Monday, September 20, 2010

Word Choice, and Other Pleas for Decency

I am not what one might call nostalgic; I believe there is no better time to live in the world than today. However, I also believe we as a culture have become desensitized to certain words and the weight they carry. I don't mean racial epithets, either, because they sure were used a lot more casually in the past than they are now. I mean your regular, run of the mill, everyday curse words. The F word, in particular. Don't get me wrong, it's a fantastic word with many creative uses, but it feels like it doesn't even mean anything anymore.

In '69, at Woodstock, Country Joe McDonald led a cheer among the thousands of people gathered, 'GIMME AN F! GIMME A U! GIMME A C! GIMME A K! WHAT DOES THAT SPELL!" and people shouted in unison, screamed the most foul word possible at the end of a decade wrought with anguish. This was a word people did use of course, but they weren't "supposed" to. It was the ultimate verbal rebellion; now that is some great use of a curse word.

Flash forward: in 2010 comedians, rappers, movies, and pay-channel tv shows use the word as if it were a period or a placeholder. That's not edgy; that's lazy. Why do you need that word there? Can't you think of something, ANYTHING else?

When Goodfellas came out in 1990, the sheer number of swear words was shocking! It was gritty! It was real!
But in 2010 it's just a yawn. Be creative, people, please!

I feel I should repeat, I am not nostalgic for a more censored time. But I have to hand it to older entertainment; it possesses an artistic subtlety to the offensive that modern entertainment severely lacks. See: Hitchcock's infamous train-driving-into-a-tunnel shot at the end of North by Northwest. If I, a child of the late 90s and 2000s, hadn't learned scholastically that that was sexual imagery, I never in a million years would have gotten it. But older audiences did, because they were trained that way. They had to be, due to strict censorship that doesn't exist today, but that's not the point.

The point, MY point, is that I just wish people, artists in particular, chose of their own volition to use other words and imagery. I was devastated when Travie McCoy's "Billionaire," so popular on the Top 40 stations right now, turned out to be a radio edit. My favorite part of the chorus is when he says "frickin" instead of "fuckin" because A) it's an unusual choice, and B) it amps up the adorability of the singer 100%. In another, more personally horrifying example, I'm not sure I will ever be able to burn the image of The Wire's Lt. Cedric Daniels' (albeit well-toned) naked derriere atop Pearlman, mid-coitus, from my eyeballs. Daniels is not the kind of character who is filmed in a raunchy sex scene, HBO. He's just not. Just because you CAN doesn't mean you SHOULD. Gahh.

Literal images aside, English is awesome. It's just, I mean, awesome. It's creative, subtle and complicated, and it is CHOCK FULL of synonyms in varying degrees of serious and silly. And unlike many other languages, it only has about four really gruesome curse words; so when they're overused it becomes like that Eminem and Rihanna song: awesome and chilling at first, but after the twenty-fifth time you've heard it that same hour it's suddenly nauseating.

So all I'm saying is, let's let our precious few curse words stay shocking, shall we? Think of the children.


Anonymous said...

Well put.

You've also, in your last paragraph - inadvertently, of course - raised the use of another word that no longer means what it should - awesome. I can't believe how often I use that word for things that are actually just entertaining or pretty impressive.

B.Graham said...

@anonymous - Well, according to the internet, which is of course always right, "awesome" can mean "excellent: used as a general term of enthusiastic approval"

And I enthusiastically approve of synonyms!

Jackie said...

I totally agree! I never liked how much we just throw around words like they're no big deal. Not just curse words but words like Love and that sort of thing. My parents use to tell me, "don't say hate, that's a strong word." And now we hate and or love everything and everyone one. It just makes me feel weird.