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Swearing in the movies

Posted at 5:50 PM on August 17, 2007 by Euan Kerr (3 Comments)

I must be getting old.

While I hugely enjoyed "Superbad," laughing out loud all the way through, I have to admit to several moments of discomfort watching the film.

Man, these kids swear. Not just a word here and there, but streams - rivers - tides of f-bombs, references to lewd behavior and the use and abuse of intimate body parts.

Now I say this as someone who grew up in Scotland where swearing is a part of even polite society, and is a staple of modern literature.

I have been wrestling with myself to understand what it is that set me off. It's not the youth of the characters. Spend any time with teenagers today, and it's clear that despite appeals to use the depth and breadth of the English language, the simplicity and punch of invective generally comes up trumps.

Kids swear, and many of them swear a lot.

No, I think the issue may be the venue.

Do you remember the first time you heard the f-bomb at a movie? I do. For me it was back in the 1970's during "All the Presidents Men" and I remember flinching.

It wasn't the swear word. It was because it was in a cinema.

It was just so unexpected. The theater was crowded, and I suppose I felt embarrassed that all the people around me had heard a word I only knew from private conversations with my peers.

The intimacy, power, and casual venom of cursing was suddenly unleashed on a wider world.

Since that night all those years ago, I have been able to shake the discomfort, or at least mostly. Every once in a while, as with "Superbad," it raises it's head. I'm embarrassed not for myself, but for the swearers and the revelation in their language use.

Yeah, I must be getting old.

Comments (3)

I agree. I think parents need to set standards for their kids by first not using this kind of language themselves. Kids look to parents and "grown-ups" for standards. Unfortunately, I feel each generation of parents gives up more and more of a standard of acceptability in language. What comes out of a person's mouth is the first indication of character. I feel that the words we use as a culture define us. Hopefully, we won't all be reduced to IM text bites, "Whazzups", rap lyrics and f-bombs.
I think grunting like a caveman is probably a better way to communicate. People who respect language and words, please hold your own and pass it on! Good language, like bad, is contagious! :-)

Posted by Kerry Johnson | August 20, 2007 1:37 PM

I like to think of myself as an articulate, well-read person, but admit to often using the effenheimer, usually as an adjective and nearly always said in anger or frustration. I'm not easily offended by much of anything, including swear words, although I do my best not to offend others (including, and especially, kids and teens). The effect is all the more shocking when I do curse like a sailor, as I look quite sweet and innocent. Euan, you sound like a dear man, still feeling uncomfortable in a darkened theater, listening to non-stop cursing. My goodness, have you ever been to a David Mamet play or movie? I think you'd squirm underneath your seat!

Posted by zeldapie | August 21, 2007 4:15 PM

No, Mamet's fine. So was "Death at a Funeral" the next day, a movie chock ablock with swearing sex and death.

I was really mystified as to why I was so disquieted at "Superbad," and now I think it's because of the gender-specific nature of the stuff spouted off by the male central characters.

They are articulate and creative in their linguistic usage, but underlying it all is a wretched self-interest which is ugly, and frankly embarrassing from a male perspective.

There, I'm not old. I'm a SNAG.

Posted by Euan Kerr | August 22, 2007 2:53 PM

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