It’s difficult to find an American who doesn’t know what “amigo” or “gracias” means. Eventually, those words will be considered part of English, in the same way that nobody thinks “patio,” “rodeo,” or “coyote” are solely Spanish.
However, there is still one area in which American culture hasn’t embraced the allure of Spanish. I’m talking about vulgarity, obscenity, and indecency — basically, the naughty words.
I’m not sure why Spanish curse words haven’t crossed over. It’s not that we don’t like to swear in this country. And the dreaded bleep on television has now become a badge of honor.
Indeed, as the LA Times points out, “Once largely relegated to slips of the tongue during live events, censored cursing has evolved into a pre-planned, or at least largely expected, punch line that’s network-approved and no longer lowbrow.”
But will Spanish words ever be bleeped out? It’s not just an academic question.
It stands to reason that as America grows more multilingual — and it’s doing just that, regardless of your feelings on the matter — we’ll hear more Spanish on the airwaves. And some of that Spanish will be of the naughty variety.
Now, the Federal Communications Commission, which regulates broadcast indecency, says that it doesn’t matter what language the offending words are in. The FCC is always poised to bring the hammer down on those who sully our culture — well, in theory, anyway.
The truth, according to many annoyed English-language broadcasters, is that the commission frequently gives a pass to Spanish indecency because “the Spanish-speaking staff at the FCC has traditionally been undermanned.”
Yes, there just aren’t enough bilingual bureaucrats available to translate the filth flying around on TV and radio. Until recently, the FCC could get away with this. They assumed all that vulgarity came from Univision shows or radio stations that blared ranchera music — you know, the stuff that mainstream America ignores.
For the most part, the only time one hears Spanish on hit shows is for effect. It pops up when the tough cop or caring doctor is in a rundown barrio, and the natives are running wild. You also might hear it when an extra is portraying a maid or gardener. And for real diversity, they might throw a janitor in there too.
But it’s just a matter of time before a middle-America show features a character who speaks Spanish frequently. Already, we have the first truly bilingual television series.
So what happens when a lovable character on a top show mutters, “pinche”? Will the FCC take initiative and bleep “culero” or just let it go, hoping against hope that millions of viewers don’t know that it means “assfucker”?
Well, there’s only one way to find out. I challenge all those television writers who take pride in their edginess to put up or shut up. Have one of your white, urbane characters learn some Spanish and then casually throw in some obscenities. After all, who is going to complain if Liz Lemon or Sue Sylvester tells someone to go chinga themselves?
Trust me, the FCC won’t even notice.