Monday, September 24, 2012

THE B-LIST: OOOH, FUUUUDGE!

Except, as we all know, young Ralphie didn’t say fudge in that scene from A Christmas Story, did he? He said THE word, the big one, the queen-mother of dirty words, the "F-dash-dash-dash" word! And as a result, he spent the evening with a bar of soap in his mouth. Which is admittedly better than what his poor friend Flick got after Ralphie claimed to have heard THE WORD from him. But as viewers, we know where Ralphie really picked up his colorful verbiage from, don’t we?

Ah, nobody delivers a minced oath like Darren McGavin. As you probably know, a minced oath is “a type of euphemism in which a profane or offensive term is replaced by a similar-sounding word or phrase that expresses a comparable sentiment in a less objectionable way, such as substituting ‘heck’ for ‘hell’.” But the minced oaths in A Christmas Story are an intentional part of the movie, and because of that they work perfectly. However, for better or worse (okay, probably worse), most films these days just go with full-on profanity and don’t bother adding in any minced oaths until later when they sell the broadcast rights to television and need to replace the dirty words with something a bit more suitable for Saturday afternoons when the kiddies may be tuning in.  You know how it works. Somebody in the theatrical version drops the the "F-dash-dash-dash" word, but the television version overdubs the line with something like “Flip this!” or “Forget you!” It can be kind of entertaining in its own way, especially when they don’t even bother getting the original actors to do the overdubbing.

But occasionally, the choice of what minced oath to utilize can be a little bizarre, especially in those instances where the profanity being replaced is not gratuitous, but purposeful to the scene it is in. I bet you can still find folks on message boards laughing (lamenting) about the time Star Trek 3: The Search for Spock was shown on the BBC with Captain Kirk exclaiming loudly, "Those Klingon BANDITS killed my son!" Yeah, it doesn’t really have the same impact as the original expletive does it? Why didn’t the Brits just ruin the sentiment entirely and have Kirk cry out against those Klingon scoundrels or those Klingon hooligans?

With that in mind, we (not so) proudly present to you three of the oddest moments of editorially dictated minced oaths to be heard on the television (at least among those we could find on YouTube). NOTE: As a PG-13 blog, we’re not about to provide the original profanities here, so the examples below do assume you have some familiarity with the original bits of dialog being replaced from the following movies.

DIE HARD 2 – Yippee-kay-aye… Mr. Falcon? Okay, so the original profanity was a tad gratuitous, but it was a direct reference to the original catchphrase from the first Die Hard flick, so the minced oath here comes across as a little weird, especially considering we have no idea who or what Mr. Falcon is. Now if you dig deep enough, you’ll discover that the TV edit also changes an earlier line of dialog to one in which a no-name soldier quickly refers to one of the main villains as Mr. Falcon, an apparent reference to a codename you can almost hear over a radio if you’re ignoring the rest of the movie and only concentrating on the background noise. Hey, at least they put a little effort into it.

GHOSTBUSTERS – In contrast to Diehard, Ghostbusters just filmed an entire second version of this famous scene for television broadcast. Can’t you just hear the writers now? “Hmm, we need to replace a dirty word for TV. Well, what rhymes with… that word. Hey, we know, how about Wally Wick?” Which, of course, results in people around the world asking, “Wally Wick? Wally Wick? What the…? Oh wait, is that supposed to be a Mickey Mouse reference? Oh come on, couldn’t a blockbuster like Ghostbusters afford to use the real name so we wouldn’t have to miss the rest of the joke while we try and figure out what the heck Aykroyd is talking about?”

SNAKES ON A PLANE – For confusion, though, you can’t beat the edited version of Snakes On A Plane. You know, this movie is kind of like Goodfellas in the sense that you wonder why they even bothered playing it on broadcast television to begin with. I mean, with the exception of his dialog in Star Wars & The Incredibles, profanity seems to stream out of Samuel L. Jackson’s mouth with more regularity than water gushing from Old Faithful, so just about every scene he’s in requires an edit. Still, in this one instance, the use of the "F-dash-dash-dash" word isn’t entirely gratuitous, but is meant to punctuate Jackson’s total frustration with the circumstances and the fact that he isn’t going to take it anymore. So what do they replace his penultimate outburst with? "I have had it with these monkey-fightin’ snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane." WHAT THE FLIP does that even mean? What are monkey-fightin’ snakes? Not that I’ve got anything against monkey-fightin’ snakes, mind you. I’d probably watch a movie about them if they put it on SyFy. But still, are they so common that we’re supposed to get the reference? And don’t even get me started on Monday-to-Friday plane. I’m thinking they just opened up a dictionary and picked the first two words they saw that started with M & F.

Look, it’s hard to come up with interesting and appropriate minced oaths that convey a comparable sentiment to widely-used profanities. Trust me, as a Christian who runs a (arguably) humorous blog that sometimes requires their use, I know. Sometimes I’m successful at pulling it off, sometimes… apparently not. At least that’s what I gather from a comment left on a recent post at Catholic Exchange in which I was criticized for the “foul language” I purportedly utilized in a comic strip (or a fumeti if you have to be precise). This is the Internet, so there’s always the chance the offended commenter was a troll, but I decided to take him at face value and answer his criticisms. Unfortunately, for whatever technical reasons, the responses I left to the commenter regarding his concerns, while still showing up in my blog dashboard, refuse to appear in the combox itself. (I guess I still haven’t mastered Wordpress yet.) While that’s kind of irritating, it’s ultimately fine because it allows me to address the topic in a post, and a blogger never turns down free subject material.

Now, as regards the “foul language”, since the original commenter wasn’t specific, I can only think of two things he could have been referring to. The first was in this panel…

044 14

While possible, I don’t think this was where he found a problem. After all, the use of nonsense symbols like #$%& has been a technique used to avoid profanity since the dawn of cartooning. It basically operates as the visual equivalent of bleeping out an offensive word. And because you don’t see or hear the word, you can pretty much substitute whatever you want to in the symbol’s place. So while I could be wrong, I don’t think that was what caused the complaint. Which pretty much leaves this…

044 13

Ah, I think we have a winner (so to speak). Now, assuming we’ve found the offending word, I apologize in advance to the original commenter, because it’s important we discuss it here for a brief moment. By no definition of which I’m aware is the term douchebag considered a profanity. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the pejorative use of the word as a “North American informal [for] an obnoxious or contemptible person, typically a man.” And it’s important that it’s not considered a profanity because the Church frowns on the use of such words. Rev. William Saunders, Professor of Catechetics and Theology at Christendom College, writes that “profanity itself is wrong, even though such words may not specifically involve the name of God. God gave mankind the gift of language which should be used positively. Language should build good relationships with other individuals, and enable people to share their lives intimately with each other. Sadly, more and more, we hear in normal conversation profanity — especially those four letter words, like s*** and f***. We also hear people speak profanely about good and holy topics; for example, they profane human sexuality or the act of marital love. Such language is not only negative, vulgar, impolite and offensive, but also debases the dignity of each human being. Moreover, this language reveals not only a person’s bad attitude and lack of respect for others, but also his own immaturity and insecurity in dealing with others. In using these words, the person builds barriers rather than bridges with another person.” Given all that, I’d have to say it’s a good thing I avoided profanity and only used symbols in implying it (which even Fr. Saunders seemed comfortable doing in the above quote).

But since I’ve been called out by a fellow Christian (something we’re instructed to do to each other, by the way), I don’t want to get off scot free based solely on a technicality. Besides, the original commenter didn’t actually say I used profanity, just that I used “foul language”. And let’s be honest, profanity or not, the word douchebag does have gynecological origins, so it’s easy to see how that might make it offensive (or “foul” as the case may be) to any number of people. So despite the fact that the dictionary doesn’t indicate the word is vulgar, let’s assume that some folks are going to find it so anyway. That being the case, is there any good reason for a Christian to ever use such a word?

Well, maybe. It might all come down to how you want to interpret Ephesians 4:29 wherein St. Paul writes, “No foul language should come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for needed edification, that it may impart grace to those who hear.” On first glance it would seem that he is condemning all questionable verbiage. But that causes a small problem, because in Phillipians 3:8 St. Paul also exclaims, “More than that, I even consider everything as a loss because of the supreme good of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have accepted the loss of all things and I consider them so much rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” So what, you might ask? Well, in older translations such as the Douay-Rheims, the word sanitized here as ‘rubbish’ is usually rendered as ‘dung’. And even that might be cleaner than the original language the letter was written in wherein Paul utilizes the ancient Greek word σκύβαλον. While many linguists believe the word refers to table scraps or leavings, others have equated it to the word crap, or possibly even the dreaded S-dash-dash-dash word. In short, it’s quite possible that St. Paul is saying that anything worldly that gets in the way of our relationship with Christ is nothing but a bunch of bull#$%&. Which is true, but also foul no matter what way you try to look at it.

So if the fouler translation turns out to be the correct one (and we may never know for sure), is St. Paul being a hypocrite, telling us to speak one way while indulging in its opposite himself? Well, not if you take “…but only such as is good for needed edification” as meaning there could be some infrequent exceptions where the careful and deliberate use of an offensive word might actually help hammer home a spiritual point better than a more delicate wording would. You know, sort of like in the movies where an expletive like Rhett Butler’s “Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn.” communicates his feelings much more clear and forceful than if he had said “Frankly, my dear, I’m not interested in pursuing this relationship anymore and am basically ambivalent as to what decision you make regarding your future.” At least, I sure hope that’s how it works because that was certainly what I was going for in using the word douchebag in the above mentioned comic, and it’s why I feel comfortable using certain words when I think they best serve the purpose of the post.

However, let’s all keep in mind that I’m not ordained, not a credentialed biblical scholar, and I’m certainly not working under a charism of infallibility, so it’s quite possible my reasoning above is full of… σκύβαλον. Good Christians are always open to correction, so I’d really love to hear everyone’s take on the matter.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

My only thought about douchebag--a term I don't use myself--was, "Gee, I haven't watched South Park in a long time. Too bad it's on so late." One man's vivid expression is another's vulgarity, I suppose. But it's hard to see this would be an occasion of sin for anybody. Like I tell my kids, "just 'cause you don't get what you want, doesn't mean an injustice has happened." And thank God that in the Catholic Tradition, subjective response isn't the measure of objective things.

Xena Catolica

EegahInc said...

Thanks. I know it seems like a small thing to devote an entire post to, but what I didn't mention in the article is that the offended commenter was a priest (one who actually made a little news in the blogosphere not too long ago for banning altar girls), so I wanted to make sure I gave his criticisms their due consideration.

And I haven't watched South Park in a long time myself. I was shocked to read they're about to start their 16th season. I'm getting old.

Joseph R. said...

Am I the only one who saw the Greek "skubalon" and thought of Scooby Doo? I wish I could get that thought out of my head (not that I'm blaming you). Sorry if it gets stuck in your head!

EegahInc said...

Well, a Doo by any other name...

Oh come on, I couldn't resist.

Enbrethiliel said...

+JMJ+

This reminds me of the time I quoted someone else's use of the F-word, using three asterisks instead of three "dashes." It was in a Catholic combox, and someone commented after me: "It sure is strange to see 'JMJ' and 'f***ing' in the same comment." I actually agree with the sentiment . . . but I'm not sure if it was meant as a rebuke! =P

By the way, the Philippine Eagle's official name used to be Monkey-eating Eagle. I couldn't help but remember that when you brought up the "monkey-fightin' snakes." (I personally think "mongoose-fightin' snakes" would have been better, but I see that it also would have been a harder dub.)

EegahInc said...

As a fan of big eighties hair, I love the Philippine Eagle.

Cari said...

I can't believe I missed the douchebag post!

I think there's a difference between obscenities and vulgarities, even though people use the words interchangeably. Vulgar means "lacking sophistication or good taste; unrefined", while obscene means "abhorrent to morality or virtue".

The f-word is clearly obscene, since it degrades human sexuality. The s-word is vulgar since it, like a douchebag, is not an immoral or unvirtuous thing/activity.

However, usage comes in to play here. If I said that something "smelled like s***", this would be a vulgar usage of a vulgar word. However, if I called someone a "s***head", it would now be an obscene use of a vulgar word, since calling someone that would be in violation of the dignity they possess by virtue of being made in the image and likeness of God.

So I guess in your case, calling someone a "Fascist douchebag" would be like calling someone a "s***head"- an obscene use of a vulgar term.

But still, the comment in question was a douchey one.

EegahInc said...

Okay, that's fair.

Now, another question (for another post sometime, I guess)is what is acceotable from a storytelling perspective. I didn't bring it up in the post because I didn't want it to sound like I was looking for an excuse, but if you read the original cartoon, it is the character with the non-Christian perspective who uses the implied profanity and the vulgar word. That was on purpose. Is it acceptable to use such words when telling a story?

Cari said...

Yeah, I thought about that dimension the other day, but figured I'd probably written enough about the word "douchebag" that any further discussion of it would mark me as creepy and unstable.

Yes, blog that question- I'm interested in seeing other people's responses.