Butt Seriously, Folks

If you assk me, this whole Toby Keith thing hass gotten out of hand.

The controversy so far: Country singer Toby Keith performed at Stadium of Fire on Thursday, and some people were bothered because he wass planning to sing his song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue (The Angry American),” which contains a certain three-letter swear word. I assume you know which word I mean.

When I heard about the Toby Keith controversy, my first thought wass: Who? Then I did some research and found out he’s actually quite famous in country music circles, which I do not feel snobbish in mentioning are circles I do not travel in, due to my having completed high school.

But I wanted to fairly assess the situation before assigning guilt, so I listened to the song. It’s an angry, assertive number, one that assails the listener with an assemblage of patriotic catchphrases and other assorted jingoistic assaults. Also, it uses the word “ass.”

This is what hass upset people. The line, in context, says, “You’ll be sorry you messed with the U.S. of A./’Cause we’ll put a boot in your (A-word)/It’s the American way.”

I question whether inserting a boot into an unnamed enemy’s posterior is actually the American way. Capitalism, democracy, building a comfortable home with a white picket fence — that’s the American way, I thought. But if Mr. Keith is to be believed, the American way consists of intentionally misplacing your footwear.

At any rate, that’s what the song says, and it uses that offensive word to say it. (It also uses the word “hell,” in an earlier verse, but no one seems to be bothered by that.) Representatives of the ironically named Freedom Festival, which sponsors Stadium of Fire, were prepared to “bleep” out the word by launching fireworks when he sang it.

Alan Osmond, who is well acquainted with high-quality family entertainment that no one can stand to listen to, and who is on the Board of Trustees for the Freedom Festival, wass quoted in Wednesday’s Daily Herald: “If he says something wrong, I’ve assked the fireworks people to blast off two big fireworks — loud ones — right when he says it wrong,” Osmond said. “Or they may shoot it off anyway, even if he says it right. No one will hear it, anyway.”

In other words, the Freedom Festival — which hired Toby Keith in the first place — planned to censor Toby Keith regardlass of whether he sang the word. Better safe than sorry, I guess. Prudence is an asset, I assure you.

BYU passed the buck and let the Freedom Festival decide what to do. But to use BYU’s LaVell Edwards Stadium, the Freedom Fasstival hass to make performers adhere to BYU’s contract, which allows “no profanity, vulgarity or obscene or suggestive language.” The word in question falls under most people’s definition of “vulgarity,” but not under their definition of “terrible, obscene vulgarity that I can’t stand hearing or my ears will catch on fire.” In other words, I suspect most of the people complaining have, in their homes, videos and DVDs in which people say this word and worse. They probably associate with persons who occassionally let such a word slip, too.

I’m not saying profanity is OK. I’m saying hearing one word that most people agree is on the low end of the swearing totem pole is not going to ruin the evening for anyone, except for people who allow their evenings to be ruined by very trivial things. And there’s little that can be done to help those people anyway, because they’ve got boots in their — well, never mind.

It's really easy to be a humor columnist when you live in a place like Provo, you know?

The background on the column is explained within the column itself, I guess. All the quotes are real (though I intentionally misspelled some of the words, as you noticed). The controversy really was about whether Toby Keith should sing the word "ass" when he performed at Provo's big Fourth of July show.

They wound up not bleeping the word after all. This column had to be written and on the press before that, so I had to write only about what they were planning to do, without reference to what they actually did.

The final sentence was changed a few times. I originally wrote: "And there's little that can be done to help those people anyway, the jackasses." The editor on duty on July 4 was wary of using that word in that context. The A-word had been used elsewhere in the column only in a news sense, quoting what was at the center of the controversy. (You'll notice I only used the actual word once, and then only because it was really, really funny to do so. Even when I quoted the song lyric directly, I bleeped it.) "Jackass" would be OK if I used it to mean "donkey," but I was using it slangily here.

So I came up with two variations, and we chose the one that was funnier. The other option was: "And there's little that can be done to help those people anyway. Someone just needs to kick them in the butt." Both variations played on the fact that you were expecting me to say the A-word when I said something else instead, but we agreed the one that mentioned the boots was better.

I'm a big fan of language, as you may know from the way I toy with it. It's amusing to me that the letters "ass" are offensive if left alone, but perfectly OK if they're followed by "ignment" or "ociation" or "umption" or any number of other combinations. In fact, I'm fascinated that ANY word is automatically offensive. It's just a word, and words only have what meanings we assign to them. This isn't to say I'm not sensitive to the fact that words can be offensive, and there certainly are words that I cringe when I hear. I'm just saying it's interesting, that's all.

By the way, the headline for this column was: "Toby Keith Controversy Is Just Asinine." I would love for them to have spelled it "Assinine," but it was in a headline, and most readers would have just thought they misspelled the word accidentally, and we'd have gotten a million phone calls.

Surprisingly (or not), the part of the column that made people angry was the slam on country music. To me, it was such a broad, exaggerated slam that no one could possibly take it seriously, especially the way I said I don't feel like a snob and then said something 100 percent snobby. But, then, one should never underestimate people's ability to take something too seriously. Here are the e-mails I got:

Well, as for not feeling snobbish upon making such a statement, I would state you need to heighten your senses. [Just as you should heighten your sense of irony.] Then I would suggest that you find other ways to try and pose your own assertions of superiority as if the usual beliefs of moral superiority weren't enough for you at the moment. [What? Seriously: What?]

It's an oh-too-common stereotype. Not necesarily with country music but rather the more than usual audience associated with it: mainly people from rural areas... the south in particular.

Oh, I should cut through most of the crap. Subtlety never was my way. Being from a farm town in Texas, I'd rather just get to the point and belittle you at the moment for your comment. First of all being a diehard country fan whose knowledge of lyrics lay near being unchallenged by many and then, well, second having completed high school. I guess that almost takes me up to the present time minus those two years I've spent at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology working on my degree in physics and mathematics and currently working for a company doing nuclear fusion research for the summer. Then I could go on about the countless people I know at MIT and that other little school down the river - what's it called? oh yeah, Harvard - who are also huge country fans. Naturally such ranks you wouldn't associate yourselves with, having completed high school and all. But at least your name gives you a nice little lead in to being a writer. Snide comments. [Snide Remarks, actually, but thanks for playing, college boy.] That's cute. Keep on making large demeaning generalizations in order to gain the effect that the rest of your writing lacks. Perhaps one might even border on being humorous one day. [Dare I dream?]


I love when people spend a long time convincing me I was wrong when I said something that I clearly didn't actually believe anyway.

Next, from someone who thinks my column ought to be on more newsworthy subjects:

The reason this is so "ass"inine is because the media,like you keep bringing it up!!!Let go, just like Toby did, he said what he needed to say and he received the crowds approval, that's good enough!It was a great 4th of July celebration honoring our country! Whether or not this is your job as a news columnist to keep the "fire's burning," some of us get sick of wasting our money on punks like you who ruin the paper because you can't stand," high quality entertainment." In my opinion, a good comparison to last nights supposebly controversy "ass word," is like comparing one of your columns to something that has been written in a Las Vegas column. Two different levels of values! Get a life, write something that is news worthy, I believe that would be considered " job security!"

Next, from someone named Carol:

You are certainly entitled to your opinions, but I take exception to your dasstardly comment about graduating from high school. [OK, I admit it's funny that she put an extra "s" in "dastardly." I just hope she did it on purpose.]

I'm a "Toby Lover" and have a college degree. I've also held down a job for around 30 years. Is there something wrong with me for liking Toby Keith and country music? [Well, since you asked....]

Shame on you! You should get the boot!!

Whatever. My question is, who read the column to these country music fans in the first place? (The newly educated tow truck drivers, maybe.)