Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Why swearing is funny.

Recent musings by the magnificent and pondersome Glen Marshall have prompted a variety of thoughts in my cavernous and troubled mind. For those too busy / lazy / damn cool to click on the link (and it's my first ever attempt at such a link, so I hope you at least appreciate the effort), here is the gist of the conversation...

The area of discussion is a favourite of mine, being the space where Christianity and the so called 'real world' get all tangled up, to the extent that neither is quite sure, by the end, which is which. Kind of like when you get physically confused in a bout of passion and end up kissing your own fingers. Or something. Anyway, Glen was discussing whether Christians should watch 18 rated films, with a fairly strong emphasis on 'yes, that would be good'. Much cyber-space discussion ensued.

This issue is one that I enjoy a lot, for two main reasons. One is that I am a teacher of film and media, and thus I find discussions about audience response theory weirdly erotic. The other is that I really love films which confront me in some way, be that in terms of an ideological conundrum, a postmodern narrative structure, an exploding zombie's head or just some naked people doing a dance. I like transgression. I think it's something film does well, and I think it can tell us a lot about the world we live in.

Take, for example, swearing. I swear probably too much, and much of the time it is lazy, indulgent and reductive. Occasionally, however - and this is the important bit - occasionally swearing is really, really funny. And in that 'funny' is liberation. Because, when it comes down to it, the idea of swearing is nonsense. I mean, yes, if someone calls you a c*nt, then you may well feel aggrieved. But it isn't the word that did that. It's the intention. The word is meaningless. In fact, it's worse than that. It's a scapegoat, designated as such by wider systems of language to distract your attention from the actuality of what is happening. That person called you a c*nt! Now that means one of three things: a) you have cut them up on the motorway, b) you are their computer and you have just crashed, losing them hours of work or c) you are their best friend and this is a term of affection.

To demonstrate my brilliant and infallible point, I'd like to direct you to a video I saw recently. It is gloriously funny, and makes me very happy. I'm not yet smart enough to imbed videos (someone please tell me how), so you'll have to follow this link. I know, I know - there's a lot of homework in this post. You were just looking for something to do for five minutes while the kettle boiled. Well tough, you're mine now. Go to my link. I promise it will be worth it.

Here I am. I am an ace link.

Two things strike me about this. Firstly, the genius of its simplicity. Just putting a bunch of bleeps over Sesame Street. Easy.

The second thing that impresses me is its remarkable grasp of semiotics. As you know, words themselves don't mean anything - they are just signs pointing at 'meanings', So I write 'CAT' and you, seeing those symbols and recognising them, think - as I intended - of a small, fluffy four legged beast that purrs, drinks milk and brings you dead birds for no reason. The person who has, in this wonderful video, vandalised children's entertainment to give us some vulgar giggles, knows full well that when we hear the 'bleep' sound our brains don't read 'bleep' at all. Do they? Be honest. You can almost hear the '...k' at the end of each bleeped out word.

It's the same with my judicious use of 'c*nt' earlier. Yeah yeah - you thought I was being prissy, and probably thought I was a huge hypocrite for going on about how cool swearing is and then asterisking out vowels.Well ha, you, because it was all part of my brilliant plan. The written symbol 'c*nt' means exactly the same as its uncensored counterpart. Except it allows me to pretend I am maintaining some klnd of respectability while saying exactly what I like. Yay me. I'm not like those bad, non-Christian swearing people. Am I?

If there's one thing I honestly can't stand it is the insult disguised as flattery. Our world is full of it. People who rip into you under the pretence of 'only joking'. Newspaper articles hiding insidious prejudice under moral sounding arguments. Films and television programmes that tell their stories without sex, violence or swearing,  but quietly reinforce ideologies that prop up the powerful and diminish the 'other'. When we focus on how the insults are spelt, we miss the real damage. The stuff that comes in smelling sweet, speaking well, and getting away with murder.

F*ck that.


  1. *Like*

    Go back to the video, see beneath the number of views there is an 'embed' button? Press it. Select the display options you want (size, colour of frame) then cut and paste the HTML into the HTML for your post at the point at which you want it to be. *Fights urge to write 'simples'*

  2. Woo! Thanks Andy. I will try this later.

  3. I see what you did there you massive pr*ck... very entertaining and thought provoking. You will notice (and appreciate) that I am now following your blog!

  4. I put a comment here once saying I didn't like swearing much or find it funny. I came back to say I just saw a film where some swearing was indeed funny. I expect you can guess which one.