Classic moment in Back To the Future: Libyan terrorists arrive fully loaded. Doc ducks for cover, Einstein runs off, and Marty lets out a cry of: HOLY ____________!!!
Aw, how we love tearing down taboo guidelines and cooking sacred cows. I can’t. I’ve been hardwired against swearing. As a kid, I wasn’t even allowed to say “stupid” or “shut up.” I still can’t. It hurt to write that sentence with them in there. I can honestly say that I have never sweared in my life and don’t expect to anytime thereafter.
But swearing in movies tends to be one of those things we let slid waaay too much. When I said that the new Star Trek movie was good, I thought over later: But can I really reconcile that with the fact the characters shot more expletives than lasers throughout the entire movie? BLOOM! BLOOSH! Ka-BOOM!! Remember those times when, in space, no could hear you scream ________!!!
When reading through my 99.99% off (Yes! Awesome deal!) cinema college textbook, it bemoaned the “puritanical” MPAA codes and censoring in translation, saying that it robbed the film of truly expressing itself by bowdlerizing the language. Hilarious. So now swearing is poetry. But they’re wrong! Censoring does nothing to kill a film. Oftentimes you don’t miss it.
Example: My very own Maranatha High School once decided to hold a production of Neil’s Simon’s “Rumors.” Hilarious. Chaotic. There were a few cries of “crap” here and there but I could live with that. Then I read the original script.
Wow, was Neil Simon drinking angry juice when he wrote this! I never knew there were so many ways one could vulgarize the word: “MACARONI!!!“
But the play was perfectly fine on its own. I never thought once to myself: Oh, I wish they had thrown in a few expletives to ramp up the action. When used this way, cursing becomes the cinema’s equivalent of steroids. You worry that people will feel it sounds juvenile so you throw in a few mouth-bombs to keep everybody tense. Steven Spielberg does this in E.T. just to avoid the dreaded “G” rating. In the same movie, he edited out all the guns the cops were carrying because he felt the kids shouldn’t be exposed to violence, yet had no trouble with those same kids yelling out: “_________ BREATH!!!“
Another complaint my book had about censoring was that was it gives a false sense of reality. People swear in real life and films have to be honest and report that, otherwise they are glossing over the hard facts of life. That sounds reasonable, right?
So I ask them: so when is it ever GOOD to censor language? They say: Maybe if it’s for a little kid. How little? When must it become mandatory for a kid to have to hear swearing? Is it too much ask to just make an effort to not swear at all?
I think people making the “harsh reality” argument was looking at the problem through the wrong end of the telescope. It’s not: people swear, therefore people swear in movies. It’s the movies’ fault in the first place. People pick up swearing from the movies and thus, by refusing to stop it, they’re causing the very problem they’re complaining about!
We’ve become way too lax with swearing. I was surprised that someone on the Internet once described the swearing in Iron Man as “very tame.” And few ever try to take a stand against it. Thus we begin to forget it’s wrong.
Several months ago, a girl in my swim team sternly reprimanded a boy she was talking with for saying s* casually throughout the conversation. When he argued that s* was not a bad word, I felt like laughing. Had we really come this far? But I was proud of her for standing up when most people who object are too scared to do little more than wince. The boy didn’t know he was doing wrong. But now he watches his language more carefully around her.
No swearing can have positive effects. When a few other kids on the team accidentally thought I had let loose a bomb, they were perfect willing to listen to me when I explained that they had misheard and had no trouble at all believing me. It pays off when you know they’ll trust you like that.
One might ask me: so when can swearing ever occur in movies? Certainly there are times when bowdlerizing the language is bad idea. “Gone With The Wind” wouldn’t be the same without Clark Gable’s “I don’t give a damn” and some movies like Reservoir Dogs are so starkly violent that censoring the language would simply be glossing over a far larger problem. My answer is: treat swearing in movies like we treat smoking. Some things, like Bette Davis, are so closely tied to their signature cigar that removal of it will only be lying. When you must have swearing, remember to stress the fact that IT’S BAD FOR YOUR HEALTH and looks cool only when you’re young and have no worries, only to bite you back when you’re old and weak.
I have two film lists with me. One is the list of awesome movies that have been perfectly ruined by swearing. The other is the list of my upcoming movies whose language is clean as a whistle. So let’s get to work on cleaning up the smog in the theater.
Who’s with me?
- The Bug on Peter Jackson’s Shoe=X
- The Stork Brings Idea’s Too?=X
- The Gruel of Writing
- But It’s Real Life!=X
- Child Actors
- *Maybe* It’s Bad.
- I Have Seen the Future and It’s Just Like Now.
- How Faithful must An Adaptation Be?
- I’ve Got Something New Here!
- I Fell In Love!(Again!)
- Why *WOULD* I Want To See My Own Movie?
- Studio Executives Are Your Friends
- Batteries Not Included.
- Scathing Tell-All-Autobiography
- For a Clownfish, He’s Not Really That Funny
- Revisionist History
- Actors: Someone You Hire Because You Can’t Do It Yourself
- I’m In 3-D!
- Beethoven’s 33rd Symphony.
- He’s So Hot.