Let’s talk about good old cussing. How do you feel about it? Do you curse in real life? When you watch a movie or a TV show, is cursing a concern? How about music? Many musicians curse as a matter of course, and others refuse to curse for a variety of reasons. The majority of musicians would likely curse if they really felt it was the right thing to add, but otherwise would avoid it. What does their choice say about them?
I have many reasons for not cursing in my life. I think it’s degrading to others, I think I can do better, I think it’s a cop-out for dealing with the actual issue before you. I’m embarrassed for people to hear me curse. It’s not like I’ve never cursed, but I really make a conscious effort to avoid it. But there’s one overriding reason, larger than all the others combined that I avoid cursing: It’s lazy.
If we are talking and you choose to say ‘F**k!’ or ‘S**t!’ or anything similar, then what I hear you saying is ‘This conversation is taking too much of my brain power, and I don’t respect you enough to do that work.’ Sure, that’s not likely what you’re consciously thinking at that moment word for word, but that’s the intention. If you cared enough about our conversation, you would take the time to pick a better word or phrase.
So if you choose to curse, you’re probably being lazy.
There are dissenting views on this.
Those of you who have been following my blog might notice the theme of laziness coming up in other places. Key changes in music and dramatic countdowns in movies, TV and novels. They are all suffering from the same issue; they are all lazy techniques. They are the techniques you use when you either aren’t good enough to do better or – more likely – you don’t feel like doing the hard work. These are techniques you use when you want the easy out. Key changes, countdowns, cursing.
And violence. And especially gore.
Now I want to give a few definitions, so we’re all speaking the same language.
Violence is not itself a bad thing to have in a story. Some of the best stories in history have some violence in them. In fact, I’d say most of them do. Violence is (sadly) a part of life, and sometimes your character just has to be violent to make it through a given scene. I have no issue with the use of violence when it is dramatically appropriate, when it makes sense. The issue I have is with violence because; violence to have violence.
It’s safe to say that I’m risking rebuke for calling out an artist of the stature of Mr. Tarantino. However, I am not attacking the man personally, and I’m sure he can tell the difference. His movies have far more violence in them than they really need. To voice it another way, he could tell all the same stories – or some future director could re-tell the same stories – with far less violence, bloodshed and death, and the story would remain essentially the same. I think he just enjoys writing “2000 gallons of fake blood” on the list of supplies needed for a movie; I believe he’s in love with the ‘glamour’ of violence.
Sorry, but I just don’t get it. Violence appalls me, and gallons of blood make me sick. However, I’m not a prude about violence, as I said before. I just think it’s used far more than needed.
So my son, who’s almost 16, likes to draw. A few days ago he showed me a picture he had made. It was a clever joke about winning someone’s heart but, as you guessed it, he used what I thought was unnecessary gore. The character was standing with a bloody beating heart in one hand, and a blood-covered knife in the other hand. I sat him down and talked about the gore, and I gave him a challenge; could you have made this picture without so much blood? Without the explicit implication that someone was just murdered?
I don’t want him (or you, dear reader) to think I was saying “I judge your work to be horrible because it’s violent or gory!” I am not trying to force views on anyone. On the other hand, what if he did what I suggested? What if his art was made more compelling and more accessible – without changing it’s fundamental artistic value – by a reduction in violence? Isn’t that better?
And just one last thought to wrap this up. If you talk to anyone who’s seen horrible violence and gore in the real world – say the survivors of the Boston Marathon terror bombing for example – I doubt you’d find any of their lives enriched or made more meaningful by exposure to that violence. In fact, I’m willing to bet most of them will have more of an aversion to violence in the future, having seen it first hand.
It’s really a choice we make as members of the greater society, to make the world better, more livable place. Violence is part of our world, and some stories just can’t be told without it. But let’s use it the same way we would use spices in a meal: sparingly, and with great care lest we make the meal unpalitable.