As much fun as it would be to pick on SOPA/PIPA some more and make some jokes about how “SOPA,” when said aloud, is Spanish for soup, this is something entirely different. Oh, it still has to deal with censorship, but this is some self-imposed completely idiotic and maddening censorship.
On air, movies and television have to play by a set of rules. These rules aren’t totally set in stone, but basically there are some words you can say and some you can’t say. Then there are some you can sort of say, but mostly only in the right context. An example? Pretty much any show on at any time could say “bitch” meaning female dog, because that’s just the definition of the word. If you want to call someone a bitch, generally that’s kept to after 8pm.
Cable gets a bigger break than network, as it’s a paid service, but that doesn’t mean they’re immune to fines and more importantly, advertiser backlash, so everyone kind of plays with kid gloves.
Of course, it’s parents who should be responsible for policing the television. If a show wants to say bad words, let them. Put it on after 8pm, put a “Language” notice on it, and parents can set their TVs to block it. Easy cakes. I mean, I still don’t understand why HBO, Showtime, and Cinemax won’t show hardcore porn, because why not, amirite? But I’m getting distracted by the thoughts of boobies. This boiling point is specifically about language. One bad word and one not-at-all bad word, both needlessly censored on cable television.
If you’re offended by words, you can still probably read this. After all, one of the words I’ve already used in the title because I do what I want. Retard. There I said it.
Retard is not a nice word.
It is an actual word, with a real definition, but when used to talk about someone who has mental retardation, it’s a not nice thing to say. Words like that are often co-opted out of context to make fun of people without a real disability. If you call someone with a mental handicap a retard, you’re a dick. If you call someone a bastard and they are one, you’re also kind of a dick. However, if you’re just trying to hurt someone’s feelings on the opposing dodgeball team, who is neither mentally retarded or a kid from an illegitimate partnering, and you call him a “retarded bastard,” you’re not that big of a dick. Kind of unsportsmanlike, but whatever.
So yeah, there are probably tens of hundreds of people (at most), who want the word retard treated with the same severity as “cunt,” but I’m not one of them. Further, when talking about arts and entertainment, a writer carefully crafts his words to reflect his characters. If a character uses the term retard, it reveals at least something about his character. In the case of Tropic Thunder, an entire joke is based on the idea of “going full retard.” It is one of the funniest bits of the movie and it made some stuffy old ladies mad. Boo hoo. Unfortunately, these same stuffy old ladies must have written in to FX, as when Tropic Thunder aired recently, Simple Jack was no longer retarded. He was special. Tugg Speedman no longer went full retard, he went “full special.”
What the retarded fucking fuck? Retard is not a curse word. It shouldn’t be treated like one. People can hear bad words. People can choose not to support whatever the fuck they want to not support. But killing that joke entirely to avoid upsetting a small subset of people? That’s bullshit. That’s… retarded. Tropic Thunder was airing on FX, which is part of expanded cable, and can definitely get away with saying retard. The fact that they edited out is frustratingly stupid.
Now, AMC’s Hell on Wheels dealt with a much more sensitive word. I’m not a child or a politician, so I’m not going to play around with you. How can I get mad at censorship and then censor myself? Set in the west shortly after the Civil War, Hell on Wheels obviously must dip its toes into racism – and you can’t have racism without some dirty-toothed cracker (racism) calling some black man a nigger (more racism, a white guy didn’t say ‘n-word!’).
Hell on Wheels smartly does the right thing when they’re trying to show you that an asshole military veteran (or three) is racist – the guy calls black workers niggers. Why? Because, primarily, that’s realistic as to what the character would have said and second, because a modern audience knows that’s a vile thing to call another person. So the show establishes two things with that exchange: a sense of realism and the alienation of that character from the audience. We know this guy is an asshole and we start to dislike him. Remember what I said about writers carefully choosing words? This is why. That one word, as opposed to “blackie” or whatever other less risky term they could come up with, sells the scene a lot better.
So wait – why am I mad then? Because of the closed captions. I normally don’t watch shows with the closed captioning on – I just turn that motherfucker way up. However, this instance I was watching with someone who likes to have the closed captioning on so I went with it. And that’s when I saw it. That’s when I read it. N.
N. Not “n-word.” Not “negro.” Definitely not “nigger.” But “N.” That’s what the closed captioning put in place of the word nigger.
This is offensively stupid. Almost as offensively stupid as editing Mark Twain’s “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn” so that Nigger Jim becomes Slave Jim. You know what would be easier? If you just erased slavery and racism from the encyclopedia and history, so it was like it never happened! Also, let’s modify all works of art to be in no way offensive and also to not accurately reflect what the creator intended! Fuck art! Fuck history! Fuck it all, we’re dumb pussies!
It’s blatant censorship to remove the word nigger from the closed captioning. The television show writers made a choice to put the word in there. An artistically important choice. The producers, or whoever, and probably someone at AMC along the line, made the choice to let the word be in the show. There was no dictum to change it. So why then censor it on the closed captioning? It’s okay to hear it but not read it? Is it a typo on the screen now? What is happening? Why do that? What does N mean!?
Imagine, if you will, a viewer who is deaf. What are they to think? They can’t hear the word. Maybe in that scene they can’t read the lips of the actor, too. That character is now shed in a completely different light, against the intent of the author, or you’ve confused the deaf viewer.
That’s what this is all about – the intent of the author. As a writer myself, we choose words very specifically to make points or provide depth to a character. A show could have a character say “Man, that Greg sure is a racist” and that would be an example of bad writing, but it gets the information across. Or, the show could make the decision to have Greg act and speak like a racist – which is more effective; which is better?
Words hurt. Words offend. No shit, that’s why we came up with all sorts of nasty words – to hurt people. But these are works of fiction. Television, books, and movies are not authors reading their personal thoughts through a screen directed at a viewer. They’re creating a world, a realistic and deep world, full of characters with flaws, traits, and dirty vocabularies.
If you’re such a sensitive wee lass that you can’t handle even hearing these words in a fictional context, I feel bad for you son. That stick is way up your ass, jammed right into your cerebellum.
Hearing vile, or not so vile words, in a fictional context, is part of the experience. That’s the purpose. The words aren’t there to offend you, they’re not there to hurt your feelings, or your neighbor’s feelings. They are words coming from one fake character aimed at another fake character. Those two fake characters are at loggerheads and one is trying to make the other feel bad – so he’s using bad words. Every time I hear (or read) needless censorship, I rage past my boiling point.