaks of them. No one relies on them.” See Adam Liptak’s March 19, 2007 article in The New York Times, “When Rendering Decisions, Judges Are Finding Law Reviews Irrelevant.” Also see “Too many law schools, lamppost drunks and unread law reviews.”
But one last add on F- -k, the U.S. Supreme Court decides this term whether the Federal Communications Commission’s indecency-enforcement policy violates the Constitution, prompted by Cher’s Use of the F Word during a Fox television broadcast of the Billboard Music Awards. While the FCC never actually fined Fox, the network nevertheless challenged the FCC’s “fleeting-expletives” rules. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit had earlier ruled that the FCC’s rules were “unconstitutionally vague” and had a “chilling effect.” See FCC v. Fox Television Stations – American Bar Association.
So the way things are going Professor Fairman may yet get his wish.
Photo credits: “Profanity” cartoon by Tomia, original image en:User:Polylerus in public domain at Wikipedia; “Zing” by Thirteen Of Clubs at Flickr under Creative Commons-licensed content requiring attribution and share alike distribution BUT ALSO NOTE THIS PHOTO IS UNRELATED TO THE MENTIONED LAWSUIT AND IS ONLY FOR ILLUSTRATIVE PURPOSES; “Janis Joplin,” by Patrick Pearse under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Genericlicense; “Cher” by Emettmcginty released by author to public domain at Wikipedia.