(This is a light reworking of a piece from five years ago. I still feel the same.)
It’s Too Vulgar for Words!
By Patrick F. Cannon
Our good friends at the Oxford English Dictionary tell us that “vulgar” is defined as a thing or person “lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined.” I have my own definition. What is vulgar is simply something that is more than it needs to be.
For example, when some singer decides to render our national anthem as if it were a jazz, blues, country, hip hop, disco or mariachi song, it’s vulgar, unnecessary and usually painful or even comic. Our national anthem can be difficult for singers like me, but most trained singers can easily render it as written. Why don’t they? And why are people like Roseanne Barr asked to sing it? Her rendition at a San Diego Padres baseball game several years ago still haunts my dreams.
Although it draws tourists by the millions, the palace at Versailles is also vulgar. Vulgar because it was meant to show the average Frenchman that the king was so far above them that he could afford to have rooms that nobody actually lived in. If you’ve been to Versailles (or any number of similar palaces), you’ve not doubt walked through numerous rooms of no apparent purpose (they did have purposes, however silly). While we might admire individual pieces of furniture or decorative art, the final effect is vulgar in the extreme.
In a similar mode, Michelangelo’s ceiling in the Sistine Chapel isn’t vulgar because its subject is fully in keeping with its location. Ditto for any number of frescoes in churches and religious buildings. But what of the frescoes I’ve seen that glorify the builders of the private palaces that dot the English countryside? It’s been awhile, but I seem to recall that Blenheim Palace has a mural showing the 1st Duke of Marlborough (Winston Churchill’s ancestor) trouncing the hated French at the Battle of (you guessed it) Blenheim. Showy self regard and vulgarity? You bet. Equally vulgar are sport figures who call attention to themselves for doing what they get paid handsomely to do. Perhaps we should dock their pay when they drop a pass or strike out?
While folks aren’t actually building anything quite like Versailles any more, they are indulging their egos by building houses so large and showy that you might think they had a dozen little kiddies to house. If they actually have two, it would be exceptional. Yet their mini hotels often have seven or eight bedrooms and 10 bathrooms. A wine cellar is mandatory, even though most of them couldn’t tell the difference between Chateau Margaux and Carlo Rossi. Of course, they also hire decorators to fill their palaces with over-priced stuff, including paintings chosen not for their artistic, but rather their decorative or market value.
It’s probably hopeless to point out that the now common use of the eff and emeff words are vulgar in the extreme. I was guilty of dotting my sentences with them when I was in the Army, but rarely do so today (alone in my car being an exception). Once, educated people would never have used profanity. Now, education is no barrier to vulgarity. I once cringed when I heard educated young women use the eff word; now, they toss it around like it’s a badge of their liberation. I don’t have any personal experience in this, but no doubt their professors sprinkled their lectures with similar profanity.
I won’t even try to comment on today’s so-called comedians. Suffice it to say that vulgarity is the enemy of wit. And it seems to be winning.
Copyright 2016, 2022, Patrick F. Cannon