Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Shit in Context
Swear words provide an excellent illustration of both the importance of context and the ironclad rule that when it comes to most humans there are (and should be) no ironclad rules. We are creatures of context. If you're trying to put a car seat in without any help, and you whisper "damn it" or "fuck" under your breath, that's perfectly acceptable. If you're talking to your friend about your credit card debt or the loss of your favorite team to Appalachian State, it is perfectly OK to say "fuck, man I don't know." In certain situations, most of them involving no lights and lots of sweat, "fuck" can be a term of endearment. If you're putting that car seat in with your father in law's help, screaming "fucking shit" probably isn't a good idea. Referring to the cashier at the grocery store as "old bitch" when you ask her to check over your receipt most likely doesn't meet minimum standards of civility, and is probably really fucking stupid. Using any swear words while talking to your boss, or during closing arguments in a trial, probably won't win any raises or good verdicts. It's not a very complex argument, but given censorship in television and movies, it is obviously one that needs to be made. Changing "shit happens" to "it happens" in Forrest Gump is just one example of why. Websites that count the number of swear words in a movie are another. It's not the number of swear words that count, just as it's not the number of times a breast is revealed or a cigarette is smoked. If the movie is called cigarettes rock, and it shows teenagers picking up smoking and becoming instantly rich and famous, that might be a problem. If an actress playing Bette David smokes, that may be a little different. It just depends on the when, where, how, and why. It's really pretty fucking simple.

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