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Using the F-word in PG-13/12A movies
March 24, 2013 8:05 PM   Subscribe


 
I would like to see more (bleeped) swearing in PG-rated movies and TV, because it would allow for more naturalistic dialogue. Something like "Lost" would be improved if the characters could discuss how fucking ridiculous their situation was.
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 8:16 PM on March 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


"G*****n it Jack, there is no f*****g way you can make me go back to that s***box island."
posted by brain_drain at 8:20 PM on March 24, 2013 [19 favorites]


If it makes scripted shows sound like reality shows on MTV... I'll pass.

The trend I've noticed is when shows use swearing when they know it's gonna get bleeped anyway (Daily Show comes to mind). I guess it's supposed to be edgy and self-aware, but it's just distracting.
posted by TheSecretDecoderRing at 8:22 PM on March 24, 2013


I liked how-- as mentioned in the article-- Scott Pilgrim Vs The World handled it by a black box over the character's mouth, since that tied in with the overall theme of the movie and let the character express herself in a "normal" fashion.

Otherwise, bleeping tends to throw me out of the dialogue. You-- I, actually-- don't necessarily curse all the time. The line between PG-13 and R ratings would seem to be defined by that distinction.
posted by RainyJay at 8:24 PM on March 24, 2013


My favorite's from Catch Me If You Can. (F-bomb, obviously)
posted by brentajones at 8:25 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


As long as both legs of the letter "K" touch the ground.
posted by telstar at 8:35 PM on March 24, 2013 [9 favorites]


Then there's the Jimmy Kimmel method of unnecessary censorship, which I love because it's all in your own head.
posted by smcameron at 8:38 PM on March 24, 2013 [8 favorites]


Yeah, obviously it can be overused, but I have to say it takes me out of the movie when a character has their leg blown off or something and responds with the equivalent of "OH FIDDLESTICKS!".

Although perhaps that contrast says more about the level of violence that is allowed in PG-13 films than it does about the language that isn't.
posted by jcreigh at 8:52 PM on March 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


Do you know that unless you're willing to use the R rating, you can only say the 'F' word once? You know what I say? Fuck that.
posted by ODiV at 8:54 PM on March 24, 2013


(Which, of course, is the first line of the linked article.)
posted by ODiV at 8:58 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


[bleep], my dear, I don't give a [bleep].
posted by yoink at 9:04 PM on March 24, 2013


My favourite use of the f-word was on network television:
"-cking $6300 suit. COME ON!"

[later, in a flashback]

"No Al, I want to spill booze all over my fu-"
posted by Sys Rq at 9:23 PM on March 24, 2013 [12 favorites]


I still think it's weird that we pretend 13-year olds don't know those words.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:25 PM on March 24, 2013 [39 favorites]


Ron Burgundy's is my favorite.
posted by zippy at 9:27 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


A good example of how our brains fill in a Bleep is this classic censored Count SLYT.

The whole ratings system is screwed up with such a low bar for sexuality and a relatively high bar for violence to get a PG-13 rating.
posted by Mitheral at 9:45 PM on March 24, 2013 [11 favorites]


Several years ago, I was surprised to see the movie "Planes, Trains and Automobiles" saddled with an R rating. Huh? I tried to recall why such an innocuous film by John Hughes would warrant an R and not PG, when oh yeah, I remembered that Steve Martin's character, livid at the ditzy car rental lady, said the word fucking about twenty times in a minute or so. Still, it was totally hilarious and not at all creepy, gross, or lurid. The scene was clearly demonstrating a man, at the end of his rope, losing his mind. "Crappy" or "goll-dang" wouldn't have had the same humor. Silly to make it restricted to kids under 17.
posted by but no cigar at 10:11 PM on March 24, 2013 [2 favorites]


Didn't see it mentioned in the (really rather long) article, but an additional caveat on the "single f-bomb" is that it only be used non-sexually.

So "they fucked on the first date" is out, but "this is a pretty fuckin' good milkshake" is OK.

And although Samuel L. is indeed a terrific deployer of f-bombs, my money is still in Harvey Keitel for precision impact, vs. Jackson's carpet bombing.
posted by ShutterBun at 10:46 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


ShutterBun - I've heard that a lot (and work kind of in the industry) but I don't think it's always true. My Best Friend's Wedding, for instance, used it's F-bomb sexually while keeping it's PG-13 ("he just came by to... fuck me!")
posted by Navelgazer at 10:52 PM on March 24, 2013


The idea that bad language is a thing is one of our sillier social constructions.

Or maybe society is just silly all the way down.
posted by b1tr0t at 11:15 PM on March 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


As far as I've always understood it, the MPAA still makes judgement calls -- it isn't some sort of formulaic ruleset.

Yippee-ki-yay, Mr. Falcon!
posted by dhartung at 11:32 PM on March 24, 2013


("he just came by to... fuck me!")

The official policy does indeed stipulate "one non-sexual use." But yes, judgement calls can be made.

In the case of your example (though I haven't seen the movie) I'd guess that the secret is in the ellipses. With a long enough pause, the phrase "fuck me!" becomes an expression of desperation ("Fuck me, I am in trouble!") as opposed to part of a prepositional phrase. Obviously, such a loophole would be taken advantage of with a clear fouble entendre in mind, and chances are the MPAA would have specified a minimum amount of pause between phrases in order to secure the rating. (This happened in reverse on the first Austin Powers movie, when they insisted the pause between "pussy" and "cat" be shortened.)
posted by ShutterBun at 12:47 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


"Don't you know, I would never say the word fuck. I would never fucking ever fucking say that! Ever! ...Fuck!"
posted by Solon and Thanks at 12:57 AM on March 25, 2013


The worst, of course, is Star Wars. R2D2 has such a filthy mouth they have to bleep out every single word he says.
posted by straight at 1:52 AM on March 25, 2013 [21 favorites]


The idea that bad language is a thing is one of our sillier social constructions.

Ask any member of a minority group whether or not language or word choice makes a profound difference.

People don't swear to be polite, or indifferent. To paraphrase George Patton, "when you want your words to stick, give it to em double dirty."

What irks me about swearing is when it's thrown around ultra casually, to the point that the words lose any inherent impact.
posted by ShutterBun at 1:55 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


The biggest problem, which I'm surprised wasn't mentioned, is that this also applies to documentaries. So a film like Bully, which would be really helpful for high school kids to see (and the language is there because it's a sign of how disturbing some kids' harrassment of other kids can be), was taken off the table because the MPAA wouldn't differentiate between uses of the word. In that case, enough people petitioned and the rating was changed under pressure. But it's not a given.

I think if the rating was applied intelligently, it wouldn't feel so arbitrary and pointless. But I don't mind having a language barrier when it comes to rating films -- I just would like to see a grown-up rather than a bean counter making those decisions
posted by Mchelly at 4:41 AM on March 25, 2013


R2D2 would feel right at home on a show like Hardcore Pawn, but he showed up on the tamer Pawn Stars, and said nothing at all.
posted by Kirth Gerson at 4:45 AM on March 25, 2013


Slightly related: Yesterday I saw a very short video (maybe 30 seconds or so?) on, I think, the BBC site, of a couple of Australian guys in a car nearly being swept into a tornado, and they bleeped all the cursing... which, well... Australian guys – so the audio was basically BLEEP! Look at the BLEEPING BLEEP! BLEEEEP! WE NEED TO BLEEPING BLEEP the BLEEP.

Which was bleeping irritating. I think they just should have put "(Note: strong language)" after the video description and let it be.
posted by taz at 5:06 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


A good example of how our brains fill in a Bleep is this classic censored Count SLYT.

That is a little bit cheating, because I'm pretty sure the overdubbed bleep has a short F-sound at the start.
posted by ymgve at 5:22 AM on March 25, 2013




> The whole ratings system is screwed up with such a low bar for sexuality and a relatively high bar for violence to get a PG-13 rating.

These discussions always bring to mind an old Herman cartoon where two kids are watching TV and one says to the other "I can watch all the violence I want as long as everyone keeps their clothes on."
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:26 AM on March 25, 2013


Fun fact: the cussing Ned Beatty does in Hopscotch is the only thing that net it an R rating; it otherwise would have been G.

Which, in a spy movie, even a funny one, would have doomed it at the box office.
posted by seanmpuckett at 5:29 AM on March 25, 2013


Arrested development managed to get an uncensored 'fucking' on the air by splitting it into two scenes.
posted by empath at 5:53 AM on March 25, 2013


Super-8 (which I loved, but certainly has its detractors) does this. I think there is probably enough peril and drug use to get a PG-13 anyway, so they probably figured "why not spend our one f-bomb?" They deploy it very well, at an otherwise fraught moment and it gets big laughs and relieves some tension.

Of course I can't find a clip.
posted by dirtdirt at 6:55 AM on March 25, 2013




You monkey haters!
I agree it takes me out of the movie when characters don't react realistically. There was a scene in HBO's John Adams where Mrs. Adams walks up a hill and sees there's a big battle going on. She says nothing. Didn't seem realistic to me. She was all alone and couldn't manage any sort of curse word? I don't buy it.
posted by bleep at 7:35 AM on March 25, 2013


Tootsie has the word "fuck" used twice (both times by Dustin Hoffman) and it managed a PG rating, although I believe it was originally rated R and the rating was reduced on appeal.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 7:51 AM on March 25, 2013


How many utterances of Belgium are allowed?
posted by ocschwar at 7:52 AM on March 25, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's strange how the whole idea behind keeping profanity off TV is for supposedly 'sensitive' viewers like children or grandma or whomever, yet right after 9/11 when everyone was REAL sensitive, they pretty much admitted "yeah, this isn't something you can really talk about without cursing".
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:11 AM on March 25, 2013


I still think it's weird that we pretend 13-year olds don't know those words.

It's not that our kids have never heard the words. It's that there's a very different, often unpleasant, tone to movies with pervasive swearing. Some kids are find that kind of thing very disturbing. If you're going to have a rating system, you have to draw a line somewhere.

You can take your kids to an R-rated movie if you know that they won't be bothered by the swearing (or the violence, or the nudity, or whatever earned the R-rating). But surely there's a level of unpleasant language where it makes sense for the movie theaters to say, "Hey, we're not sure if this is appropriate for kids. Ask your parents."
posted by straight at 9:15 AM on March 25, 2013


Semprini?
posted by disconnect at 9:19 AM on March 25, 2013


It's interesting to see how some people have used "fuck" in their comments (thereby giving this thread an R rating) while others demurely refer to "the f-word".

On a related note, the discussion of how moviemakers try to disguise their use of the f-word reminds me of how the janitorial staff at my elementary school would alter any "fuck you" grafitti that they couldn't remove to become "BOok you". Surely they realize that even if you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out even half the "Fuck you" signs in the world. It's impossible.
posted by TedW at 9:50 AM on March 25, 2013


I like to refer to it as 'the fuck-word.'
posted by shakespeherian at 10:04 AM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


It's that there's a very different, often unpleasant, tone to movies with pervasive swearing.

Is it the swearing itself that causes unpleasant tones, or is it that the rating system causes cursing to be only in movies with unpleasant tones?
posted by jmd82 at 10:14 AM on March 25, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is what happens when you fight a stranger in the alps.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:23 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


It's important to note, whenever something like this comes up, that there are no actual "rules" established by or followed consistently by the MPAA and there never have been. The MPAA refuses to ever write such things down or make them official, instead preferring to always issue recommendations (which might include guidelines like this) to studios and filmmakers. This frees them from all accountability, and allows them to continue to capriciously and at whim use their own fuzzy logic to shut down anything they deem undesirable. Most MPAA ratings ultimately have to do with politics, both of nation and of business, and the personal preferences of a very small group of powerful entertainment moguls and religious leaders who are pampered in secrecy and absolute authority.

It's not that discussion of this issue isn't relevant, it is. Just don't be fooled into thinking there's even some hard and fast set of rules a filmmaker can try and game. There isn't. They can always just rate you however they like, in the end, just because they want to...and you just might have no feedback from them at all (and no opportunity whatsoever to appeal if they're not in the mood).
posted by trackofalljades at 10:40 AM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


jmd82, I think it's the people who use profanity abusively who give it unpleasant associations in other contexts.

1. If you're ten years old, most of the kids at school who swear are unpleasant about it and using that language abusively (as opposed to kids swearing causally, in good humor, without malice, the way a lot of adults do).

2. I love listening to good-natured, good-humored use of profanity, but even then... There's a very funny, intelligent, witty podcast I listen to that also uses a lot of profanity, usually in amusing ways. One of the guys would often talk about getting "raped" by a difficult video game, and he used that word in a way that was kind of ironic and usually funny. But I started getting sensitized to how much that usage of the term bothers some people and stopped enjoying it. Fortunately, I think he came to the same realization, because I haven't heard him use that language for at least a year now. I think for some people, profanity can be upsetting in a similar sort of way.

You might argue that the solution to this kind of thing is more widespread use of profanity in positive ways, to kind of water down their ability to shock and rob them of their power to be abusive. I think of the scene from In the Loop (or maybe the TV series The Thick of It) in which Peter Capaldi's character berates a woman with an epic, hostile torrent of profanity and she just rolls her eyes and says, "Please. I've heard worse from 8th grade boys on the tube."

But I think as some words lose their potency (like the way "damn" has in my lifetime), people just find other words to hurt people. So I don't think domesticating "fuck" would really handicap the bullies in the long run, and would probably just make innocent use of that word less fun. And I'm not sure you could (or would want to) domesticate a word like "rape."
posted by straight at 10:56 AM on March 25, 2013


I remember watching them in rather quick succession when they came out, and thinking that at their core, The Dark Knight was a R movie, and Step Brothers was a PG-13 movie. They just both got tweaked such that The Dark Knight ended up with PG-13 and Step Brothers got R.
posted by ckape at 11:31 AM on March 25, 2013


I hate censor bleeps for... many reasons but mostly because they are unnecessarily loud and distracting and do nothing to hide what is being censored, and I shake my head at non-premium TV stations that choose to show profanity-laden action movies during the day (all that work to strip out the swearing is like trying to strip the meat out of meat sauce).

BUT

I must say that the Late Late Show deserves awesome points for its creative use of the censor bleep. Yes, you have your normal BEEP, but you also get the little country flags with a cute one-liner. First it was the French flag with Craig Ferguson's voice saying "Ooh La La" and then later on other (European) country flags were rotated in. "Tootsie-fruits," "Wassacominago," "Uh-oh" and so on.

Ooh La La will always be my favorite. XD
posted by Yoshi Ayarane at 11:39 AM on March 25, 2013 [4 favorites]


Now lets get milk-faced and hum like rabbits!
posted by elr at 11:47 AM on March 25, 2013 [2 favorites]


In several instances, the article seems to imply that movies added an F-word specifically to put themselves into PG-13 territory. Is that really something that happens? I think Napoleon Dynamite proved that it's possible to make a PG movie that's entertaining to adults (with the added benefit that they'll bring their kids to it).
posted by roll truck roll at 12:57 PM on March 25, 2013


It's been a while since I've seen it cited but I believe that data indicates that PG-13 movies are the most financially lucrative.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:08 PM on March 25, 2013


Movie studios often exploit the connotations of a rating as part of their marketing strategy.

There are plenty of movies that prove that the popular connotations to having a PG-13 rating are not inherent to it, but that isn't enough to erase those connotations from the public's mind.
posted by RobotHero at 2:00 PM on March 25, 2013


b1tr0t: The idea that bad language is a thing is one of our sillier social constructions.
ShutterBun: Ask any member of a minority group whether or not language or word choice makes a profound difference.
b1tr0t didn't suggest that word choice was irrelevant; they said they thought the concept of "bad language" silly. I agree. It's arbitrary, and pointlessly judgmental. The important part of "OH FUCK LOOK OUT!!!!" is not, and never will be, that the person shouting at you is socially inept. My mother would disagree. She's an idiot.
What irks me about swearing is when it's thrown around ultra casually, to the point that the words lose any inherent impact.
As the same can be said about "Bless your heart!", "..., like, ...", and just about any other phrase, really... yeah, but that's weak sauce. Too much is too much. And, again, arbitrary.
posted by IAmBroom at 2:46 PM on March 25, 2013


b1tr0t: The idea that bad language is a thing is one of our sillier social constructions.

ShutterBun: Ask any member of a minority group whether or not language or word choice makes a profound difference.
b1tr0t didn't suggest that word choice was irrelevant; they said they thought the concept of "bad language" silly. I agree. It's arbitrary, and pointlessly judgmental. The important part of "OH FUCK LOOK OUT!!!!" is not, and never will be, that the person shouting at you is socially inept. My mother would disagree. She's an idiot.

Addressing the minority issue directly - the issue there is typically othering. Sure, specific words are used for othering, but eliminating those words does not eliminate othering. Alternative words and phrases are quickly found to fulfill the same hurtful function.

It seems to me that our obsession with "bad" words that typically describe bodily functions is an echo of Victorian othering. A rejection of the physical body combined with a simultaneous classification of and rejection of people who would use such "vulgar" language. Of course, the idea that "vulgar" language is somehow inferior is both intellectual snobbery and hilarious since none of us are speaking writing Latin.

Intended and conveyed meaning are what are actually important. The words themselves are symbols that merely carry this meaning. Words are highly mutable symbols.
posted by b1tr0t at 5:28 PM on March 25, 2013


Kevin Smith has a rant or three about the 'rules' the MPAA has about ratings. Basically they say 'it's gonna be an NC-17 unless' but they don't say what or how much needs cut because well that'd be censorship.
posted by 922257033c4a0f3cecdbd819a46d626999d1af4a at 5:33 PM on March 25, 2013


It's important to note, whenever something like this comes up, that there are no actual "rules" established by or followed consistently by the MPAA and there never have been. The MPAA refuses to ever write such things down or make them official, instead preferring to always issue recommendations

Kinda depends on how you differentiate between "rules" and "guidelines which are almost always enforced, but which have on occasion been overruled."

As far as never putting it in writing, they have:

“A motion picture’s single use of one of the harsher sexually-derived words, though only as an expletive, initially requires at least a PG-13 rating. More than one such expletive requires an R rating, as must even one of those words used in a sexual context.” [source: mpaa.org]

So yes, for all intents and purposes, it is a rule, and it is in writing. But it can be appealed and overturned by a 2/3rds majority vote, based on other considerations. (I.e. "Bully)
posted by ShutterBun at 2:14 AM on March 26, 2013


In several instances, the article seems to imply that movies added an F-word specifically to put themselves into PG-13 territory. Is that really something that happens? I think Napoleon Dynamite proved that it's possible to make a PG movie that's entertaining to adults

And Napoleon Dynamite is the template that major movie studios are following when they make their big-budget summer tentpole movies?
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 10:31 AM on March 26, 2013


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