Foul language is just lazy screenwriting, in movies and TV/streaming shows
Posted May 17
My parents never sat me down for a lecture on language. That is, they never told me I should be civil or that I should refrain from cursing. But they did set the example. They didn’t curse so I didn’t curse.
And, of course, back in those days, the 1950s and '60s, we never heard that kind of language on TV or at the movies.
My father was a blue-collar worker until he became a white-collar worker, but nothing much changed after that, except that he came home each evening in a coat and tie instead of blue jeans and a hard hat.
Even after he took that desk job, my dad was still Joe Average, a Southern California, middle-class, 8-to-5 workaday guy. He also kept his old blue-collar job on Saturdays to help make ends meet.
Like anyone else, he’d become frustrated or angry from time to time, and though I might hear him mutter something unprintable if he hit his thumb with a hammer or if the car broke down on the freeway, I never heard him cuss a blue streak — and I never, ever heard him use the F-word.
Of course, such language could not be completely avoided. I heard it on the few occasions when Dad took me with him to his part-time Saturday job, and once in a while I heard it at school.
As an adult, I heard the F-word — and many others that can’t be repeated here — almost constantly during my first couple of years in the Army. And later, sporadically, at various places of employment.
But I’ve tried all my life to be circumspect in my language.
Oh, and for what it’s worth, we were not Mormons. That came later for me and never for the rest of my family. Religion didn’t play into it. Just civility.
So it was perhaps ironic that I started writing movie reviews for the Deseret News in the late 1970s, which was a period in movie history when harsh language was beginning to flourish.
Thanks to the movies I attended, I heard more cussing from theater stereo systems than most people hear in a lifetime.
But I never liked it. It’s always seemed to me to be lazy screenwriting. Especially when used in excess.
As movies began to take on more “adult” content toward the end of the 1950s and into the 1960s, profanity was used sparingly to punctuate a dramatic moment. And it could be effective.
But now it’s used so much that it’s lost its punch. In fact, it’s a cliché.
When the F-word is used hundreds of times in an R-rated picture, it becomes laughable. But at least those movies are aimed at adults.
Unfortunately, lots of other words — from profanities to obscenities to sexual slang to scatological phrases to any number of vulgarities — fill out the dialogue of PG-13 movies that a lot of impressionable minds will see. And, yes, most PG-13 movies also use the F-word at least once.
One current exception is “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol 2.” No F-words, but late in the film Rocket interprets for Baby Groot, saying that he cleaned up Groot’s language when one of his “I am Groot” utterances actually included the F-word.
“Guardians 2” also has a lot of other vulgar language, especially in the first third or so, which is particularly irksome in a movie that kids will see, perhaps over and over.
Meanwhile, on television, network programs and cable shows are getting much worse in terms of language.
On network TV sitcoms, the current new words that writers are trying out are clinical, graphic or slang phrases for male and female anatomy.
My wife and I noticed this on a few network sitcoms we were trying out earlier this year and were surprised at how many times the same words were being used on different programs. As if they were holding auditions for these particular vulgarities.
Network programs are not as bad as cable shows, even basic cable shows, but it appears they’re slowly catching up.
When we were watching the FX channel’s “Justified” some years ago, we laughed at the usage of a common vulgar synonym for excrement because it was used over and over in every episode, as if the writers had just discovered it.
How many times can you use the same cuss word in a 45-minute episode before it just feels trite? These writers are like children with a new toy; let’s see how fast we can wear it out.
Earlier this year — five years after “Justified” wrapped — we watched another FX show, the miniseries “Feud,” about Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, and were surprised to hear the F-word several times.
How long before that word is casually uttered on network programs?
More and more basic cable shows are starting to follow the HBO/Showtime template, throwing in gutter language — along with graphic violence and sex and nudity — as much as they can, just because they can.
That’s certainly true of made-for-streaming shows. Take Netflix’s “House of Cards” or Hulu’s “The Handmaid’s Tale” or Amazon Prime’s “Transparent” or any number of others — programs that could easily have come from HBO or Showtime.
No matter how well produced a show is, all of this content is just redundant.
Aren’t people a bit weary of it by now?
I know I am.
Chris Hicks is the author of "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind? A Parent’s Guide to Movie Ratings." He also writes at www.hicksflicks.com and can be contacted at email@example.com.