It can be interesting to see what discussions evolve from film fans talking about movies. The twitter account for the excellent and well known ScreenRant.com mentioned, mostly in an off-handed way, that he believed Moon (2009) had “unnecessary” use of foul language. I was a bit surprised because I don’t remember there being that much cussing in Moon, and it is a film I’ve seen three times and was selected as our movie of the year. The discussion started the #unnecessarymoviecursing hashtag which ended up being more ironic than anything.
I will be the first to admit that my view on “offensive” language is probably different from most people (and therefore does not often register [I will get into my specific opinion later]), but I think there is still a good discussion to be had about this. What I am wondering is, what do you consider offensive language? At what point does it ruin a film? Those with children, how do you evaluate if a movie is too offensive with regard to language?
I have one rule regarding language that serves me in nearly every situation:
Is the context and intent offensive?
I believe this to be a consistent way to evaluate a movie for it disregards a screenwriter’s style (Quentin Tarantino movies, for example, are all ranked in the top 100 for the most occurrences of the F-Word) and any religious attachment which is a personal belief and has no place in objectively evaluating a film.
To me, the words used in a movie like Bruno (2009) are offensive. I understand what folks say: that the offensiveness is the point because writer and star Sacha Baron Cohen plays an over-the-top stereotype specifically to elicit responses from the “bad guys” supposedly to show the terrible bigotry of these bad people and how unfair and cruel is life. Well, first of all, relentlessly making fun of a person is no way to combat injustice and bigotry. If anything it is going to fuel it, and it is no better than being a bigot in the first place (in fact it is a form of bigotry). Secondly, I don’t buy into the whole idea that it is OK for Cohen to essentially make fun of the same victimized group he is supposed to be helping (read: exploiting) in order to gift the lucky viewer with awareness. Finally, the entire context of the movie is intended to be offensive.
[Speaking to folks of Arabic descent] “Can I give you guys a word of advice? Lose the beards, because your King Osama looks like a kind of dirty wizard… or a homeless Santa.”
Bruno, though, has 20 F-words. Good Will Hunting has around 150 F-words. Which movie is more offensive?
I realize this example is anecdotal (and my dislike for Bruno personal), but I think examining context and intent works pretty well.
Glengarry Glen Ross has over 100 occurrences of the F-word. Unnecessary? Offensive?
Another point brought up is (for example) Tarantino or Scorsese F-word frequency is un-realistic and therefore unnecessary (doesn’t futher the story, etc.). I get that. But not really. All movies are impressionistic as a vessel for the vision of the director, screenwriter, and sometimes the actor. Everything in a movie is hyper-reality. Each person is entitled to his or her taste, but to call the 250 F-words in Pulp Fiction unnecessary is like saying Poe’s adjectives are unnecessary or Picasso uses too much blue; it’s part of the art – part of the movie – part of the narrative. The F-words used in Pulp Fiction are every bit as essential to Tarantino’s vision for the film and his characters as blue is in Picasso’s Blue Period.
Furthermore, almost none of the explicit language in Pulp Fiction is actually offensive as in intended to offend a person or people. Cussing in general, and the F-word in particular, is most often a verbal exclamation point. That’s a big deal?
I would argue that it is much less realistic for Jake Sulley not to say, “Holy fuck,” or something similar when seeing Pandora for the first time (I mean, he’s a Marine, right?).
A final thought regarding context is exemplified by playing the word substitution game. Is it the word we are offended by or the context? Battlestar Galatica substituted frack in place of fuck and used the former extensively throughout the run of the series. Changing the word is all that matters? So it’s ok for a child to run around say, “Frack you!” to everyone? “You’re a fracking jerk,” is more acceptable than, “I can’t believe I’m a fucking clone?” If it is a religious thing, then someone playing basketball and yelling, “FUDGE,” at every missed shot is not doing anything different than if the substituted word was used. It’s all about context and intent.
We can be raised to believe any word is vulgar. If, while I was raised, I was taught that barn and concrete were the most vulgar words, then I might say to someone I want to rile up, “Barn you, you concrete!” In context that person could possibly take offense to what I said and probably should. However, the words themselves are not vulgar to that person. Why should any word not used in an offensive context be considered offensive?
I am not claming that there is not a point when vulgar language can become overkill. I’ve blurred the lines a little between movies and real life while trying to get across my thoughts, but I fully understand that day-to-day conversation in the real world should not be littered with a continuous train of F-words and other constant cussing. I do think too much is made of it, but societal norms do dictate our lives to a degree and we have to live with that. But we do not have to live with that in the hyper-reality portrayed in our entertainment.
I’ve made the comment before that I would be OK with my child cussing like a sailor if he also never said a hurtful thing to another person. These are my thoughts.
What are yours?