The Sunday Mail (Queensland)

Sir Les could teach potty mouths thing or two about cussin’

- DAVID PENBERTHY david.penberthy@news.com.au

A FEW months ago I had the pleasure of interviewi­ng Barry Humphries in his capacity as the curator of the Adelaide Cabaret Festival. Before the interview the publicist warned that there were some conversati­onal terms and forms of address which Humphries found intolerabl­e and could see the interview come to an abrupt finish.

Addressing him as “mate” and asking “how are you going?” would risk such an outcome. Also, in his published statements prior to curating the festival, Humphries made it clear that he would not be billing acts which used the f-word or the c-word in a lazy attempt to shock or entertain.

It might sound odd that one of Australia’s most accomplish­ed vulgarists would insist on such decorum. This from the man who, as Sir Les Patterson, is famous for ostentatio­usly adjusting his appendage while appearing on chat shows, and less well known for such golden recordings as Give Her One For Christmas and 12 Inches of Les.

Humphries’ problem with the modern age lies both with boorish familiarit­y and the rise of artless profanity, where people now swear not for added effect or colour or emphasis, but because they appear to be too bloody stupid to find any other words in their limited vocabulari­es.

I am yet to meet a swear word I didn’t like but, for some people, swearing has now become an end in itself. This is a country where one of our former prime ministers, Paul Keating, described another ex-PM, Malcolm Fraser, as looking like “an Easter Island statue with an arse full of razor blades”. As a statement it was elegant, evocative and really, really rude yet, in 2015, we would probably only get the rude bit.

Mark Latham is, or was, a columnist who oscillated between being genuinely brilliant and mindlessly offensive. It was worth enduring the latter to enjoy the former and it’s a pity he’s been silenced by people who make a living being offended by things.

But we saw Latham in mindlessly offensive mode last Saturday when he took to the stage at Melbourne to declare that the words f--- and c--- (and bum and poo, apparently) were not only riproaring terms but the lingua franca of suburban Australia.

I would admit to being quietly thrilled at the idea of all those bourgeois Writers Week types with their hessian bags from the Readings bookstore scrambling for the door in horror as the man who almost became PM blustered onto the stage like a Tourette’s sufferer and picked a fight with humanity.

But Latham did himself no favours with this potty-mouthed schoolyard rubbish, and he defamed the people of suburbia who are overwhelmi­ngly capable of making their way through a sentence without calling people c--s and f---wits to make their point.

It’s not the way suburbia talks, it’s the way Latham talks, and it’s the way so many people who think they’re at the vanguard of public discourse now choose to talk.

Columnist Clementine Ford became upset when Sunrise dared to ask whether it was such a crash-hot idea to upload nude pictures of herself to the internet.

In what was apparently an empowering display, Ford got her gear off and wrote the words “Hey Sunrise Get F---ed” on her naked chest, becoming the darling of social media for her “edgy” demonstrat­ion against what she called “victimsham­ing”.

Ford, like Latham, has plenty of provocativ­e things to say, but these people do themselves and everyone else a disservice when profanity is their predominan­t recourse.

Someone who dislikes the PM fires a tweet into Q&A under the handle @Abbottlove­sanal and not one of the geniuses employed at this lavishly-funded ABC flagship program thought twice about putting it to air. This from the same program which decided to give a platform to the troubled Zaky Mallah, who had spent much of the previous week naming the conservati­ve female columnists who, in his view, deserved to be “gangbanged”, and still stands proudly by that conviction.

In uncharacte­ristic fairness to the ABC, maybe they are simply reflecting the times, where gripes with the democratic­ally elected Federal Government are best expressed with a “F--- Abbott” Tshirt, where Tony Abbott himself will happily stand at a rally filled with placards saying “Ditch the Witch” and “Ditch the Bitch”, where so much of what passes for discussion on social media is devoted to the badgering of people you disagree with as leftards and rightards, fright bats and f---tards.

Blogger and mamamia.com founder Mia Freedman was right this week when she said that Twitter had become “a bar room brawl in 140 characters”. She could have gone further as the squalid discourse of social media seems to be infecting other forms of modern communicat­ion, with the people who fancy themselves as the thinkers often being guilty of the most unthinking conduct.

It is a pity the brilliant Barry Humphries cannot find the time to run swearing classes, as the art of proper profanity is being drowned in a sea of cuss-words and artless abuse by people with no interest in exchanging ideas, only insults.

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