The Overt Use of Vulgarity on TV, Film, and in Real Life

Herbie J Pilato
Nov 29 · 5 min read

How Excessive Cursing Degrades Your Entertainment, Your Work, Your Life

Let me be perfectly clear:

I swear all the time.

And I get angry and pissed off (see what I did there?).

But to watch a new TV show or go see a new movie, and even to sometimes listen to new music, and hear nothing but “F-this” and “F-that” every two seconds is degrading — on a personal and professional level.

I remember a few decades ago, in 1997, when the script for the movie Good Will Hunting won the Academy Award best screenplay.

I was like, “Really? They won an Oscar?! For THAT script?!”

Actually, the film won 2 Academy Awards and was nominated for 9 in various categories.

And that just got me scratchin’ my head.

That script was littered with the ignorant over-use of vulgar words and profanity. And I don’t care how wonderful a piece of art this film is considered by many, in my book, this film was a piece of crap (see what I did NOT do there?), made so if only for it’s poor choice dialogue decorations.

Back in the day, 1939 to be exact, it was a big deal when Clark Gable, as Rhett Butler, spoke those immortal words, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” to Vivienne Leigh’s Scarlett O’Hara in the now cinematic-classic Gone with the Wind.

Frankly, he didn’t give a darn in this 1939 classic.

And those words stood out. It meant something that he said that. Those words had dramatic effect, and they were effective in their delivery. It was as a stand-alone moment in the fictional world of that film, and in the off-screen history of cinema.

But what if Rance had said, “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn” every two-seconds, like those characters who say “f-this” and “f-that” every two seconds in Good Will Hunting? The drama would lose its effect, that’s what would happen. It would be an over-use of a very effective word like any word has the ability for drama, or comedy, when properly placed and not over-used.

I have a similar issue with Saturday Night Fever, the 1977 feature film that transformed TV-pop-icon John Travolta into a bonafide international motion picture superstar.

I loved disco (and yep, I still do!), and Saturday Night Fever remains one of my favorite movies of all time (I still cry when I watch it, even more so, today, for nostalgic reasons, along with engrossed-in-the-plot reasons).

But Fever was filled with “F-this” and “F-that” dialogue. And yes, it was cool that a cleaner, more PG-related edition of the movie was later released.

But that didn’t help the night my young cousin and I convinced our traditional family members, namely, my Mom and her senior sisters, to attend a screening of the movie with us.

Oh, my goodness, with every “F-this” and “F-that” that was spoken in the film, you’d hear my Mom or one of my aunts gasp or make one of those “stch..stch..stch” sounds of disappointment in the audience.

When John Travolta’s “Tony Menaro” wasn’t swerving on the dance floor (with Karen Lynn Gorney as Stephanie), in the 1977 feature film blockbuster, “Saturday Night Fever,” he was cursing at the dinner table or anywhere else he could manage to do so.

Again, please allow me to remind everyone:

I swear all the time, especially when I do things like stub my toe of if someone cuts me off in traffic, nearly killing me or others in the process.

But I don’t swear every two seconds, and I make an effort not to do so.

Why? Because I am an intelligent, sophisticated human being; someone that I respect, and someone that a few other people respect, too.

It was also how I was raised.

If my beautiful Mother or Father, or any of my aunts and uncles, all now gone, God rest their souls, heard me saying, “F-this” or “F-that,” every two seconds, or even just once, I’d get a smack upside the head. And in fact, I did, more than a few times.

But as I matured; as time moved on, as my education and life-awareness increased, I realized I had a responsibility to speak with dignity; to take the high road — in my life and my work.

And this isn’t about trying to take away anyone’s Freedom of Speech.

I’m not into censorship.

People should be able to write or speak about anything or anyone they want, publically or privately.

But dagnabit, I’m sure as heck going to question why any creative individual would choose to create any kind of product, be it a TV show, a feature film, or a song, that is littered with vulgarity and profanity.

They didn’t do it on TV in the 1960s and early 1970s with quality shows like That Girl or Bewitched, and any other classic television programs of the ’50s, ’60s, or ’70s, for that matter. And they only used to do it in movies for singular dramatic effect for it to mean something in the context of the script (hello again, Gone with the Wind).

But beyond all of that, come on, man:

Do you really think our Forefathers who founded this remarkable country meant that the Freedom of Speech rule of thumb could be utilized to constantly speak vulgar, ignorant words, just because we can?

To quote Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone (1990), “I don’t THINK so!”

It always makes me laugh to read those disclaimers on contemporary movies and TV shows, where it says something like, “this material is meant for mature audiences only.”

As if maturity has anything to do with saying, “F-this” or “F-that” every two seconds.

“Good Will Hunting” over-utilized really “bad will” choices for dialogue.

When I used to teach acting and writing, I would always insist that my students, which ranged in various ages across the board, to not perform or utilize scenes with vulgarity, profanity or violence, for that matter.

I would say, “Anyone can showcase anger with violence and cursing.”

“Instead,” I would continue to instruct, “Impress me with your TALENT. Choose scenes that do not have any violence or vulgarity. Present your character’s anger with your PERFORMANCE.”

It was a challenge for my students with their artistic showcase and platform for which I provided, and it’s a challenge for all of us in real life, including me.

But you know what?

We should always try to take the high road, even when we feel like swearing at that fellow motorist who breezes by us on the freeway with utter disregard for our safety or theirs.

Just sayin’…and without swearin’.

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