Case Studies: Mental and Ted

Disclaimer: coarse language ahead.

In 1939, the film Gone with the Wind sparked controversy when Rhett Butler dropped a ‘damn’ onscreen. Since then the use of profanity in cinema has only grown more, which has raised some interesting debates. In this post I will be focusing on ye olde c-bomb, as it was voted the most offensive swear word by 46.2% of my survey respondents, beating a variety of racial slurs and sexual derogatory terms.

If (profanity) works with the scene and the context then it can be deem(ed) alright, if it is just used because they can it’s not acceptable” – anonymous survey respondent (age 20)

Is coarse language really necessary to tell a story? It depends. Let’s look at the 2012 film Mental. At first glance, Shaz’s use of profanity in the following scene doesn’t seem necessary to the story.

In saying that, the character Shaz  is extremely eccentric, hot-headed, wild and possesses a strong ‘I don’t care’ attitude. If anyone in the film were to use this word, it would be her. It’s actually used quite cleverly to juxtapose

shaz.jpg
Shaz, played by Toni Collette

her with the character Doris, who is rigid, exceedingly proud and almost ridiculously uptight. If the C-bomb had been replaced with the word ‘idiot’ in this scene, would it convey the same message? In some ways it would, but not to the same extent.

 

Given that the film is Australian, it’s interesting to note that the use of the c-bomb in Australia is quite colloquial, at least in certain circles, compared to other places in the world where speaking it aloud would result in you ‘getting punched in the face’ (source). In fact, in younger generations, ‘sick c*nt’ or ‘mad c*nt’ are used in the same way as ‘top bloke’ and is thus a huge compliment. Go figure.

The film itself is a parody on the classic 1965 film The Sound of Music, which ironically was produced in a time when the c-bomb would never have been spoken aloud. Doris is positioned in the film as though she were a character from the latter, her manner, dress and uptight nature is a play on the norms of the WWII society portrayed in The Sound of Music. Notice the shock of Doris and Shirley when Shaz uses that word; it adds a strong element of humour and positions Shaz as that crazy, out-there, eccentric character and reinforces the idea of ‘mental’ as explored in the film. Personally I feel like the profanity in this film is justified, it enhances the audience’s relationship with the character and it fits the movie’s themes and overall purpose.

“Film is free game. It is after all, a representation of our reality. By committing to watch the movie, you are subscribing to the contents therein.” – anonymous survey respondent (age 24)

Because swearing has become so mainstream in society, it takes a fairly tabooed word to draw a reaction from an audience. The next film clip, from the 2012 film Ted, shows the use of the c-bomb in a slightly different context. This is a Hollywood film, it is aimed at an American audience which is not accustomed to such lewd speech.

I feel that, unlike in Mental, the use of this word in Ted doesn’t add any value to the story. Kunis could just as easily have dropped an ‘idiot’ or ‘slut’ and, by today’s film standards, it wouldn’t have been as crude. The reaction to it is interesting. Unlike Mental, in which the resistance to the word shocks an uptight character and contrasts the personalities of Doris and Shaz, Wahlberg’s reaction doesn’t reveal much about his character. His adverse reaction to the word doesn’t build on the world of the story, however it does portray a standard American reaction to the word.

“Even though over time we have gotten used to words in film, such as f*ck, it doesn’t seem right to teach people, especially younger generations that words like c*nt are acceptable.” – anonymous survey respondent (age 19)

It is clear that people have differing perspectives on the use of profanity in cinema, particularly when it comes to a word such as c*nt. I feel that so long as the film is given an appropriate rating, MA15+ or above, it is okay for it to contain this word, given that it is contextually relevant and adds value to the story.

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