Growing up in a typical Christian family meant that I was obligated to follow the Ten Commandments. But since we were extra serious about our faith, my parents also required me to obey what I like to call the Five Supplemental Commandments. These were:
Thou shalt not smoke, drink, swear, chew, nor hangeth out with the girls that do.
I was a pretty good kid and managed to obey all five with the exception of the last one. My Dad once caught me making out with Heather Baker behind the church bushes. We were Pentecostals and I’m pretty sure she was either a Catholic or a Baptist – either one meant she was probably a heathen. Fortunately, Dad didn’t seem too mad. At first, I wondered if he thought that I was just trying to save her soul, but when he gave me a coy smile and said, “Don’t tell your mother,” I realized that he knew my true intentions.
(Mom, if you’re reading this – and I’m sure you will be, I’m sorry for sinning with a Baptist behind the church bushes when I was 14. But you should be more upset with Dad; he basically told me to pull an Adam & Eve and try to cover it up.)
Like I said, I was a decent kid. But when I became a man and moved out from under my parent’s roof, I thought the Five Supplemental Commandments no longer applied to me. I figured it was similar to how God’s people in the Old Testament weren’t allowed to eat shrimp and get tattoos, but then later God was like, “Meh. It’s cool now.” Or like how parents tell toddlers to never touch the stove, knowing full well that never only applies whenever the kid is too young and not mature enough to do so responsibly.
I broke all Five Supplemental Commandments at various points in my young adult life, but that was okay. I was a big boy and could do so with impunity. My parents didn’t see it that way. They found out about every one of my discretions and responded with varying degrees of disappointment.
Now, I love my parents. They are, quite literally, the greatest people on this planet. But I still don’t understand their disappointment scale when it came to the Five Supplemental Commandments. Violating the fifth commandment behind church shrubbery didn’t evoke nearly as much disappointment as I thought it would. When I was 22 and my Dad “accidentally” opened my mis-delivered credit card bill, his disappointment was only marginal when he discovered a rather dubious charge from Bob’s liquor store. And when I tried chewing tobacco for the first time…actually, they never found out about that one.
(Mom, if you’re reading this – and I’m sure you will be, I’m sorry for trying snuff at the tender age of 26.)
Strangely enough, the sin that caused the most parental dissatisfaction was swearing. They loathed cursing with the fire of a million gosh darn suns; it would raise their ire hotter than the fires of heck. How much did they hate swearing? Enough to buy a TV Guardian.
The TV Guardian was this magical little black box from the 1990s. You would plug it in to the back of your television and it would monitor the closed caption embedded in most shows. Whenever it came across an inappropriate word, it would mute the entire sentence that contains the word and display the sentence in closed captions with a replacement word.
To give a true-to-life example: It’s 1995, you’re on your third can of Surge, and you’re watching the Princess Bride on your 24’’ Magnavox for the second time that night. It’s a clean movie, so the TV Guardian has an easy night, but oh does he remain ever vigilant. You get to the scene where Inigo Montoya duels with Count Rugen. Inigo has been training his whole life for this one moment – the moment where he finally gets to avenge his father’s death. You’re a 90’s kid, so you have the darn movie memorized by heart, but it still gives you goosebumps every time.
Inigo: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father Prepare to die.
Rugen: Stop saying that!
Inigo: Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father Prepare to die.
Inigo: Offer me money!
Inigo: Power, too. Promise me that!
Rugen: All that I have and more! Please!
Inigo: Offer me everything I ask for!
Rugen: Anything you want.
Suddenly, the TV Guardian senses danger. Red alert! Incoming swear word! As Inigo runs the six-fingered man through with his sword, you see all the pain and anger in his eyes. His mouth starts to move, but no sound comes out of it. A black box containing white text appears at the bottom of the screen.
I want my father back, you jerk.
Now, you’ve seen this movie at your heathen Baptist friend’s house a dozen times, and you know the line is, “I want my father back, you S.O.B!”* But thanks to the TV Guardian, your home is safe. The TV Guardian saves the day again, allowing you to watch the bloodlust stabbing of Count Rugen without having your ears be assaulted by a naughty word.
To this extent, the TV Guardian wasn’t so bad. If the only consequence was that you had to occasionally read some closed captioning, then the TV Guardian was a worthwhile investment for people averse to swearing. But the TV Guardian had some unexpected consequences on my brain.
Since the TV Guardian replaced audible curses like S.O.B. with visual words like jerk, it created some weird correlations in my mind that had the opposite effect of what the TV Guardian was meant for. It taught my brain to think S.O.B. every time it saw the word jerk. For example, if I saw a sign for Caribbean Jerk Chicken, my mind would register it as Caribbean S.O.B. Chicken.
(Mom, if you’re reading this – and I’m sure you will be, I’m sorry for saying S.O.B. a whole lot just now.)
But it gets a whole lot worse. The TV Guardian had two or three levels of sensitivity. Ours was set at the highest level, and my Dad couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. The highest level of sensitivity filtered words that were innocuous. For example, it filtered out the word balls and replaced it with the word feeling. (Yes, you read that correctly). This made watching sports a bit awkward.
The count is at 3 feelings and two strikes.
I think this is the reason why I’m not the best at sports, but far better in touch with my emotions than the average male.
But it gets even worse.
The TV Guardian replaced the word sex with the word hugs. So, in my backwards brain, every time I saw the word hugs, my brain would immediately register its meaning as sex. And that’s when things got weird. Bumper stickers like “Give Hugs Not Drugs” took on whole new meanings. Fortunately, I didn’t see the word hugs (it had to be plural) out in public much. But one fateful day at a bookstore showed me just how wowed up my word associations were.
I was in college at the time and even though I hadn’t been exposed to the TV Guardian for a full year, its effects were still strong. I was out with some friends to see a movie, and we decided to go to the Barnes and Noble next door to kill some time before the flick started. It was around Mother’s Day and the bookstore was heavily advertising mother themed books. I walked in. I didn’t notice it until it was just inches away from my face. I looked up, and to my shock saw a giant display of a book: Hugs for Mom.
Don’t worry, I’m fine now. I turned out to be a fairly well-adjusted adult – although I am still prone to giggle at “Give Hugs not Drugs” bumper stickers. My parents no longer have the TV Guardian, but my Dad said that he would buy another one if they made them for modern televisions. I just looked on Amazon; turns out, they do.
(Mom, if you’re reading this – and I’m sure you will be, don’t tell Dad about the new TV Guardians.)
* EDIT: I changed the one naughty word I used in this to S.O.B. I had originally planned on something like this, but I wanted to see how long it would take my parents to comment on my potty mouth (and thus validating my whole story).
Two hours after I posted this story, Dad Facebooks me. Consistent as the sunrise, that one. I love the guy too much to not respect his wishes. 🙂