Public bathroom stalls serve an educational purpose. If not a fully interactive guide to pop culture fandoms (Who’s Sherlock, what’s a T.A.R.D.I.S. and where is this Ministry of Magic?), a graveyard of etched linoleum ex-loves or a convenient surface to sharpen your many knives, the public bathroom stall is the world’s dictionary. Not to be mistaken for its Oxford English brethren, the toilet stall has emerged as my go-to source for every slang term, allusion to and variation of the word “semen.”
Don’t flip the page in haste — I promise to keep this clean (mind you, the staff is paid daily to wipe-mop-wax the area until it’s spick, span and pee-free). Before you flee from your solo Starbucks table to scrub your hands clean of my perversity, just think about the word. Confront it. Acknowledge it. Accept it (and don’t forget that, if you leave, Charlie with the tall chai latte is eager to steal your seat). It’s only a word. Just ask comedian Kathy Griffin.
Though such a word needs no context, let me indulge you: On Nov. 9, Griffin performed her stand-up routine for her loyal Detroit fan base (and seven straight men dragged to the show by drunken girlfriends) at the Fox Theatre. Jokes aside, the infamously banned-from-live-TV star “shocked” me in the simplest way: She said the word “jizz” … in front of an audience. She said it to the public. To the elderly woman at my right. To my mom. To me.
It’s not like I’d never heard the word before and not as if I don’t frequently roll my eyes at the fact that it’s carved in the stalls of many a University bathroom. But I couldn’t help but gasp. Where was my media guardian angel to mute the offense? To blur Griffin’s lips as if convinced that I wouldn’t be able to deduct the punch line from every third penis joke? To obscure such devious language with the comfort of a resounding BLEEEEP?
Television is great — better than great. It contributes to my view of the world and society, constructing my delicate schema and predicting the scripts of daily life.
But Kathy Griffin didn’t follow the script (“Does she ever?” Barbara Walters asks) and, in doing so, she broke my TV-laden reverie. Who knew people still used words inappropriate for MTV!
I’ve never been one to actively crusade against the censorship of art, especially an art as accessible and influential as television. So how have I let a media personality’s slip of the j-word shock me? Reader, remind me of my own advice: It’s just a word.
I remember rejoicing at “Degrassi: The Next Generation” ’s first use of the word “bitch,” like watching my own wide-eyed creation stumble toward me out of sheer excitement that it’s walking for the first time. It was hip. It was cool. It was the first amendment … right?
Yet the night of Griffin’s gaffe, my media angel — in the form of a cherubic Neil Patrick Harris — spoke to me (don’t question it).
“Wait,” he said. “This isn’t TV, Brianne. You’re watching reality, and that shit isn’t censored.”
Maybe television has affected more than my skewed crime estimates and aversion to Blake Lively. Maybe television, in censoring itself, has censored me — my language, my habits and my expectations.
I don’t notice a word has retired from my vocabulary until a brazen comedian sings it into the audience for all to hear. I don’t realize my pace quickens down a poorly lit East University Avenue until I arrive home, heart pounding and Damon Salvatore not hitched to my neck. I don’t question the hazy fade to a Plato’s Closet commercial following my romantic endeavors. I forget that, despite what “The Real World” may tell me, television is not reality.
“That’s better,” NPH says, wings aflutter. You heard ’em, reader. TV is fair game, and so is the public bathroom stall.