C U Next Tuesday at the Cinema; a look into the use of the “C-Bomb” in Modern Film

A Reflection

A reckless little slut: Inspiration for a digital narrative is born

About seven years ago, my then-three year old sister walked up to our mother and proudly pronounced her a “reckless little slut”. She had no idea what she was saying of course, but that hilarious memory has stayed with me for a decade. She had borrowed the phrase from the 2008 PG film Mamma Mia. This got me thinking; in the context of the film, the word ‘slut’ was contextually appropriate – Donna is recalling her regretful, youthful actions with disgust. Out of context, when used by my younger sister, it became inappropriate.

One word, two settings, two very different levels of appropriateness. Where is the meaning in this? Why is it so hard to judge?

Although I wasn’t certain of the direction of my project initially, I knew it would be in the area of profanity in film. It interests me to hear of the history of profanity in cinema; the word ‘damn’ uttered in Gone with the Wind in 1949 sparked outrage, yet nowadays that same word could pass without incident. Why? With this in mind I created a generic survey on profanity in various spaces. The findings, as summarised in the video, were that the word ‘c#nt’ was deemed as the most offensive. This view was seconded by the research of Ofcom, a television regulatory body located in the United Kingdom. Given this strong view, and my recollection of numerous Hollywood films which have featured the word in recent years, I decided to narrow my focus to the use of the word ‘c#nt’ in cinema. Then, just like magic, my research question formed itself in front of my eyes: is the c-word ever necessary to tell a story? 

Primary Data

I produced a survey on my blog to determine social acceptances on the use of profanity in society and in cinema. 66% of my questionnaire was numerical; respondents were required to rank words or select them. The final question was much more open; asking respondents for a discussion of their views on profanity in cinema. I filtered through in an attempt to discover a pattern, a unanimous vote or ideal of what is appropriate in cinema, but there was none.

The complexity of the results captured in the survey illustrated the density of ethnographic research; sometimes numbers just aren’t enough. Qualitative research is imperative for ethnographic discovery and understanding, yet its subjective nature makes it extremely difficult to collect and navigate.

Challenges

The five minute word limit was restrictive; I’d have liked to explore and contrast more examples and go further into the ambiguous nature of television rating guidelines, yet I had to choose the most important elements to incorporate into the narrative. I spoke about the history of cinema, in particular its development into a semi-public. When televisions grew popular in the home, the audience for cinema changed.  I focused on contrasting the profanity in the 1949 film Gone with the Wind with the 2012 films Ted and Mental. It was difficult to organise and sort through the data I collected due to its qualitative nature; what is true to one person isn’t necessarily true to another, even with all outside factors equal.

Platform

I chose to compose a YouTube video because I have very little experience doing so, yet this is something I would like to become more skilled at for future projects. I found it to be an effective tool to construct a comparison between the aforementioned films. I also chose to publish it on WordPress because I am confident using it and I enjoy the convenience of having all my projects and assessments in one place.

Results

Such a diverse collection of responses, some of which are discussed in the video, seemed to be loosely (but not exclusively) related to age. Younger participants, aged below 25, were quite lax in what they deemed to be appropriate for cinema. Many had no issue with even the most extreme words being used in film. As the respondents became older, racial slurs, which seemed inoffensive and humorous to the younger audience, were a strict no. The oldest respondent was my grandfather, who remains opposed to the notion of profanity in cinema.

“I consider that use of any of these words reveal a writer who is short on language skills …  I have been known to walk out of films relying on excessive use of obscenity”

Whilst undertaking my comparison of the use of ‘c#nt’ in Mental and Ted, I discovered the contextual argument for profanity in film. Initially I just did not see why that word in particular was the best choice for those films, however studying them more closely, I discovered that in Mental, it uncovered layers of the characters and reinforced the themes of the film and its story. Ted, on the other hand, seemed to throw it in purely for the sake of it, and it is my belief that multiple other words could have replaced it. This has shown me that the legitimacy of profanity in cinema is purely spatial; its capacity to belong in a film is dependent upon its context and audience.

Usefulness to Media Industries

Research of this kind could prove to be valuable to media industries. From a linguistic sense, this study suggested the immense impact profanity has on some audiences, particularly older ones. In terms of advertising and powerful film genres, the use of various swear words could prove to be powerful in imprinting a message on the consumer mind and potentially swaying public opinion. Spatially, the study also used the case study of Australia, where ‘c#nt’ is often used colloquially, to demonstrate the contextual balance of profanity. In an increasingly globalised world, research such as this could be used by international companies who wish to market their products, be it films or otherwise, to an Australian or otherwise foreign market. The format of this project is brief enough to be of interest to industries, as suggested by Duncan Green.

Future Research

In the future it would be interesting to expand on my findings here. A much more comprehensive study over a wider audience and a wide range of films from different genres, decades and ratings would be an interesting way to compare profanity in film.

 

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

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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.

Swearing: the Do’s & Don’ts

The use of profanity in films has been controversial since Gone with the Wind was broadcast in 1939. The use of the word ‘damn’ by Rhett Butler in that movie sparked large-scale outrage.

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Rhett Butler from Gone with the Wind (source)

Today, almost eight decades later, that word could pass pretty much without impact. However, there are other swear words presented in cinema, including films rated PG, M or MA. The morality of this is debated and the guidelines are grey.

 

The following survey is designed to test people’s perceptions of what language is suitable on various different occasions. I will use this data to further explore the nature of coarse language in film.

Project Proposal: A Look into the History of D@mn Swearing in F#cking Films

It was a good seven years ago, but I’ll never forget the day my three-year-old sister walked up to our mum and called her a ‘reckless little sl*t’. We realised she had memorised the line from the 2008, PG film Mamma Mia.

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Meryl Streep plays Donna in Mamma Mia (2008)

 

I’ll admit it, I cuss pretty damn regularly, but there’s a limit as to what words I use in various contexts. Whilst I would never say the word myself, I don’t get offended hearing the C-bomb dropped in film, but I do question the necessity of it. Is that particular word the only one that can possibly express a character? Probably not. I’ve been fascinated, over the last few years, to see some really explicit swear words being spoken in mainstream film, but hey, times are changing. Profanity is become more and more prominent in our everyday interactions with one another, so it makes sense that this is reflected in film. An early film, Gone with the Wind (1939), again rated PG, dropped the famous ol’ “frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”, which sparked wide set outrage. The word ‘damn’ in a film nowadays, conversely, would pass without a reaction from most audiences.

 My plan for this digital narrative is to examine the use of profanity in films over time. Why have the use of these words in cinema grown? What are the ethical issues of profanity in cinema? Does it contribute positively to the film’s story? Does it reflect social values of a film’s release era? How are our social values implemented via television rating systems?

I’ll be using a category on WordPress to publish this research, and tap into the ideas I explore using multimedia platforms.

As a parting word, and a promise of what’s to come, I have linked in the legendary Wizard Swears Harry Potter fan fiction below.

 

If you have any suggestions please drop them below!

I’m gonna f#ck off now.

-Claire xo

 

 

 

And so it ends (starts?)

Writing in Public: A Reflection

Over the past nine weeks I have been focusing on creating and curating blog posts on a variety of topics relating to media, audience and place. This subject was challenging in that it was quite prescriptive in terms of the blog topics compared to other subjects which allow for more freedom. Initially I felt it left little room for creativity. However, as the weeks went by and I was encouraged to interview and observe my family and friends, I found that I still had a strong, individual voice when it came to writing about the weekly topics. With reference to the feedback I was given after the first assessment task, this text will reflect on the process I went through to create content for my online presence and evaluate the strategies I have experimented with to build readership.

Nicholas Hookway describes blogs as “the new guardians of democracy” (Hookway 2008). In terms of research, blogs are now quintessential for qualitative media researchers (ibid). The reason for this is that it has the potential to overcome such feats as censorship and traditional ideas of space and place; thus Hookway’s research draws a strong parallel to themes discussed in the subject Media, Audience, Place (hereon referred to as BCM240). This subject enlightened me to the many forms, uses and sources of qualitative audience research. The opportunity to publish qualitative data I observed from talking to and watching my own friends and family has changed the way I view digital and social media. Everybody experiences the media differently; this makes data collection and analysis increasingly difficult. However, the stories and experiences which are revealed have a certain beauty about them. This has been the most rewarding aspect of undertaking BCM240. Studying ethnography in terms of social media is a practice I am determined to continue further through my university career. There is much numerical data available from ‘social media giants’ (Ray 2011) because such a large portion of society is active online. Combining this numerical, or quantitative, data with qualitative data provides a special picture into society. My understanding of this phenomenon has increased since receiving feedback from the first assessment task.

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My tutor requested I incorporate more secondary sources into my blog posts to accompany my interviews and observations. Since doing this, my understanding and appreciation of the topics we have studied has increased exponentially. The incorporation of hyperlinking relevant sources and examples into my blog has increased my understanding of the weekly topics.

There are two main areas of reader engagement I have focused on this semester; attracting a wider readership and increasing the engagement from the readers I already have. One of the most frustrating aspects of my blog readership is that the majority of it comes from students enrolled in my course. Whilst I enjoy that we support one another, it has been my goal this semester (and beyond) to try to increase that readership to viewers throughout the globe. I have used tags to do this, on both WordPress and when I advertise on Twitter. I have found that using current examples, and tagging them, has increased my traffic flow as it allows non-UOW internet users to read and connect with my material. For example, in my blog on censorship and regulation, I used the film Blended, due to its popularity and well-known actors, to both illustrate my argument on how the government attempts to censor social issues in film, and increase my traffic. The use of hashtags also increased my search engine indexing and allowed new readers to reach my blog. In response to this strategy I have noticed a larger percentage of my viewership contains non-subscribers who access my blog through Google, Twitter and Reddit.

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Notice the gradual increase in visitors. On 1 August, 42% of my viewers were visitors. Just two months later, this number has risen to 54%.

Whilst this has no doubt been effective in improving my readership, I believe that readership is not limited to my hit counter. With this mindset I have attempted to increase the interaction with my readers through my blog design. The feedback from assessment one reinforced the importance of blog personality. I updated my ‘about me’ page and made anecdotes a regular technique in my weekly posts. I made a stronger effort to keep my posts light, humorous and sarcastic, whilst maintaining their academic integrity. As a keen writer and poet, I attempted to make my blog reflect this. Twitter has been the featured widget on my blog for months and I am now beginning to use Twitter to share personal images and links I find interesting instead of limiting it to my studies. The power of Twitter and other social media platforms in building blog traction in building a following is immense (Fishkin 2012). More recently I have been reading and commenting on the blogs of other students in BCM240 to build a relationship with them and continue a discussion on their ideas.

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Unfortunately my blogs in this subject have not attracted many comments, however I am hoping that if I continue my commenting, others will jump on board and do the same. Earlier this semester I removed my email follower widget and replaced it with a simple button. This makes it much easier for people to follow my blog and as a result I have seen an increase in followers. I have been experimenting with polls also, and have found that adding ratings and questions to my posts has increased the interest in them. Similarly, adding humorous memes, gifs and YouTube videos, particularly in response to my Grandad’s humorous “there’s more to life than the internet!” view, have increased the potential for interaction.

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This semester I have experimented a lot in terms of the design of my blog and the aesthetics of my writing. It’s still a working progress; I do strongly believe that a piece of writing is never fully complete. Therefore I pledge to continue improving it and to carefully monitor my dashboard in order to determine which elements work and which do not attract readership.

***

References

Fishkin, R 2012, 21 Tactics to Increase Blog Traffic, Moz, accessed 29.9.16, <https://moz.com/blog/21-tactics-to-increase-blog-traffic-2012&gt;

Hookway, N 2008, Entering the Blogosphere: Some Strategies for using Blogs in Social Research, Qualitative Research, vol. 8 no.1 pp. 91-113, accessed 3.10.16, <http://qrj.sagepub.com/content/8/1/91.abstract&gt;

Ray, M 2011, How to Conduct Research with Social Media, Social Marketing Writing, accessed 2.10.16, <http://socialmarketingwriting.com/how-to-conduct-research-using-social-media/&gt;

PG: Parental Guidance Regulated

The regulation of media forms has been driven by social anxieties regarding them. This is by no means a new phenomenon; anxieties relating to media content and form have existed since the birth of the cinema in the early twentieth century. The introduction of the television into the family home in the mid 1900’s meant that people became exposed to views which were not necessarily endorsed or shared by their household and traditions. This caused a somewhat moral panic, which still exists today.

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As a result of this the Australian Classification Board exists to regulate the content we view. Check out its database for further reading. It classifies films and video games into the categories listed to the left. This restricts what can legally be sold to minors and what they can view in a public cinema. It governs the range of cinema which can be shown to children in a school setting. It also provides parents with guidelines on what is appropriate to share with their children (source).

 

The reasons behind the classification decisions of the board rest on legal documents such as:

Elements taken into account include nudity, themes, violence, language, sexual references and drug use (source). In addition to these six elements, classification decisions are expected to adhere to principles such as the freedom of adults to view what they please, the right of children to protection from unsuitable material, the artistic or educational merit of the film and the class of people the work is aimed at (source).

For example, the 2014 film Blended was rated as PG by the board. This report studies the decision-making process that went into the classification of this film.

The report uses the six aforementioned elements in reaching this decision. Despite no drug use or nudity, sexual references exist, although they are ‘justified by context’ (Australian Government Classification Review Board 2014), intended for humorous purposes and relatively discreet. The language and violence, although present in the film, were again deemed ‘mild’ (ibid, p.2) by the board. The themes present in the film include the death of a parent and family issues; the board again felt these were justified by context and ‘can be accommodated within the PG classification’ (ibid, p.2). Nevertheless the PG category was accompanied by the tagline “sexual references and crude humour” (ibid, p.4).

In some sense, the Australian Government is deciding what we see or hear via television media. This is done through the public restriction of media access. For example, one cannot view an MA classified film at a cinema unless they have proof of identification which shows they are aged fifteen years old or older. Similarly, an R rated film cannot be viewed at a cinema by someone younger than eighteen years old, nor can it be purchased in DVD or Blu-ray form over the counter without ID. In terms of public space, the government is a heavy regulator of cinematic content.

When it comes to home viewing, however, the government plays a lesser role. In the private space, the government leaves it up to individual households to determine what is appropriate to be shown in their homes and to regulate what their children watch.

There are pros and cons to both, however. In terms of the parental argument, what a child is allowed to view in private space can be tailored to their individual needs or capabilities. A parent can choose programs for their child to view which are aligned with their family, cultural and religious values. There is also something to be said for the intrusion of the government into this private space; beyond the mere classification of cinema, the enforcement of it in the private space could be beneficial. A family may be closed-minded and reluctant to let their children view content they deem to be undesirable, for example this case of Playschool showing a segment featuring a child with “two mums” . Although this goes against the traditional values of many families and religions, it is a contemporary social issue which children will be exposed to nonetheless. The counterargument is, of course, the privacy argument of families and their right to raise their children as they please.

-Claire

The Attention Econo – omfg look what she posted!

The attention economy is the newfound social paradigm which refers to the adjustments which have occurred to the human attention span as a result of new media practices(source). Attention has become a scarce commodity in a world characterised by an abundance of information and it’s hyper-speed rate of transfer. The way in which the general public sort through, invest, digest and exchange this information has become a source of interest for academics. One such area of research is that of the measurement and allocation of attention. Thomas Davenport and Michael Goldhaber are two such academics whom examine how attention is impacted upon by the internet and digital technology advances.

This video is a satirical representation of the impact of the attention economy on society and businesses.

To better understand the nature of the attention economy I undertook my own research in my friendship group. I didn’t organise any formal test, I merely sat back and observed. We spent last Wednesday evening together; I will split this social outing into three distinct segments so as to determine the impact of media devices on my friends’ attention spans and how it impacted upon our night together as a whole.

(1) The car ride

Once upon a time, if I was driving with a car full of friends down to the coast, we would’ve been talking, laughing, singing along to the radio and playing games like ‘when I went shopping’. We still do this sometimes, but on this night – as with many – my friends sat in silence on their smartphones as I drove. In this sense, I was the only person in my car who was existing entirely in the space of that car. The others were living in multiple spheres; they were talking to other friends on messenger, playing games or scrolling through Tinder – maybe even doing all three (or more) at one time. When I switched on the radio my friends were engaging with multiple platforms at once, even if they were not consciously doing so. This is not an anomaly; a report titled Consumer Insights, from Microsoft Canada states that 77% of Canadians aged from 18 to 24 reach for their phones as soon as nothing is occupying their attention (Gausby 2015) and 52% claim

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to check their phones each half hour (ibid). My friends and I, at that moment, existed in different places. Did it annoy me that no one was talking for most of the trip? Mildly. If I had been a passenger in their car, would  I have done the same? Yes . . . hypocrite alert :/. The point at which my friends got off their phones was when I was driving up Macquarie Pass and they thought they’d die. Go figure. Oh, and thanks for the confidence in my driving skills xxx.

 

Overview: The most interesting aspect of this part of the night was the fact that my friends’ phones went away as soon as they felt they were in physical danger; driving up a dangerous road in the rain was enough to bring their attentions spans back into their physical world.

(2) The beach

Question: is there any point in going to the beach if you don’t spend each waking moment taking a sh#tload of selfies and scenic photographs? I think not …

Despite the beach being the main reason for our adventure to Kiama, of each division it was the one in which our phones played the most pivotal role. The spaces each of us existed in differed to the car ride, though. We still existed in the physical space of the beach; we were merely extending that space via Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. It’s really interesting to compare the impact of technology on attention spans in the car against the beach; in the latter we were all much more focused upon the physical space we existed in. Despite using our smartphones constantly, each of us existed almost entirely in the same space. Nevertheless we were expanding this space to social media platforms, but this doesn’t necessarily mean our attention was dwindled; in a sense we were capturing the attention spans of people in other physical spaces.

(3) The restaurant

Our meal at a local Chinese restaurant was again interesting in light of my little experiment. So many of the examples we discuss in class of etiquette and general behaviour with media platforms exist at the dinner table. It was actually surprising to me how little our phones were used during the meal. As soon as we sat down, one of my friends was excited to find paper on the table, and immediately asked around for a pen. We then got stuck into a heavy round of Hangman. Towards the end, someone’s phone came out to take a group selfie, but other than that we were actually too immersed in our games and conversation to leave the physical space.

What could this mean?

From Wednesday night’s shenanigans, I draw that the main reasons for phone use (and the wandering of attention spans away from one’s physical space) arise from two main phenomena;

  1. boredom
  2. the desire for photographic preservation

If one finds enjoyment and fulfilment in a physical space they are less likely to venture online to virtual spaces; their attention remains in reality.

-Claire