Donald Clarke

Whingeing about cinema and real life since 2009

Swearing is f%6*ing great!

We’ve been here before. But let me say again how much I love swearing and violence in the movies. I bow to no one in my devotion to sentimental pictures such as Now Voyager, Random Harvest and Goodbye Mr Chips. …

Wed, Mar 7, 2012, 22:40


We’ve been here before. But let me say again how much I love swearing and violence in the movies. I bow to no one in my devotion to sentimental pictures such as Now Voyager, Random Harvest and Goodbye Mr Chips. As you pick yourself off the floor and mop your sopping face, you can’t help but feel a little happier about the universe. Nothing, however, beats a stream of creative cussing or an outbreak of invigoratingly bloody beheading. Though I fully understand (and share) feminist worries about the c-word, it just wouldn’t be the same if, in Withnail & I, the title character referred to his uncle as “a terrible codger”.

What brought this on? Well, you may be aware that Harvey Weinstein is currently engaged in a stand-up fight with the Motion Picture Association of America, the shadowy body that oversees film certification in the United States. It seems that the MPAA has slapped a 17 cert on Bully, Harvey’s new documentary, for the awful offense of allowing six unbleeped uses of the word f**k. (As those asterisks make clear, the MPAA is not the only organisation that frowns on the Germanic expletive). Harvey and his chums quite reasonably argue that the film, which deals with the curse of bullying, will now prove difficult to view for much of its intended audience. Over 200,000 signatures have been gathered on a petition urging a reversal of the decision.

This is not the first film to fall foul of language puritanism. Ken Loach’s Sweet Sixteen got the 18-cert treatment for suggesting that teenagers from Glasgow might utter the odd profanity. (As if!) Tracy Emin withdrew her film Top Spot following a similar dust-up with the British Board of Film Classification. You might reasonably wonder why this week’s Stella Days, a harmless film about an Irish priest starting a cinema, embarks with a surprisingly harsh 15A cert. Well, make your way to the Irish Film Classification Office’s website and you will find a reference to “infrequent very strong language”. There is also a stabbing in the picture. But that single use of a word that rhymes with “punt” cannot have helped the film’s cause. (The IFCO does not comment publicly on individual cases.)

What the f**k is going on? It hardly needs to be said that any  young person will, most likely, hear more than six uses of the dreaded word while making his way to a screening of Bully. Any kid sufficiently bright to seek out a Ken Loach movie will not, after hearing young Scotsmen utter a few blue words, be suddenly propelled into a life of heroin addiction and petty crime.

It is only reasonable to protect those who might find themselves distressed by scenes of extreme violence or horror. You could, of course, reasonably argue — after noting how robust today’s youth seem — that an 18-cert is probably of more use to squeamish 30-year-olds than  it is to supposedly vulnerable adolescents. But there is an argument to be made here.

I genuinely cannot, however, understand in what way hearing the odd “f**k”, the occasional “c**t” or even a stray “motherf**er” will damage any young person. Parents can still impose their own rules on the household. If their young tearaways attempt to argue that Ken Loach or Harvey Weinstein says it’s okay then they should be deposited on the couch and asked whether, just because the bible says it’s okay to sacrifice your son to God, mummy or daddy should feel comfortable about dragging young Cian or Imelda up the mountain while clutching a machete.

Okay, that’s a terrible argument. But I am hampered by the fact that I don’t have children and I genuinely don’t mind hearing young people flinging about swearwords. I also, as previously noted, rather enjoy hearing robust language in the movies. “Tut, tut. All that swearing is so unnecessary in Tarantino’s nasty films,” some imaginary correspondent says to me. Oh f**k off! It’s not “necessary” to make a film at all. What you want to ask yourself is whether the profanity adds to the robust music of the prose. Actually, you don’t want to ask yourself that question; you’d almost certainly say that it doesn’t. But you, imaginary whinger, are clearly a f**ing idiot. Now, get out of my sight.

I’m glad I got that off my chest. Now, I’m off to watch a Doris Day film.