I will be using a word generally considered offensive a little later in this blog entry, so it's only prudent to tell you now. It is not an uncommon word, and I imagine every single one of my readers if quite familiar with it but nevertheless it's one of the new words that still possesses the power to offend.
The word, which you may have guessed, is fucking. It inspired an interesting question in my mail.
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François Caron of Montréal, Québec wrote me:
"It's not a working title either. That's the actual movie title! It's even listed as such on IMDB! So, any plans to review it? And if so, how will you approach the delicate subject of mentioning the title in your column?
"There's an interesting situation with the movie; it received government funding just like every other major Canadian production. However, the Conservative government has a bill in the works, Bill C-10, which would allow the Heritage and Justice Departments to retroactively withdraw funding from any movie declared offensive or not in the public interest, even after Telefilm Canada or the Canadian Television Fund have already approved funding for the 'offensive' project. Then comes 'Young People Fucking.' Talk about stirring up a hornet's nest!"
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Well, to begin with, I was unable to find a listing for either "...Fucking" or "Fucking" on the IMDb, although there is an entry for "Young People's Fucking" (2007, "a smart and fast-paced comedy that intertwines the stories of five couples over the course of one sexual encounter"). It played the Toronto Film Festival, received a friendly review from the National Post, cost $1.5 million Canadian, is X-rated, played the 2008 Seattle Film Festival, and is now on DVD, not having opened theatrically.
The National Post just went ahead and printed the title. I do not believe the Chicago Sun-Times, or the majority of American newspapers, would. I wouldn't want to myself, although I have just printed it in this blog, with an advance warning.
Why not? I have used the word many, many times. I have heard it countless more times. On occasion it is employed simply as punctuation, and some people seem scarcely aware they have used it.
On the other hand, I was standing in a truck stop in Harbert, Michigan a few years ago, and one truck driver unleashed such a stream of fuckings to another that I quietly asked him, "Do you think that's an appropriate way to speak in a public place?"
How did he react? He gaped at me as if the thought had never occurred to him.
I think I uttered my first fucking in the late 1950s, on the late shift at The News-Gazette sports desk. I felt a slight frisson. It was a special word. It had power. About that time I was reading Mailer's The Naked and the Dead, in which not even the great bold man himself could muster up more than fugging. In the 1960s, of course, the word entered into common currency.
But it is not such a nice word. It is an ugly word when applied to the act of making love, and a cheap word when used in other ways. I think it can carry a connotation of rape. Yes, women use it all the time, but are they not a little like Gidget, the female dog in SATC, who masturbates in male doggy style? Isn't a woman who says fucking saying something sad about herself? For that matter, now I think about it, isn't a man?
To be sure, I have campaigned against the automatic "R" rating for any movie containing the word, because many movies do contain it, and some of them are ideal for those under 17, all of whom know the word. I understand it floats in common currency. I am not shocked.
But I feel today a general decrease in public civility. To watch a sports broadcast is to see countless naked beer bellies painted with team colors. To walk down the street is to traverse the dictionary of nasty words. People create a space around themselves by verbal hostility.
I had a look the other day at the amazing job they did of transforming Lincoln Avenue into the way it looked when John Dillinger walked out of the Biograph Theater and was shot dead. It's for Johnny Depp's new film. They found old signs to hang over the street: "Kelvinator," a big Bulova watch, "Amana." And in seeing the 1930s street I imagined the people who would have been walking along it, none of them saying fuck and just as happy not to.
Would I review the film? If it was reviewable, yes. Would the paper print the title? No. That's okay with me.