Editorial: It's right to challenge words' use

By Andrew Austin


We have all had a laugh at the various Tui billboards over the years because many of them have been very funny, in a dry sort of way.

Tui, I am sure, is happy because its brand is getting maximum exposure, but occasionally they push it too far. Barbara McKelvie of Eskdale believes the Tui billboard near Pandora Pond falls into that category. The offending billboard has the words "Mate, I won't piss in your wetsuit".

Mrs McKelvie felt so strongly about it that she lodged a complaint with the Advertising Standards Authority, along with one other person. The Authority has turned down her complaint, saying that there were no grounds to proceed and that the word piss was a "very mild term".

Mrs McKelvie disagrees: "The ex-teacher in me finds it offensive. The grandma in me finds it offensive.

"What is acceptable, and are there different acceptabilities for different contexts?"

It is an interesting question. Has our society's norms and standards dropped so markedly that a word like that is acceptable in public discourse? It is not a matter of being prudish, but surely there are some words and phrases that should not be plastered all over the place. It is for this reason that Hawke's Bay Today did not use the word in the headline of the story it ran in yesterday's paper. It needed to be in the story and photograph so that people could make up their own minds, but we did not have to be gratuitous about it.

Also a hulking great billboard is something that no one who passes will miss seeing. That is why they are used, because they get eye traffic.

The yardstick about what is acceptable for polite society should be the youngest or oldest denominator. Is it something you want your child or grandmother to see.

It is a bit like swearing or sex scenes on television. You would prefer them to be on after about 8pm so that the younger members of the family do not see them.

Some people may dismiss the whole controversy as a fuss over nothing, but I think it is important that things like this are challenged. If it was not for people standing up and questioning the appropriateness of these things, our descent into a society where anything goes would be even faster than it is.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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