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Friday, 2 December 2011

Using Profanities - Pure Laziness?

Caroline Thompson, a senior BBC executive, said recently that swearing in comedies was all right now because there is an "enormous intergenerational difference about what is acceptable". This got me thinking about things I've seen, read and written lately and how they used language which could be deemed offensive.

I have to admit, I'm not a big fan of any current comedies. In my view they just can't match the class of previous decades. This may have something to do with the dependence on cheap laughs, partly stemming from bad language and partly from a buffoonery I just don't find endearing. But, as the article above says, classic comedies such as Porridge and Dad's Army didn't resort to swearing to get laughs. Yes, they sailed close to the wind sometimes but the laughs came out of what they nearly said as opposed to what they actually said. Modern British comedy has lost that to some extent.

But what of other genres? Well, I watch a lot of crime drama and hearing swearing on those feels acceptable to me because of the subject matter involved. I'm never going to get my knickers in a twist about the odd bit of swearing in a programme. My objections come from the fact that many writers (whether directed by broadcasters or not) seem to use coarse language as a crutch and as a substitute for meaningful dialogue. It's certainly easier to have a character swearing at a situation than figuring out a truly funny response to the events.  

I've seen a fair few plays this year. One thing that struck me was how the modern ones relied so much on swearing. It was something noticed by others as well as me - I had several conversations about it later, including with people who swear as often as they breathe in their day-to-day lives. One comedic play had a situation uncovered and two characters panicking about it. Instead of proper dialogue they literally just walked around the stage saying 'f**k, f**k, f**k' for at least a minute. As an audience member, I felt cheated. The word lost its resonance somewhat by the repetition and did nothing to further the plot or the characters. It was a substitute for what I'd deem 'proper writing' (as controversial as that term may be).

When I write I almost always keep to acceptable dialogue - until the situation calls for something else. I've sworn in most of my drafts to date but never just to fill space or to get a quick laugh. Profanity has to stem from both situation and character. It might be funny to have a grandmother spewing out a load of expletives but, unless you've got a reason for it, my patience wears thin.

All this may make me sound straight-laced and boring. I'm not (I hope!). I just want to see writers challenging themselves. How else are they supposed to challenge their audiences or, for that matter, entertain them?


Anonymous said...

I think the key to really good comedy is the use of "subtle inference", not stating the rather blatant obvious! Comedy is a counterpoint of words, there's so many verbal tools open to the writers of comedy, malapropisms for example, that a really good writer does'nt need to indulge excessively in profanities. Their only place is in a work designed to shock & disturb by their overuse!

CharmedLassie said...

And because we've become so difficult to shock these days, it has to be amplified! I wonder how much further things can go. There aren't many unexplored areas or limits that haven't already been surpassed...

DG Farnsworth said...

We think alike! Thank you so much for writing on this topic! I wish more would take notice of this subject...and continue the discourse. I tried real hard to keep this discussion going on Amazon...but eventually gave up over lack of interest. This "easy way out" has gotten out of hand in America--all the swearing. A real-turn-off for those of us who appreciate good writing. Keep up the good work on topics that are not only timely but deserve close inspection.

CharmedLassie said...

Ah, so it's as prominent in America? I don't watch as many imports as I used to so I've missed that. To be honest, I was a little reluctant to write about it because I didn't want a 'prude' label. But it's got to the point where I'm seeing executives commending it - doing that will only encourage it! I dread to think where we're going with this. Thanks for your input. I'm happy to know I'm not the only one!