I was struck recently about the delicate lines drawn around some taboo vocabulary in the media, in particular on television shows. On the series Charmed (on the WB network from 1998-2006, now endlessly in re-runs on TNT), displaced, non-literal uses of various words are fine:
“pronominal” X’s ass: Get your ass over here! ‘Get over here!’
piss(ed) off referring to anger: I think you pissed it off.
derogatory suck: That sucks. ‘That’s very bad.’
exclamatory crap: Oh, crap! ‘Oh, dammit!’
I’m not sure about the limits on ass; I don’t at the moment have examples of ass ‘buttocks’ on the show (butt seems to be the preferred word), but asshole is out in any of its senses. As is piss ‘urinate’, sexual suck, and crap ‘feces’.
But some words — fuck and shit, in parrticular — count as intrinsically offensive (to some people), no matter what the context or how displaced the use. So dismissive fuck (Oh, fuck the penguin! ‘To hell with the penguin!’, Oh, fuck it! ‘To hell with it; I give up’) and intensifier fuckin(g) (That’s fuckin’ unbelievable!) are just out, as are exclamatory horseshit and bullshit.
So we get former Senator Chris Dodd, now the head of the Motion Picture Association of America (which, among other things, gives out ratings for films), responding to Andrew Goldman in the New York Times Magazine on April 24:
[Goldman] Still, you watch “The King’s Speech,” and you think, This is very educational. You think, I’d want 13-year-olds to see this. Yet it was given an R rating because of F- words. Was that a bad call?
[Dodd] They had the right call. If you’re looking for perfection, that isn’t going to happen. But there’s a standard, and they drew the conclusion based on that. Of course, my good friend Harvey Weinstein raised holy hell about it and probably raised the profile of the movie. Harvey is a master of that, as he is a master filmmaker.
Standards must be maintained! The children must be protected!