the pulse

N-words and F-words and slurs (Oh my!)

The war being waged in Iraq isn't the only current one involving the U.S. There is also the conflict that's playing out on American soil, though this one isn't being fought with traditional weaponry but, rather, a delete key.

I'm talking about the assault on speech and expression, a battle that is as old as the republic but recently has moved in a surprising new direction. This one can't be blamed on moral conservatives or some extremist wackos. More disturbingly, this literal war of words is about the media collectively turning on itself in what has become a startling act of self-censorship.

Am I the only one who has noticed there is a movement afoot to eliminate objectionable words from common usage? That is the net effect of substituting "the N-word," "the F-word" and "the C-word" for the actual terms, a practice that has not merely been accepted by communication organizations but indeed pioneered and actively pushed forward.

To see words being treated as too incendiary and profane even to be cited analytically — no matter the context — should be of great concern to us all. It reduces a purportedly sophisticated populace to the maturity level of second-graders. That point was driven home when, in the wake of Isaiah Washington's notorious slur, the term "faggot" immediately became "the other F-word" in the mainstream media.

Considering the easy access of profane material to anyone with an Internet connection today, the absurd dichotomy could hardly be clearer. Nonetheless, it's growing only more acute. Witness the reaction of some media outlets to last week's news story surrounding the chaos triggered in Boston by a collection of wired boxes, designed to promote the forthcoming film based on Cartoon Network's "Aqua Teen Hunger Force" animated series.

Many that covered the story made the disturbing editorial decision to Photoshop out the upraised finger of "Aqua Teen's" Mooninite character, the digit appearing to flip us off. So now we're banning pieces of cartoon symbols because of their purported offensive nature.

"What this all basically says is that Americans are not mature enough to handle derogatory terms or imagery despite the fact the culture is literally overflowing with it," believes Paul Provenza, the comedian and actor-turned-filmmaker who co-produced the controversial expletive-laden documentary "The Aristocrats."

"Ironically, this is all coming from the left, from the paranoia of progressive special interest groups. And I mean, it's all very well-intended. But the effort to eliminate 'nigger' as a derogatory term discounts the necessary artistic expression of irony," Provenza says. "What's dangerous is that you have producers and creators and content providers all censoring themselves based on the notion of protecting morality, but in fact it's all a lie. The reality is that kind of restriction isn't what the people want at all." The success of "The Aristocrats" and "South Park" and a $10 billion-a-year porn industry more than proves otherwise, Provenza reasons.

Though few are defending Washington for his utterance of "faggot" during a post-Golden Globe Awards press conference, comedian-actor David Spade, for one, wonders why expressing a word should land someone in rehab as it did the "Grey's Anatomy" actor.

"You can't change the way people think by having certain words be deemed unacceptable," Spade maintains. "It's hard for me to fathom who's being protected by making 'nigger' and 'fag' too taboo even to say — while at the same time 'Borat' is celebrated as a cultural achievement. I just don't get it."