The Profanity Problem: Swearing in Movies
Almost every movie nowadays has at least one swear word in it. It’s not a huge issue, but how often does profanity need to be used and how often is it really just a filler for better dialogue?
Think back to the last movie you watched. Did it swear? If it did, was there a point? Did it make the punchline of a joke better? Did it establish a character trait? Was it historically acceptable? Was it integral to the plot at all? If you answered no to all of these questions, you may be in the same group I’m in: Hollywood really needs to cut back on the swearing.
Art Imitates Life
Maybe we can’t blame this all on Hollywood. A lot of it has to do with how people really talk. Cursing is a normal part of dialogue for many people. It’s common for a group of friends to drop the f-bomb more than once in conversation. Swearing while giving a compliment tends to give that praise more weight. Adding in some profanity to an argument or insult adds more power to your words.
Hollywood is only trying to mirror that aspect of humanity. A good example of this is in the blockbuster Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015). Throughout the movie, Iron Man makes fun of Captain America for chiding people for their language. However, near the end of the film, the Captain blurts a curse word in frustration, which gives Iron Man more ammo to tease him.
It’s reminiscent of kids on a playground making fun of the kid who won’t swear and then laughing when that kid finally gets so mad he curses out his buddies.
But do we really want Hollywood to show off this less classy aspect of us? Some would say yes, it’s good to portray all parts of society–even the less savory ones. However, others (like me) say there’s a point when even reality becomes too real.
If you look at the Wikipedia list for the movies with the most f-bombs in them, you’ll notice that there isn’t a movie before 1978 on the list, and you have to go 32 movies down the list before you find one made before 1990. Profanity in movies has been on the rise since the 1980s, and it seems to show no signs of slowing down. In fact, the Guinness World Record holder for most uses of “f–k” in a film goes to Canadian comedy Swearnet: The Movie, made in 2014, with 935 uses of the word.
This should be concerning for you, not for moral reasons, but for dialogue reasons. Look at The Wolf of Wall Street (2013), a successful American movie with 569 f-bombs; this comes out to about 3.16 uses of the word a minute. If a movie dedicates that much time to profanity, how much time is it dedicating to true dialogue? How much time was given to truly moving the plot forward with the words they use? Was the profanity necessary, or just filler because the writers couldn’t think of a better word?
Alienating a Large Audience
When movies decide to include profanity in the script, they take the risk of losing a big audience. When Logan (2017) received an R rating (mostly for profanity) rather than PG-13, many young fans of Wolverine could not see the movie, and it did not gross as much as it could have (though it grossed a fair amount).
When Deadpool (2016) opted for the R rating rather than toning it down for PG-13, it lost a large group of young followers. Though this movie included other questionable content and was always destined to be R rated, it still excluded young comic book readers not yet 17 (though, it, too, grossed a fair amount).
When movies choose to use profanity, they take the gamble of excluding sections of an audience that would have otherwise viewed the movie; this is especially true of comedies. Sometimes this pays off, as with the two movies mentioned above. However, sometimes it bombs, such as the case with Baywatch (2017) and Snatched (2017).
Morally Gray Area
A lot of people think swearing is bad. A lot of people don’t think swearing is bad at all. Regardless of your stance, you have to understand that this is a divisive issue.
Studies have been done saying that people who curse are more likely to be honest than those that don’t, as an Independent article claimed earlier this year. However, The Guardian published an article in 2011 claiming that swearing can actually trigger a physical stress response. So, what’s the truth?
It’s hard to know. There’s just so much debate and conflicting scientific evidence surrounding it. In the end, it’s really up to you and how you perceive swearing. Maybe you think swearing said in stress is fine, like when someone swears in the heat of battle. Maybe you think it’s always wrong. Maybe you think swearing isn’t bad at all. No matter what, it’s up to you for what you watch and say.
I’m no saint–I swear, too (though I try not to). I don’t usually shy away from movies with profanity, even if I find that profanity reprehensible. I’ve just noticed a trend of increasing foul language in movies today.
However, this does not have to be a bad thing. I’m sure 50 years ago columnists were making some of the same arguments I am and lamenting how Hollywood is going downhill.
Maybe it’s a good thing that Hollywood is including more profanity. Maybe it’s time they start reflecting how people really talk instead of giving characters flat dialogue devoid of personality.
In the end, it’s all up to the viewer. We choose what we want to see, Hollywood takes note, and they make more of what we like to see. If you don’t want more profanity, avoid movies that contain it. If you do want more profanity, seek it out.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on profanity in film? Comment down below!
If you enjoyed this article, subscribe to MovieBabble via email to stay up to date on the latest content.
Join MovieBabble on Patreon so that new content will always be possible.
What movie topic should I discuss next? Whether it be old or new, the choice is up to you!