Hollywood Uplink – March 2009: Cussing, Cursing, Swearing, and Other Vulgarities

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March 2009

Issue: 18:03

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Cussing, Cursing, Swearing, and Other Vulgarities
by Dick Rolfe, CEO – The Dove Foundation®

Dick Rolfe, CEO - The Dove FoundationIn his book, Vulgarians at the Gate, entertainment legend, the late Steve Allen compares vulgar language to smoking. “The hideous stench of smoking befouls the air of every social gathering from eating establishments to airlines,” he declared. Then, Mr. Allen goes on to propose that we borrow the strategy that successfully diminished the popularity of smoking, and use it to attack the onslaught of other vulgarities. In other words, in the same manner that smoking has been deemed socially unacceptable, it might be possible to sway the cultural mainstream into declaring that foul language is objectionable. One small step toward a return to civility — what a concept!

In recent years, society has become obsessed with the harmful effects of second-hand smoke while in complete denial over the destructive nature of coarse language. The F-bomb has become the new “heck” in our lexicon. What was once considered profane is now termed a mere expletive. Today, the names of God and Jesus are rarely uttered as respectful references to deities, but more frequently used to punctuate rebellious trash talk. It can be argued that this shift has contributed to a growing disrespect for God and the church. According to Proverbs 18:21, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

You may have noticed that profanity is showing up more frequently in PG movies. That is because the degradation of social morays is part of the fabric of the Motion Picture ratings system.  According to Joan Graves, Chairman of the Classification and Rating Administration of the MPAA, “The [ratings] system is designed to adapt to social change.  She goes on to admit that, “Language is rated much less harshly than it once was because there is so much language in our culture.” Ms. Graves’ comments reinforce the tired old Hollywood axiom that, “Movies reflect social behavior, they don’t influence it.”

During 2008, Dove could not award its Family Approved Seal to 16 movies due solely to language. Most of these films told engaging stories with redeeming values in every other respect.

The Secret Life of Bees” (PG-13) was a classic example of a “too bad” review. The language category in our review rated a “5” for the most egregious use of profanity; whereas the other content we monitor such as sex, violence, drug/alcohol use, nudity, etc. would have made the movie acceptable for family audiences over age 12. When “The Secret Life of Bees” shows up on network television or on an airline, I am certain anyone watching will not miss the four letter words that have been removed to comply with the stricter standards.

“The Express” (PG) is a well crafted movie based on the life of football hero Ernie Davis, the first African-American Heisman trophy winner. The movie content was well within Dove’s acceptable ratings, except for the repeated use of one particular profane expression.

Tyler Perry, an entertainer and professing Christian, has written, directed and starred in a string of popular comedies featuring characters that pray and revere God. These movies however are laced with salty language and unsavory behavior that kills the “family” tone of his stories. In his most recent comedy, “Madea Goes to Jail,” Madea’s hair is not the only thing “blue.” Typical of Perry, he has assaulted the audience with plenty of foul language and vulgar humor in this “family unfriendly” movie. (Bill Cosby must cringe.)

Now, for the “rest of the story…” As though taking a page from Steve Allen’s strategy, a hero among us has launched a national movement that is helping to make swearing socially unacceptable. What’s more remarkable than the cause itself is its founder, a teenage boy from Southern California.

McKay Hatch, at the ripe old age of 14 founded the No Cussing Club. He also authored a book by the same name. McKay encourages fellow teens not to swear. The idea germinated in seventh grade when McKay noticed his friends beginning to use profane language. He formed the No Cussing Club and invited others to join. Within a year, the entire city of South Pasadena got on the bandwagon and declared the first week of March as No Cussing Week. Nearly 30,000 people have formed No Cussing Clubs in all 50 states and several foreign countries. Today, the No Cussing Club has a website, T-shirts, and a hip hop theme song on YouTube. McKay has appeared on Dr. Phil, The Early Show, Good Morning America and on many other news shows.

Recently, McKay faced his biggest challenge of all — Hollywood. On Tuesday March 3rd, the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors issued a proclamation by Supervisor Michael Antonovich making the first week in March No Cussing Week. The motion carried without penalties for using foul language, “but it’s a good reminder for all of us, not just young people but everybody, to be respectful to one another and watch the words we use,” said spokesman Tony Bell.

“Next year I want to try to get California to have a cuss-free week. And then, who knows, maybe worldwide,” said McKay, now in 10th grade.  “It’s not about forcing anyone to stop, just to bring awareness,” he says of the movement. “If you can do a week without cussing, maybe you can do two weeks, and then maybe a month.”

(See Dove’s interview with McKay Hatch.)

Great movements like McKay Hatch’s grow from small seeds of passion planted in the imagination of one person and fertilized by masses of like-minded people. We can only pray that McKay’s message reaches those in the top echelons of the entertainment industry. Such a movement might encourage a filmmaker to exercise his or her God-given creativity to entertain/provoke/educate/inspire/challenge an audience without resorting to the use of obscenities that often drown out the message.  

Note to film makers: In honor of the memory of recently deceased screenwriter and Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Horton Foote, (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Tender Mercies,” “The Young Man From Atlanta”) good creative storytelling can be accomplished without offending your intended audience. Inserting obscene language in a classic film has same effect as scratching one’s nails on a chalkboard while someone else inscribes The Gettysburg Address.

Note to movie-goers: Your votes (purchases of movie tickets or DVDs) are your most effective responses to the kinds of movies produced for your enjoyment. Make each vote count. Always remember; one of the blessings of capitalism is that the consumer rules!


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