Over the past couple of days, I have spent an inordinate amount of time thinking about the plight of director James Gunn. You're probably very aware of the situation, but here's the super short version. He was fired a Director from Marvel Studios due to tweets he wrote years prior. They involved many jokes relating to perverse things such as pedophilia, as well as the use of transphobic slurs. This blog isn't really about his situation. But the situation convinced me to put my thoughts down in writing.
Over the course of the past few days, I've seen many, many takes on the issue. One of which has been particularly fascinating. A small group of people seem to be extremely offended by his use of transphobic slurs, without caring at all about the other things he said (which again, include comments about pedophilia). This has been so striking and odd to me.
I recently watched a 2 part youtube video from Coffee Break about the history of profanity and how it's used and viewed in our culture today. It is far more eloquent than I am, so I'm happy to recommend that you check it out here.
Here are the salient points to my blog.
Every culture and language has profanity. Words that are prohibited, taboo, bad, etc. In nearly every circumstance, these words fall into four categories. 1-Things pertaining to sex, 2-Things pertaining to poop, 3-things pertaining to Holy or Sacred elements, and 4-slurs.
What is bizarre is how our culture (at least in the United States), we no longer view all of these as unacceptable. They are harsh words, to be sure. But we no longer seek to shield ourselves or our children from them. Except for slurs.
Profanity exists as a concept because words have power. "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words can never hurt me" is a falsehood. Words absolutely can and do hurt. That is why slurs are considered culturally unacceptable. They cause harm to people. And it's real harm, in my opinion.
But why do we no longer view these other words as unacceptable? F and S, for example. They largely cannot be said on broadcast television. The F word is not used in much of cable, outside of subscription services such as HBO. However, streaming services such as Netflix are changing this. Much of the original content on services such as Netflix use the F word freely. Recently I read a story that CNN shared an uncensored video in which someone uses the F word. Cable is certainly changing. I'm sure broadcast television will change over time as well.
As many of you know, I am Mormon. Avoiding the use of profanity is a strong part of our culture. We feel it is inappropriate and it is disrespectful to ourselves, or fellow men, and to God. My family uses profanity very little. I've heard my father swear once in my entire life. I've never heard one of my immediate family members use the F word, even once.
I once got into a debate on another website about censoring films. There was an article about some film studioes considering releasing family friendly versions of some films. The commenters on the article were largely opposed to this. They feel that it violates the creative integrity of the film to alter it in such a manner. They wanted to know who that would even benefit.
It would benefit me. I gave a specific example. There is marvelous film by Jon Favreau called Chef. It's about a Chef that grenades his own career in a tirade against a critic and then his own boss. He then embarks on a journey. He takes his son on a cross country tour in a food truck, selling beautiful food all across the United States. Food brings him together with his son. It helps him find himself again. It's just a great movie. In my opinion, it could be a phenomenal family film. But it has many F words and other profane language in it. It is rated R. My family will never watch it. They would not enjoy it if they did, beause of the language. Now, far be it from me to tell Favreau how to make a movie. That's his prerogative. But I would really appreciate a family friendly version of the film that I could share with my own family.
After stating this, some people appreciated by perspective. Most did not. They said that my family and I needed to grow up. They said there's no point in hiding from these words. They said there's no point in protecting children from the words, as they will hear them elsewhere. We should all just accept the use of these words.
But why? Why should we? What is so wrong about seeking to avoid using and hearing profanity where we can? I'm sure we all agree that words are harmful. Again, slurs are 100% considered taboo. If a slur can cause harm, why can't the F word? Why is it forgivable to call someone a motherf***er, but it's a cardinal sin to call them a slur?
You can live your life how you want. You can speak how you want. You can consume whatever art and media you want. I'm not here to tell you what to do. I'm really just trying to point out that our culture's current view of profanity is hypocrital and nonsensical, in my opinion.