15 March, 2008

Not the most textbook example of fluency

While visiting the restroom, I discovered that German universities' restrooms have something in common with American universities' restrooms. Both feature vulgar phrases scrawled on the walls... in English.

It was just one phrase, but the choice of words was remarkable. I'm not talking about mere profanity. This phrase came from a genuine, polysyllabic vocabulary of vulgarity, far afield of four-letter words. This vandal knew his stuff! He didn't pick up these words from English language lessons, or hear them on the BBC. The man who scrawled that three-word phrase onto the wall was a true scholar of the English language. Not one of the American university stalls that I have had the misfortune of visiting has produced his match.

Naturally, I began to wonder where he picked up such language. Most American television shows broadcast here are dubbed into German. I've already mentioned that CNN is in English, albeit some rather unremarkable dialects of British English. Watching it makes me yearn for the BBC, of which I'm not usually a fan.

MTV, on the other hand, is mostly in German, aside from the videos and a few shows whose language remains English, with German subtitles. I suspect that the anonymous bathroom vandal acquired his terminology from this notorious scourge of American culture.

Ah, what wonders MTV works for the image of America abroad! I've caught a snatch here and there of

  • Exposed, a show where the voices of young men and women hoping to win a date with someone they've never met before are analyzed with "lie detection software",
  • Parental Control, a truly bizarre show where parents try to convince their children to date someone other than their current… uhm, "date?"; and
  • another show whose name I refuse to repeat, even if it has entered the common lexicon.

I was genuinely concerned about the youngest generation after watching bits of the first two shows. Are our children really that shallow and stupid? On Parental Control, for example, one guy told a girl that she was "a little shallow"—yet she giggled and threw her arms into the air when he chose her over the girl that he described as having "always been there" for him. I was, for a while, worried that my daughters might grow up giggling and hopping at the slightest attentions from wealthy but brain-dead morons who called them "a little shallow."

Then I realized that these shows are staged. The wooden dialogue, the staged insults, the unconvincing glares, the ludicrous bragadoccio, and especailly the fact that everyone on the shows seems to be preppy (for lack of a better word) and rich. Peace returned after I realized that no one could be that stupid and shallow in real life. MTV is, as usual, suckering people into watching. What a maroon I can be! I'll bet someone at MTV reads this one day and chuckles to himself, That's the point of MTV: to scare parents! Enlightenment returns the upper hand to me, for the time being at any rate.

Still, I wish they'd clean up their language a little.

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