Profanity is a controversial subject in podcasting. If you're the type to use foul or explicit language, consider several important things before you include this in your podcast.
What is “explicit”?
Language is heavily influenced by culture. But there are general guidelines of what each culture considers profane—sexual terms, gross bodily things, profaning something sacred, and curses.
“Explicit,” by definition, does not necessarily mean profanity. But an “explicit” tag will give that impression. This can cause issues when you try to communicate maturity-appropriateness for some conversations.
For example, a podcast about marital intimacy would be good to explain things in full, unconcealed detail. This is technically “explicit” and many would say it is inappropriate for unmarried (or not-engaged) people. But this same podcast may be free of profanities.
Be conscious of what is considered profane in your language and the primary culture consuming your podcast.
Consider your topic
Some topics fit better with profanities than others. In comedy, vulgarities can almost be expected, unless it is marketed as clean comedy.
But more neutral topics, such as tech news or how-tos, don't give an expectation of vulgarity. Such neutral topics are most likely not enhanced with profanities.
You may have an entertainment-review podcast (movies, books, TV shows, music, etc.). If you use clips from the media, it's likely you'll run into a little profanity, depending on your clip source. It would be inappropriate to claim to be clean, but have the profanities (however mild) in your clips. Either don't claim to be clean, or remove the profanities.
Most topics simply don't need the profanity and it really doesn't add anything helpful to the discussion.
Consider your audience
Remember that podcasts can be consumed by people of all ages, and you should always keep that in mind. But think about what your audience is like and whether your inclusion of profanity would make you more or less appealing to them.
It may be true that you audience doesn't have a problem with obscenities, but it may be unnecessary for you to include them. For example, a business podcast will be consumed by businesspeople—many of whom have no problem tossing around some obscenities. But in their professional lives, they keep a higher standard, or they want to keep things un-offensive for the rest of their business teammates.
Remember that “clean” appeals to nearly everyone, but “explicit” appeals to fewer and offends others. “Clean” will always be acceptable.
Consider who else may be listening
“Second-hand podcast listeners” are a growing group of people. This could be family members, friends, or coworkers who will find profane content offensive and inappropriate. You could be inadvertently affecting the reputations of your listeners if you surprise someone with profanities.
But also remember that many will listen to podcasts with their children nearby. While both you and the parent may have no personal problems with the offensive language, perhaps neither of you think it's appropriate for the children to use or even hear it.
Consider your sponsors
Many sponsors will not want to associate themselves with offensive content. If you can't go a minute without profanities, then potential sponsors may pass you up in order to reach someone who is unoffensive and thus has a wider audience.
Wouldn't it seem odd for ABC Family to sponsor an explicit podcast? How would that affect your opinion of the sponsor?
It is a choice, not a personality
I have heard people justify their profanity, saying that they were being their authentic selves. That can sometimes be partially true, but I personally know several podcasters who can “cuss like a sailor” in the everyday, but they are entirely able to control their tongues in their podcast.
Alternatively, I know podcasters who host explicit podcasts because they want the shock value, but they've been guests on other podcasts and had no problem keeping it clean.
So you are entirely capable of controlling your tongue, but it's a matter of your choice to do so, when you have considered what is best for your reputation and that of the “brand” you represent
iTunes tags: explicit, clean, unmarked
How you should tag your podcast depends on your content and how you want to be perceived. Clearly, a podcast with excessive profanity, vulgarities, and obscene discussions should be marked as “explicit.”
A marital intimacy podcast, as mentioned above, may have a harder time deciding. They aren't disrespectful or obscene, but they do discuss mature topics with “explicit” detail (probably appreciated by its target audience). In this case, I would recommend neither the explicit tag nor the clean tag, but warnings in the audio and description.
Originally, the “clean” tag was described as content that had its profanities cleaned. FeedBurner's outdated SmartCast feature still explains it this way. Both iTunes and the common impression is that “clean” simply means that there's no foul language or obscene topics. This tag is good for podcasts that want to clearly indicate their cleanliness.
An unmarked podcast could be completely clean, or it could contain some mild profanities. But such profanities are neither emphasized nor excessively used. A subscriber would expect no obscene content, but may be okay with some PG-rated language if it is not too much.
What do you think about profanities in podcasts?
I know that this topic can be controversial with a wide range of opinions. But what are your thoughts? How do you handle podcasts around your children (if you have any)? Even if you don't mind profanities, what do you think podcasters should do?
Check out these other great conversations happening around this topic.
- LinkedIn group
- Podcasts subreddit
- Podcasters community on Google+
- Podcasting Technology Resources community on Google+
Day in Tech History reaching 1,500 episodes
Check out Jeffrey Powers' podcast Day in Tech History, which will publish its 1,500th episode on September 15, 2013.
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