Thursday, August 25, 2011

Let's Drop a Bomb on the F-Word

Is the f-word all his fault?
In the 1939 Civil War classic "Gone With the Wind," Clark Gable (above) played the dashing Rhett Butler, who rank the blockade of no-profanity in films by telling Scarlett O'Hara, "Frankly, my dear, I don't give a damn."

Mr. Gable can't take all the blame, of course. Margaret Mitchell wrote the words (without the "frankly"), screenwriter Sidney Howard included them in the script and director Victor Fleming saw to it that they got said. Even though Rhett's farewell line is the most famous, "damn Yankees" was also heard in an earlier scene at Twelve Oaks. Two uses of "damn!" What were they thinking?!

It's hard to believe that a word that seems almost innocent today could be the cause of such furor. If the censors hadn't changed the rules shortly before the movie was released, Rhett may not have given a darn.

I usually think that progress is a wonderful thing, but look at what Mr. Gable started. In the classic mode of "give 'em an inch, they'll take a mile," films became bolder and bolder in their use of once-forbidden words. Finally, someone decided that it was time to drag the f-word out of its Anglo-Saxon backroom and let it sound proudly and profanely onscreen.

Many film makers turned their backs on the great movies of the past, which relied on story-telling and talent rather than how many profanities could be squeezed in.

By 1970 what was once shocking was common in mainstream cinema, although limited to R-rated films. But the inch became a mile again, and now you'll find the f-word in PG and PG-13 movies as well. No sense keeping the kiddies out of the loop seems to be Hollywood's philosophy.

Television could have taken the high road, but profanity can be found just as easily on your TV set as in the multi-plex. Junior can get quite an education while channel-surfing for cartoons.

Like it or not, the f-word has become part of our popular culture (although it's not very popular with me). But let's confine profanity to the R rating where it belongs. Parents should be confident that the movies they take their kids to are appropriate. TV executives, it's time to clean up your act. Remember the Golden Age of Television? Bring it back, darn it!

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