From Ozzy and his f-word to Tony Soprano's profane tirades, the dirty words on cable TV these days would make a longshoreman blush—and the networks aren't much different. A survey by the Parents Television Council (PTC), a conservative watchdog group, showed that offensive language on network TV between 8 p.m. and 9 p.m.—the "family hour" time slot—has been on the rise. According to the PTC, foul language on TV contributes to a general decline in civility and an erosion of moral values. Moreover, they say, it's harmful to youngsters. But do young minds—not to mention civil society—really crumble so easily?
"There's no social-science evidence that it's true," says Timothy Jay, a dirty-word expert at the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts in North Adams. "And the harm that befalls children is never specified [by groups like the PTC]. There's no evidence that a word in and of itself has a negative effect on anyone." Cussing on TV may make naughty words more acceptable in everyday life, says Barry Sapolsky, who studies offensive language on TV at Florida State University in Tallahassee. Nevertheless, he is "very hesitant to draw any conclusion that this influences behavior."