Wanna look cool and edgy? Drive over to your local mall and buy a FUCT® t-shirt! Your friends hanging out at Shake Shack will take their noses out of their I-phones and exclaim, “Look at that viewpoint of non-compliance with conventional social mores! What a devastating critique of Capitalism, Government, Religion and Pop Culture!”
That’s the idea, anyway, according to FUCT, a pioneer in the billion-dollar “urban streetwear” industry.
But when knockoffs started eating into its profits, FUCT realized that maybe the Government has its uses after all. Registering the FUCT trademark would give it a clear claim of ownership, making it easier to go after the infringers.
But the stodgy old U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) said it violated their prohibition against registering trademarks that are “immoral” or “scandalous.” “A total vulgar,” harrumphed the PTO. “Has decidedly negative sexual connotations.” Communicates “extreme misogyny, nihilism and violence.” As everybody knows, FUCT is “the equivalent of the past participle of a well-known word of profanity.”
This from a government agency which, according to the FUCT brief in the resulting Supreme Court case Iancu v. Brunetti, has registered trademarks such as FCUK, PHUC, MILF (maybe the PTO didn’t know what it stands for), ANAL FANTASY COLLECTION, EDIBLE CROTCHLESS GUMMY PANTIES, WHORES FROM HELL, SOCIAL NETWORKING FOR YOUR PENIS and WONDROUS VULVA PUPPET.
The satirist P.J. O’Rourke and former ACLU head Nadine Strossen co-wrote an amicus brief about how “Vulgar Language Is Necessary for Full and Authentic Expression.” It’s just a hoary old stereotype, they explain, that people whose every other word is a past participle of a profanity are stupid. “In fact, studies have shown that using profanity is positively correlated with both intellect and honesty.” Fcuk, yeah!
Well, not even the Supreme Court wants to be an old stodge. They had no trouble deciding that the PTO’s “immoral or scandalous” prohibition is viewpoint-based and therefore violates the First Amendment.
Still, a few of the justices didn’t quite buy that swearing is a mark of authenticity and intellect. The past participle at issue “signifies nothing except emotion and a severely limited vocabulary,” sniffed Justice Alito.
Justice Breyer, showing off, informs us that swear words “originate in a different part of our brains,” and “excite the lower-brain circuitry responsible for emotion, resulting in electrical impulses that can be measured in the skin.” Therefore, he reasons, swear words in trademarks “threaten to distract consumers and disrupt commerce. And they may lead to the creation of public spaces that many will find repellent, perhaps on occasion creating the risk of verbal altercations or even physical confrontations.”
Not to be outdone in dire predictions, Justice Sotomayor foresees that the result of the decision will be a “rush to register trademarks” “containing the most vulgar, profane, or obscene words and images imaginable.”
Repellent public space.