The other day, as I was scrolling through Facebook and Twitter, I came across a link to this article in a tweet by Anson Mount (@ansonmount) – thank you kindly, sir, for the inspiration – and it started me thinking about language, language use, censorship, et al, not just on television, or in movies, but in books and writing too.
Here’s my two-penneth, (two cents worth): It’s all about character, plus situation, mitigated by contextual presentation.
To illustrate, here’s a newsflash, and a confession. It may not be all that surprising to some of you, especially not to those of you that know me well: I have been known to swear, from time to time. When things go wrong, or when emotions are running high, I – like many other people around the world – may well drop an F-bomb or two, or any one of a number of other choice cuss (or curse if you prefer) words. It’s not very ladylike, I know, but it’s the truth. However, as a teacher, I would never do so in the classroom, or on school premises (if I could help it), no matter what had happened. I might growl incoherently, but no actual words. It’s life. We drop a brick on our toe, we cuss, but if we hurt ourselves in front of kids (or grandma), we hop about whimpering and holding our toe.
Therein lies my problem with censorship on television (and in movies and books). If strong language is what would likely come out of a particular character’s mouth in the particular situation then it’s appropriate for them to use said strong language. Am I the only person that is not bothered by this? Does it make me a bad person, to know that a hard nut on a show I’m watching peppers his or her dialogue with the colour blue, and for me not to bat an eyelid? I distinctly remember discussing dialogue with a tutor on a writing course I was taking. At the time we were talking about the use of cliché, but there’s no reason the same rule shouldn’t apply when considering any kind of language. ‘If that’s the way your character talks,’ said he, ‘then there’s nothing wrong with using cliché.’ For me, from a writer’s perspective, which changes the way I watch television as a consumer, that’s the bottom line.
Also, here’s something I wasn’t aware of before: shows have bad language quotas? How old are we, and won’t we notice if our tough-nut, foul mouthed son-of-Satan suddenly stops speaking in the same way? Do the network bosses and ‘powers-that-be’ really believe that as viewers we are so entirely un-discerning that they will still believe in the character that does such a thing? As a viewer, I am personally kind of insulted by that assumption… sucker us in, and then when they think we’re hooked, change everything on us – but wait… are we, am I so unobservant that I don’t notice these things? To be entirely fair to myself, I don’t watch the show mentioned in the article, but now I find myself not trusting some of the other shows I watch or want to watch – not trusting myself.
I’ve been thinking a lot about language of late, in part because I’m at a point in the Use’ara novel where Rhostov has been exposed to one of the natives, and neither of them speak the others’ language, so both are trying to parse meaning from context, gesture and tone. There are no universal translators a la Star Trek, nor is there a TARDIS to help telepathically. They must do it by themselves, and it makes for a few interesting conundrums while writing, in terms of viewpoint, emotional intensity, and even simple communication. It’s something that I’m both loving and hating both at the same time. It makes my brain ache, but how much more would it be; how much would it change with a few curse words thrown into the mix? I mean, poor Rhostov can’t even remember his own name, and that’s enough to make anyone swear up a storm.
On a personal level also, though not quite as intensely, because it’s a process that’s been ongoing for some time now, as I’ve been in a distance relationship with my spouse for the last decade or so, but I am bilingual in English. I speak both British English, and American English. Now, however, I am finally making the move (facilitated by the fall of DOMA and a rather nasty car wreck) to the USA and consciously, my brain is doing two things– trying to remember to use US English all the time – or not, when I’m speaking to my family back home and to my best friend on Yahoo Messenger, and wondering if and when I should also change my spelling.
…thinking about language, but I am not sure that I have yet drawn any conclusions!