Thursday, July 09, 2015

The Thrill Is Gone

A few days back, a friend took me to task for my distaste for coarse language in books, plays, TV shows and movies. He said, "That's how people talk now." His point being that authors were simply being realistic.

Maybe so. My point was that coarse language bores me. That's right. Not offends as much as simply bores. Even his discussion with me about it made me secretly sigh because I've heard that "It's realistic" ad nauseam.

I've been involved in journalism and theater most of my life. Both are filled with salty people that never found a swear word that they didn't make their lifelong friend. I can remember being shocked and maybe even impressed by the vulgarity. That was 30 years ago. I've heard it, read it, seen it on stage and on the movie screen.

Remember Die Hard? Good action movie. Great story, good acting, appropriate language for the people portrayed. It was a big hit. Remember Die Hard 2? Not so good a movie. And much more bad language. The screenwriters knew the writing was weak, the plot plain stupid. They tried to punch it up. What they forgot is that a word can only shock you so many times. I got bored in DH2 and started to count the number of times they used the Fword. I lost track around 50. By that time, the word had lost its meaning. It didn't convey intensity or pain. By overuse, they had diluted its power.

When I see coarse language used extensively, I think the writer was lazy. The writer didn't stretch, didn't attempt to find new ways of expressing his/her thoughts. Oh, there are exceptions to that. I've read several short stories, poems, and novels and seen a few movies and plays where the dramatic content called for it, and it worked. Most of the time it doesn't. (Another tired and over-used character in movies: the foul-mouthed kid. Stopped being funny after the first 100 times we saw it. Give it a rest.)

I think about coarse language that way I think about fart jokes. At 13 they're funny, but you're supposed to grow out of it.

I get accused of being old fashioned about this. But really I'm not. I'm just jaded. I look for writing that uses language in new and exciting ways. Where the writer has put out some effort.
Playwright and author Jean Kerr said in Penny Candy: "I do not like to hear the most explicit four-letter words spoken from the stage because I number among my acquaintance persons of such candor and quick temper that, for me, the thrill is gone."

I'm with her. The thrill is gone.

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