Reading F-ing Rainbow: The Right Way to Use Profanity and Childhood to Raise Money

by Carmen Rita Wong
Originally Published: 

Two nonprofit campaigns this week used the shock-sandwich of childhood and bad words to bring attention to what they do—yet each had a very different outcome.

First, LeVar Burton, star of the Gen X-beloved television show, Reading Rainbow. He read live the ridiculously bestselling, now classic, “Go the F*** to Sleep” during a charity video marathon by Extra Life. You’d better believe I’ll show up for that, and thousands did. The man who was the cornerstone of my family’s after-school PBS, pre-homework marathon, before ‘3-2-1 Contact’? And he’s reading a parody-children’s book full of swears to raise money for a children’s hospital? What a hoot! How many of us would have made the time to click, watch and donate if he’d read “Sammy the Dinosaur”?

Second, there was a more NFSW video of adorable tween (and younger) girls in tutus dropping angry “F-Bombs for Feminism.” (I won’t link to the video here because there are questions regarding the business practices of the group behind the video.) I admit, the juxtaposition of glitter, pink satin, and purple prose got me to click and watch. But it sincerely rubbed me the wrong way, and I’m a flag-flying feminist ready to support the cause. Yes, I swear. I use profanity because I’m a grownup who writes and loves words and their power. The pen is mightier, etc., and so is a well-placed obscenity. However, I don’t throw vulgar words out like confetti, and you’ll never catch me dropping bombs in a professional environment. Pretty much.

But as these girls in pink tutus swore and swore and swore some more in the video, I lost the whole message of the piece. Each “F” felt like the pounding in of a nail. Compare that to the giggles I get after every F-bomb dropped by our gift-from-the-universe, Mr. Burton. He’s a grownup. And it’s relatable. It’s a crass but high-quality book built off the frustrating stanza many of us, as parents, have had running through our heads at some point. Imagine, a childhood icon, doing something he does on his show for kids (coming back soon!), but doing it for grownups and swearing up a storm. The girls in the feminism video, however, dropping 20 more “F”s than needed to extol the virtues of equality for women? (By the way, Burton doesn’t win simply because he’s an adult male. Flip him with Amy Poehler, Uzo Aduba or the kid who plays Farkle on Girl Meets World and I’d still be there.)

As for the “F” tutu girls (and their producers), I’d tell them what I tell my young daughter—who, by the way, despite her mother’s love and colorful use of crass language outside of her earshot (mostly), does not swear at all: Words are powerful. Use these powers only when productive and appropriate, or you’re f***ed.

Photo: Flickr/Gage Skidmore

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