An excerpt from P.J. O’Rourke, interviewed by Bill Leak at The Oz, under the heading ‘The joke’s on them’:
I’m not sure but I have a sociology theory and sociology is such a soft and squishy science anybody can call themselves a sociologist so I’ll call myself one. I feel that societies have to have a fixed number of taboos. Emphasis on number. The contents of the taboos shift quite often but the number remains the same. So you go from a world where you’re sitting around the dinner table with aunts and uncles and, right in front of the kids, they’re freely saying “nigger”. But god forbid that some uncle, however drunken, were to say “shit” or even “hell” in front of the children. All the aunts and grandmothers would have thrown a turkey leg or something at him. You move ahead a few years and it’s inconceivable that anybody would say the N-word but the 10-year old is saying, “Can you pass that broccoli shit?”
There’s something in people and something in society that loves the taboo. Probably, quite soon, they’ll shift to some new taboo that we least expected. And, of course you and I, as humorists, we’re going to have to keep up on this sort of thing.
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