Tuesday, March 31, 2009
Dude, D'ya Have To Use S'many Cuss Words?
"What the f*ck are you talking about?"
As any reader of this blog will happily attest, I sometimes swear.
Now to be fair, I swear a lot more when I write than when I actually speak. Somehow, it doesn't feel like it counts when I just type out S-H-I-T. But the reality is, I use profanity in my casual conversation far more than I should. I like to rationalize it by saying that most of the time I use those words strictly for comedic reasons. And yes, profanity is funny. But that's not a good enough reason to continually do it. I try to hide this personal flaw in certain circumstances. Job interviews, family dinners, teaching Elders Quorum. But it's to the point where a "damn" or a "hell" sometimes slips out without prior authorization.
The real downside to this for me, is that single LDS girls do not like it when you swear. At all. They hate it. I'm not sure if they equate a foul mouth with weak character or if they associate it with a dirty mind or what. And yes both of those do apply to me, but no more than the douchebag next to me saying "flippin shiz". But if I'm trying to chat up some quality girl at a lame ward activity and I accidentally let a "son of a bitch" fly, they run like hell. I mean it's as if I had whipped out my junk and pressed it against a window, giving them the old "smooshed rat". Now, I've never actually done that (at a church activity) but I can't imagine the reaction to a smooshed rat being any different than a swear word dropped casually into a conversation. The effect is the same.
So that's one very good reason to tone down the language. But here is the reason that I want to focus on in this entry. Though profanity does have a certain inherent comic value, bleeped swear words are funnier. Now, in typical long winded fashion, let me explain.
Last night I was doodling around on the old remote control, trying to wash out the memory of yet another near collapse by my beloved Jazz and I came across one of my very favorite movies of all time on Palladia. This Is Spinal Tap.
Here is a clip of one of the many classic scenes. I'm not going to bother setting it up. If you want to know the context of them, you'll just have to watch the movie.
My friends and I first rented Spinal Tap back in high school, based entirely on The Simpsons episode in which they are featured. Yet another reason why The Simpsons are the greatest. They introduce me to the Tap and every Christopher Guest movie that came after it. Waiting For Guffman and Best In Show are simply glorious. It wasn't until a few years later that I learned of the Simpsons/Spinal Tap connection. Harry Shearer is both Derek Smalls and the voice of Mr Burns, Smithers, Flanders and several other Simpson characters. It's nice when two things that I love independently of each other wind up having common roots.
For those of you who aren't familiar with Spinal Tap, they are a fake band that parodies the ridiculous, over the top excesses of the hard rock scene in the late 70's early 80's. It is satire at its very finest. This Is Spinal Tap is the first ever "Mockumentary". They present this fake band and its oblivious members as reality. It's The Office 25 years before The Office. What's impressive about it, is that is was made in 1983, which was years before the Butt Rock scene of the 80's really shifted into high gear. They destroy Poison, Winger and Warrant long before they even existed. That takes an impressive cultural insight.
Spinal Tap's greatness is due to the fact that it incorporates this principle; satire is best when it exaggerates the least. You don't need to embellish the arrogance and stupidity of the hard rock bands of that era. You just need to accurately portray them. They do a good enough job of mocking themselves. Is there much of a difference between the lyrics of Sex Farm by Spinal Tap and the lyrics of Big Balls by ACDC? Read them both and tell me which one is the joke and which one is "treading water in a sea of retarded sexuality and bad poetry." But I'm nitpicking.
In fact when my buddies and I rented Spinal Tap back in probably 1994 or 1995, we weren't really clear if they were a real band or not. My friends may deny that fact now, but I specifically remember a confused conversation with Dallin Wayment and John Mann after the movie ended. "So, are they real or not? Because I have seen their CD's in metal section at Sam Goody. And some of their songs are pretty cool. (Dead on perfect!) But there's no way, they are for real. Are they?"
Palladia is part of basic cable. It is not a subscription channel like HBO, so it is limited in its content. No excessive swearing or nudity. Spinal Tap has no nudity but it does contain its share of the old F bomb. In fact when my buddies and I first rented it (we were probably about 15 or 16), we watched it at my buddy Zack's house. Their TV was right in the middle of the house. So anyone in the living room or the kitchen could hear anything that was playing. We watched it on a Friday night when his parents were gone. There was an F word here and there but nothing too bad. That is until a scene about two thirds of the way through where Nigel Tuffnel and David St Hubbins (the patron saint of comfortable foot wear) launch into a fierce argument where they just go f word crazy. Of course, it was at this exact point where Zack's parents came home.
"You can't play the f*cking part because of your f*cking wife!"
"She's not my f*cking wife!"
"Or whatever the f*ck she is!"
Zack's folks walked into the TV room and just stood for a while in silent judgment. "Nice movie you guys are watching." What was already an uncomfortable scene became much much more uncomfortable.
That always seemed to happen. You're twelve years old having a sleep over, watching Sixteen Candles in your basement and right before the boob scene, your mom comes downstairs to see how everyone is doing. As far as she knows you're watching porn. "But mom, it's rated PG!" Which it is, by the way. The worst moment like this I ever had was watching Pulp Fiction in Spencer Snow's basement and having his dad Gary come down and watch a little of it with us. Now there isn't a scene in that movie in which you would feel comfortable watching with your friend's dad, but which scene did Bishop Snow walk in on? Yeah, it was the part where Zed's hillbilly cop friend rapes Marcellus Wallace. Gary sat there in silence as Bruce Willis killed the Gimp and then just after he stabs Zed with the sword, Gary got up and left. I imagine he had a nice chat with Spencer later that night about choosing good friends. That or he got some pliers and a blow torch and went medieval.
But back to my original point. I was watching Spinal Tap on basic cable and I was interested to see how they would handle the F word. They could dub "flipping", "fetch" and "friggin" over it. But that never works. They could just cut out the entire scene in which they go crazy with the profanity. But instead they chose to bleep it.
I'm not exactly sure why, but somehow when they bleep over the curse words, it's way funnier than hearing them in all their vulgar glory. And this isn't just true for us uptight Mormons. A bleeped F word gets more laughs than regular one.
Observe the following scene from Arrested Development where the overly sheltered Buster joins his siblings as they complain about their mom. (By the way Mom, this in no way reminds me of you, so relax. No one is projecting here. It's funny all by itself.)
On the DVD, you can hear the unbleeped version and it's nowhere near as hilarious. Here's another. GOB is now the president of the Bluth Company and he has planned an office Christmas party and gives an HR sexual harassment speech.
I'm not quite sure why the bleeps are funnier than the swears. It certainly isn't due to my sensitive ears. I love the Big Lebowski (as the title of this entry suggests) and that show has a thousands F words. But somehow the censored reference to vulgarity is funnier than the actual vulgarity.
So last night when I was rewatching Spinal Tap for the millionth time, I was pleasantly surprised to see this new wrinkle in it. That scene I referenced earlier where David and Nigel go on a profanity fueled tirade was way funnier with a hundred bleeps in it. It was still awkward and uneasy, but that's what made it funny to begin with. However the bleeps took the edge off the tension. You felt the character's uneasiness but you didn't feel uncomfortable yourself.
Now, how do I apply this newly discovered information to my life? I'm not going to start "bleeping" myself. Seriously, nothing is lamer than that. But I hereby publicly declare that I will tone down the vulgarity. At least in my speech. I reserve the right to swear online. But I need to clean up my regular conversating. If for no other reason than to cease scaring away all of those single ladies in my life. I should also probably stop referencing the smooshed rat as well.
One thing at a time.
One more Spinal Tap clip for the road. Note the unbleeped f word. Believe me, it's funnier bleeped.
"I for one don't think that problem was that the band was down. I think the problem may have been that there was a Stone Henge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed by a dwarf."