I missed commenting on all kinds of trivial things in the news while my computer was broken, so you’ll forgive me for this being less than timely.
I’m always amused when a Republican uses a wirty-derd and the media suddenly gets all schoolmarmish on us. So the President said “s***” in what he thought was a private conversation. Dick Cheney told somebody to “go bleep himself” in another private conversation. President Bush called New York Times reporter Adam Clymer, who is a major-league a**-word, a “major-league a**-word” in another private (so he thought) conversation. Pass the smelling salts, kids, because the Democrats are all getting woozy. Little girls are standing up at their political conventions and demanding that these so-called leaders have their mouths washed out with soap. It’s not like when John Kerry told a reporter he only voted for the war before he voted against it because he didn’t expect Dubya to “f*** it up so much.” That was totally different. That was just a public statement. It wasn’t, you know, personal.
I know that President Bush seems blissfully unaware of open mikes. It’s kind of weird, isn’t it? Maybe if he knew the mike was on, he would use language more befitting a gathering of reporters, like, I dunno, the F-word, perhaps. I mean, as long as it’s not in the House chamber, it’s okay, right?
Enough gratuitous sarcasm.
I don’t consider myself some kind of shrinking violet when it comes to vulgar language. I mean, if you say a rude word in my presence, I’m not going to go after you with the Irish Spring. I probably won’t even wince, which is unfortunate for a lady, but these are the times we live in. However, regarding common expletives–I am not a fan. I acknowledge that I don’t have the most refined speech myself, but I do consider it a personal flaw that I’m trying to correct. It isn’t that I can’t deal with an occasional profanity, whether it’s in private conversation or in some literary work for the sake of “realism.” (In reality, I don’t think anyone swears as much as they do in Hollywood movies, but someone in Left Behind refers to “that darned Antichrist,” it just doesn’t ring true to me, Jesus or no Jesus.) I do think that people too frequently rely on expletives to convey the strength of their feelings (or, in artistic-types’ cases, their “realism”). Some people argue that, well, they’re just words, aren’t they? But they’re not just words, of course. They’re naughty words, which is why you say ******* instead of, say, “cheese and crackers got all muddy.” Let’s be adults, shall we?
The problem with these words is that they really don’t mean anything in and of themselves. It’s all about context. If I was walking past my bishop’s house, where he was hammering stuff in his garage, say, and all of a sudden I heard him say, “Bleeping hell!” I would think, “Whoops, that sounded like an ouch,” and I would just quickly exit the scene so as not to embarrass him. I certainly wouldn’t go around telling my fellow (and sister) congregation members about it, nor would I think anything less of him. I mean, we all hit our thumbs with hammers sometimes, don’t we? Maybe you don’t say, “Bleeping hell!” when you hit your thumb with a hammer. Maybe you say, “Fiddle-dee-dee!” or “Oopsy-daisy!”–and good for you. But perhaps you’ve also lost all feeling in your thumbs. I don’t know. All I’m saying is, you can’t judge a man by what he says when he’s severed a limb or whatnot.
Now, if said bishop were to habitually get up in the sanctuary of our church and say, “**** ***” or “*******” over the pulpit, I would be offended. Because he shouldn’t be operating heavy machinery during a worship service. It just isn’t called for.
So a million years ago, or whenever it was–1989, probably–I went to see Do the Right Thing. You know, that Spike Lee movie about oppressive pizzeria owners. I would have admired the artistry of this film much more if I hadn’t been so distracted by all the “m*************s” in it. Not to mention all the “m***********g.” I can appreciate that inner-city youths may not speak on the street the same way I would in my grandmother’s house, but that’s not the point. As a writer, you’re supposedly using words on purpose, and if all I’m hearing is “m***********” this and that, then what you’ve got is all flavor and no protein-rich tofu, if you get my meaning. Yes, meaning. That is what I’m getting at. You know what line of that movie I remember? I don’t remember all of it, but it’s when that young man accuses Ossie Davis of walking around the neighborhood “always inebriated, never sober.” I remember it because at the time I was actually struck by how out of place that vulgarity-free eleven syllables seemed. I don’t expect these Bed-Stuy cats to walk around spouting $40 SAT words and “I say, Winchester, these Caucasians do not seem to regard the historical subtext of the pigment-enriched experience, eh what?” But eleven syllables without an F-word should not draw undue attention. That’s just not good writing. Which becomes painfully apparent when you watch the TV edit of your film and every other word is “mickey-fickey.” That’s just embarrassing.
There are certain contexts in which I find swearing offensive (see previous bishop story–totally made-up and theoretical, mind you). And despite my delicate sensibilities, there are even contexts in which I find it humorous. (A friend in college who swore like the proverbial sailor used to crack me up with the way she said, “Bleep a duck. Just bleep. A damn. Duck.” I know, it sounds lame, but you had to be there.) I know some people find it awfully wussified that I’m bleeping all my bleeps, but I’d feel silly actually typing these words. It just isn’t me. Where was I? Oh, yeah. So occasional swearing can be offensive or humorous or neutral, though it is never especially admirable. But repetitive swearing is not so much offensive as it is…annoying. It’s like when people say “like” all the time. Like I do. That’s just irritating. More to the point, it’s frustrating because you know they’re trying to say something but you just don’t have the patience to wade through all the…you know, stuff.
And just so you all know I’ve got your number, don’t feel obligated to leave any comments like, “This was a bleeping great post!” or “Bleep you, bleep–if you don’t like my bleeping, you can just bleep your bleeping bleep-bleeper!” It’s been done. I’m looking for something more along the lines of “I say, Winchester, this is jolly hypocritical of you. Rather like the Puritans, eh what?” Be creative, or just don’t bother.