Friday, June 21, 2013

The addiction of bad language

Great novels, it is often said, produce bad movies whereas weak novels can result in great films.

So it is with reviews of movies, as I can attest from my part-time experience many years ago as a film critic (the first one) for the Orlando Sentinel. I suffered through quite a number of mind-numbing movies but invariably found that I had fun in creating critical reviews of these duds. 

As I reader, I enjoy the work of Anthony Lane in the New Yorker in whose hands a piece of tripe can be skewered with wit and style.  In the most recent issue, in reviewing This is the End, he gives the usual extended coverage to a movie I would not ordinarily want to read about (or certainly to see) except that an expert writer is at work.

One remark in particular stood out (not witty but insightful) in Lane's discussing of the young people in this movie who deal in drugs, alcohol, and "more addictive still, a heap of dirty words."  He is too tasteful to specify what these words are--the ones singled out years ago by George Carlin--but he puts his finger, in that phrase, on a cultural issue that bothers me: the obligatory ugliness in language that fills so many screenplays.

This type of unimaginative verbal trash comes irrespective of what the viewer may want to hear for ninety minutes. Hollywood and its various tributaries, catering to the tastes of teenage boys, feel that it is essential in nearly every movie they make to create a masculinity defined both by violent action and violent, ugly speech.

I know that men, young ones especially, when they are out having fun together, use a certain amount of street language and should not be expected to sound like seminarians or Victorian scholars. But it's the addictive nature of vulgar and obscene words that Lane points to that is worth considering. Once you start, you keep finding more ways to place F-words in various grammatical positions in every sentence as you keep trying, desperately, to demonstrate your manhood (or so the assumption seems to be).

If one guy goes profane, the others follow with re-doubled effort.  It reminds me of the type of masculinity Frank Pittman analyzes in his book, Man Enough: some men never stop trying to prove they are tough and manly in an effort that never ends; often one guy never feels man enough in the eyes of other men.

If masculinity can be addictive, so can language, especially in movies.
That's why when one comes along with opportunities for heaping up dirty words that are not taken, as is the case with Two Brothers and a Bride, I rejoice.  There is not even an obligatory sex scene or nude scene in this off-beat comedy about the search of two U.S. farm boys for a bride in Russia.
How amazing. And original.

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