Q: Why do those in charge of the TV services insist on adding so much swearing these days? I turned off "Perry Mason" after the first f-word. I realize they can broadcast swearing, but why do they think it's necessary?

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Adam Thomlison / TV Media

Premium cable and streaming services can use as much profanity as they like because they are beholden only to their subscribers. Broadcast TV doesn't use it because there are rules and because they have advertisers who, traditionally, have disapproved of bad language. That's why fantastically foul-mouthed shows such as "Veep" and "The Sopranos" were found on HBO, which has neither advertisers nor an FCC to worry about. (And why shows that air on ad-supported cable fall somewhere in the middle.)

But that division doesn't address the question of why -- why does the FCC need rules against profanity in the first place?

Your example of "Perry Mason" is a useful one. It is, of course, a continuation of the classic drama that debuted in the 1950s. But the new version, airing on HBO, differentiates itself from the original by offering a grittier, more realistic take on the character. And filmmakers often view foul language as a shortcut to gritty realism.

And they're probably right. Critics have long made fun of shows from the original "Perry Mason" era for offering an overly sanitized version of what was actually being said in the streets and even law offices of the real world.

The gritty-realism explanation applies to some shows, but not all. You could argue that the aforementioned "Veep" offers another explanation: Sometimes swearing is just funny.

And that offers a sort of hope. Comedy is based on the idea of surprise, so this tells us that even amid all these televised f-words, swearing still has the ability to shock us.


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