Given the way things are today, it’s hard to believe that Rhett Butler’s saying, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn,” to Scarlett O’Hara in the movie Gone With the Wind was considered scandalous at the time (1939). Censors objected initially because “damn” was a word prohibited by the 1930 Motion Picture Production Code even though it had often been mouthed in silent pictures earlier. (Before talkies, actors and actresses got away with a lot! Imagine the asides.)
But a month and a half prior to the film’s release, the Motion Picture Producers and Distributors of America passed an amendment to the Production Code that permitted the words “hell” or “damn” when their use “shall be essential and required for portrayal, in proper historical context, of any scene or dialogue based upon historical fact or folklore…or a quotation from a literary work, provided that no such use shall be permitted which is intrinsically objectionable or offends good taste.”
I think that the amendment made sense. Let’s be realistic. When a guy accidentally hits his thumb with a hammer, he doesn’t grit his teeth and say, “Gee Willakers, Mr. Hammer! That really hurt!” Or when a guy dumps his ladyfriend over dinner in a nice restaurant, she doesn’t say, “You are not a nice person! For treating me like dirt, you can just pay the bill yourself.”
There are many scenarios in movies that call for stronger language than “Oh, fiddlesticks!” but I see no “proper historical context” for the unrelieved use of the F-word. And it’s everywhere you listen anymore. I hear young ladies and older ladies and in-between ladies F-bomb supermarkets, drug stores, schools, and parking lots. Same with men, although their voices are lower and don’t carry as far. I hear it on TV without ceasing, especially on Netflix. It’s either Netflix of Amazon Prime that holds the current record of a character saying the F-word sixty-five times in what would have been a mere ten words of dialogue.
It’s so omnipresent in our culture that even the French are saying, “Excuse my English.”
Netflix is in the process of opening a new production studio in Albuquerque. I can just see the banners hanging from the buildings in a few weeks, “Netflix Studios! We’re F*ing Open!”
Not everyone is offended, of course. Lots of people, including a number of psychologists, are of the opinion that cursing has benefits. Richard Stephens, a psychology lecturer at Keele University in the UK, studied the analgesic benefit of cursing by having students immerse their hands in ice water for as long as they could bear. First, they repeated a curse of their choice; then they said an innocuous word.
The result: “When they swore, they were better able to tolerate pain,” says Stephens, who also noted an adrenaline rush. “Swearing increases the heart rate and sets off the body’s flight-or-fight response.”
If this is true, I support swearing at the dentist’s office, although it’s hard to yell out a really good pain reliever with the drill in your mouth. Or at any doctor’s office. The doc says, “This is going to hurt a little bit.” The patient says, “Then wait a second. $#@*! $#@*! $#@*! Okay, now I’m ready.” At that point the patient can better bear it or run away faster.
You can find all sorts of opinions online about profanity. Some people say swearing keeps you healthier than a flu shot. Others say a dirty mouth is a breeding ground for a sick life. Some say that with over 200,000 words in the English language, using so few profane words over and over shows a lack of imagination. Others say, “But profane words are such good words for making your point!”
On and on it goes. But Richard Stephens (above) then found that people who cursed excessively – up to sixty times per day – didn’t get any pain relief from it because the emotional response in the brain weakens after repeated exposure. And a University of Arizona study determined that other people don’t care as much for people who swear as they do for people who are more moderate in their speech.
There you have it. It’s a scientific fact that some people don’t like to be around foul-mouthed people, even around characters on their TV sets.
I have read that women, at least some, stop using the F-word when they become parents. Don’t want their kids to hear it. One young lady claims that she quit after saying, “I’m so f-ing happy for you two!” in a wedding toast recorded on video for posterity. Even so, I expect there are sailors out there who for a long time yet will be able to cuss like a schoolgirl.