Almost everybody swears.
I say "almost" only because I know a handful of older folks who replace swear words with classics like "Fiddlesticks!" or "Consarn it!" But when I turned a certain age, even my sweet mother started swearing in front of me, and when your mother swears, that makes it OK.
There has been a lot of fuss about this week's documentary release, Bully (limited, then wide on April 6), and how teenagers -- the obvious target market, the whole point of the film -- wouldn't be able to see it if it was rated R. After much inane debate, teens are now allowed to see it, provided they come to the movie theatre armed with a permission slip or a parent. (For the record, in most Canadian provinces, the movie is rated PG-13).
This whole convoluted situation didn't stem from the violence in Bully, and no, it wasn't even about the references to suicide and self-mutilation (there are a few, sometimes graphic). Instead, the MPAA thought it prudent to rate this movie R because of the swearing. Yes, the six -- count 'em, six -- instances of swearing. That, to me, is ridiculous, and a sign of just how out of touch we have become as a society. I dare say this coddling is even more dangerous than the bullying.
The bullying instances featured in Bully happen on the school bus, in the school hallways, on the playground, in gym class and by the lockers. There are also several references to cyberbullying, though we never actually witness those. Each and every one of those locales, virtual or no, is a veritable breeding ground for swearing. I'm pretty sure when I was a teenager (let alone now), every third word out of my mouth was a swear word. To say that teenagers should be sheltered from the foul language of Bully is like saying we should ban kids from school because they might be exposed to 'fuck' and 'shit.' Believe me, MPAA, kids know those words, and probably a couple doozies you've never heard before.
Did anyone stop to think this incessant sheltering of our kids is making them increasingly sensitive to what used to be rather mild offenses? As happens in the movie, I'm pretty sure I stabbed a girl with a pencil in the fourth grade -- because, of course, I had a crush on her. She ratted on me, I got in trouble, that was the end of it. At my high school, there was this poor guy who was taunted on an almost-daily basis, much like the teens depicted in Bully. Last I heard he has an amazing job, a very attractive wife, two adorable sons and he pulls in six figures a year. I'm not trying to minimize the horrors families go through when a child kills himself after being bullied -- you'd have to be some sort of monster not to feel any empathy -- but I'm saying that banning kids from a movie because of swear words hardly seems like a solution. Kids today are exposed to so much; they should be the most hardy and resilient generation ever, but instead the opposite is happening.
Think about the movies you watched when you were young. (Even if your parents were strict and banned you from certain films, don't lie and say you didn't watch them over at your friend-with-the-laissez-faire-parents' house instead.) In my youth, I repetitively watched Stand By Me, Major League, The Goonies, Ghostbusters and all the A Nightmare on Elm Street movies. All of them had swearing and, looking back, I hardly even noticed. In fact, I was more inclined to quote "Chopper, sic balls!" than "A pile of shit has a thousand eyes," though that phrase is the equivalent of awesome.
And let's face it, on the spectrum of traumatic experiences, swearing is hardly even on the map. These are words, composed of letters, mere parts of our language. The less emphasis we put on swearing, the less impact it will have. Policing our kids' swearing in real life interaction is one thing, but limiting their artistic choices -- especially when something is created for them, to help them -- because of swearing makes no sense.
That should make a mother blush.
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