BLUE STREAK by Richard Dooling


Swearing, Free Speech, and Sexual Harassment
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 A passionate defense of offensive language by a man who thinks that American society suffers from an excess of politeness. Dooling is both an acclaimed novelist (White Man's Grave, 1994) and an employment discrimination lawyer. He believes that traditional injunctions against the use of swear words are foolish and that our era has made matters worse by imposing similar taboos, not only social but legal, on the use of sexual and racial epithets. Blue Streak is mostly a series of derivative and often puerile reflections on cussing, but the book's core is a critique of laws that seek to ban sexist and racist speech in the workplace, regulations that have led to many spurious claims against businesses and some large punitive awards based on speech that the First Amendment is ostensibly held to protect. So much stupidity has been committed or indulged by government and the courts in the name of eradicating unpleasant behavior on the job that Dooling has no trouble finding targets. He demolishes the hypocrisy of positing that women and men should be treated exactly the same in the workplace, except that women are too delicate to be exposed to foul language. Even shooting fish in a barrel, however, requires a steadier hand than Dooling employs here. He pooh-poohs the idea that abusive language and photographs of naked women can be part of prolonged, deliberate behavior meant to intimidate female employees. He is eloquent about the tendency among campus hate-speech monitors and others to demonize their opponents, but he portrays feminists as single-minded harridans who want to turn men into women. Dooling brings some erudition and occasional wit to his subject, but as a polemicist, he's his own worst enemy. A book Rush Limbaugh might have written if he had a richer vocabulary.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1996
ISBN: 0-679-44471-8
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Random House
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 15th, 1996


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