Martha Thomases Is Talking Dirty
And not just pay cable where not only has this been going on for decades, but it’s often a selling point. Need proof? Watch the reruns of The Sopranos on A&E, where they bleep so much that it sounds like having the hiccups is a requirement for being in the Mafia.
I don’t know when things changed. So many people in my daily life say “shit” and “ass” (and lots of other things) on a regular basis that I don’t really notice. This is how people talk in 2012. It’s how people have talked for the last 50 years, maybe longer (my memory is limited to my lifetime).
Still, when Ellen Burstyn said “Shit” on Political Animals. I had to pay attention. I think it’s in her contract that she has to say “shit” at least five times per episode.
Next up, I noticed they say “shit” on Suits, a show I started to watch because Gabriel Macht struggled so nobly in Frank Miller’s The Spirit that I rooted for him. I don’t think anyone says “shit” in Don Quixote, but if someone did, he would sound like Macht.
I didn’t notice if they said “shit” on Common Law, but they do say “ass.” I wonder if there are rules on the USA Network that you can say one word formerly deleted on basic cable, but not all of them.
All of these shows (except Louie) are on in prime time. Louie is on at 11. So is the Daily Show with Jon Stewart, but they are still bleeping “shit” and “ass” on that show. I don’t know why there is a difference.
It’s also possible that, on scripted shows, the writers insist that “shit” and “ass” are necessary for the artistic integrity of their work. I’d agree that it’s hard to imagine back-room politics, high-powered law firms, or Los Angeles police departments where such language isn’t used. And the life of a stand-up comedian is an f-bomb waiting to happen.
Comics are still following the old rules. If a writer wants to say “fuck,” there will be a “Mature Readers” warning on the cover. When I was publicity manager at DC, part of my job was to answer the letters from parents outraged that a bad guy in a Superman comic said, “damn.” I think I told that parent that it was a way to demonstrate the person was a bad guy.
I didn’t lecture the parent about how, if I was trying to protect my impressionable child against bad influences, I might be more upset that a character in Superman had a gun and shot at people. I might have started a discussion about Bruno Bettelheim and The Uses of Enchantment. I might have said that the word “damn” is in the Bible. Instead, I commended that mother for being so involved as a parent.
I was really good at my job.
The language on these shows is realistic, within the boundaries of the form. In real life, we use profanity, but we also talk aimlessly about the weather, politics, sports, and what we’re going to eat for lunch, none of which is normally found in television dialogue. Many brilliant scripts have been written without cussin’ (see Casablanca for example), but, for the most part, I think writers should have as many tools at their disposal as possible to show character.
I can’t recall any discussion about this in the media, certainly no outrage. Perhaps these shows are so focused on their target demographics that those who fall outside that range don’t even know this is happening.
Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
SATURDAY: Marc Alan Fishman