Why Swearing Isn’t an Option
If you know me in person, like most all of you coming here from Facebook do, you know that I cuss a blue streak. I swear my balls off. I curse so much, you’d think I was an evil mage. Swearing is not only a part of the movies I love, it’s a part of the music I love, the books I love and the life I live. I swear at home, in public, on the toilet, at the mall, at restaurants, at bars, at parties, at bar mitzvahs–I swear pretty much everywhere. Except at work. Work is the one place I try to keep a clean mouth.
Now, working as an audio engineer, that’s not too easy–you’ll never know the joys of editing drum takes for local punk bands–but I can pull it off. Why then, do I choose this blog–a single facet of my online public life–to forgo the joys of profanity? Honestly, because this feels like and I hope one day will be, my work.
South Park did an episode called “It Hits the Fan” which is one of my favourite episodes of the series–alongside “Cartoon Wars I&II” and “Scott Tenorman Must Die”. In it, a cop show (IIRC called “Cop Drama”) announces that next week, they’re going to say the word “shit” on the air, uncensored. This causes quite a stir in their small Colorado town–after all, how can you possibly say “shit” on the air, uncensored? That shit’s impossible. No one wants to consider that shit. That shit shouldn’t be allowed. It’s titillating shit, non?
This causes a craze throughout the nation, where everybody starts saying shit all the time. Eventually, Stan and Kyle find out that curse words like shit are called curse words because they are literally cursed words. They were banned from the English vernacular because saying them too often can bring forth demons–which is rather shitty for everyone involved. It hits the fan, and shit gets real, and it’s all funny and we all learn a lesson at the end of the day (like all good South Park episodes). The lesson being, unusually for a show about grade school kids who say words like shit very often, that swearing and profanity should be used in moderation. Saying shit every sentence for two paragraphs in a row takes away from the power of the word when you really mean to use it to make a point. When Howard Beale said he was tired of the bullshit, it was a shining moment of truth and honesty on film. When you or I say we’re tired of the bullshit, we’re likely talking to friends of ours or other people we’re close to.
The real world execution of “It Hits the Fan” might be one of my favourite stories in all of show business. Trey Parker had written an entire episode built around swearing, and it needed to be uncensored for it to work on-air. You can’t have an episode about uncensored on-air swearing be completely bowdlerized, that neuters the joke and leaves some of the best television made in years for DVD. When Matt and Trey first went to Comedy Central, they asked if they could say it uncensored a few times, and were soundly rejected. However, when they countered with a suggestion to say the same word, uncensored, “like, 200 times” then Comedy Central took the brave stance of letting it air. It was a real life demonstration of the power of cursing, which is strangely inverse to the number of times it’s used.
Swearing is powerful in its individual context. This has been shown in film a thousand times, perhaps starting with Rhett Butler’s iconic exit in Gone with the Wind: “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.” It stands the test of time as one of the most legendary put-downs in cinematic history. With one word that was considered taboo in 1939, they left an impression that’s lasted seventy years.
While I write criticism (at least on this blog), I also read it fairly frequently, my personal favourite critic (and the benchmark I work towards) being Roger Ebert. There is another critic whose work I enjoy named Yahtzee Croshaw who runs a weekly review series called Zero Punctuation at The Escapist. Among things we have in common are high quality standards and an admiration for Ebert. Among things I’m pretty sure we don’t have in common are his enormous fanbase, his razor-sharp/desert-dry wit and his penchant for letting profanity and obscenity fly with both barrels in his reviews. I don’t play video games, so while I never say that I know anything about what he’s talking about, he does it with such wit and panache that I’ve often forgotten just how obscene and downright filthy his reviews are.
I was recently compared to Yahtzee by a reader (I have like, 5, you guys) and while I view the comparison as flattery, it got me wondering why the comparison was made. I’m not anywhere near as profane, I have yet to drag an awful movie into the corner of my reviews and riddle it with criticism. Perhaps it’s our shared love of the English language–a love characterized by abuse on our parts. I don’t know. But what I wanted to say was that while Croshaw is welcome to–and is all the funnier for–all the swearing in the world, I can’t bring myself to do it.
This touches on something I wrote in Oh Daddy! We’re All Homer Simpson!, so you should probably read that to get this, but at the end of the day, I forgo profanity here of all places because film is universal. I intend to write about music and literature and television (in fact, if you like Neon Genesis Evangelion, I’m doing a series on that right now) but at the moment, I write about movies. And everybody sees movies. Everyone googles the title of a movie just to find out what other people are saying about it. That counts from The Princess and the Frog all the way down to Machete. So, if I’m writing about something anyone is interested in, I see it as my responsibility to make sure anyone can read it and not be offended.
Naturally, some spoilsports will obviously be offended–by my taste, by my attitude, by my voice, whatever–but hey. It’s not like they have a right to be mad. After all, I ain’t said shit.