Is It Time to Decriminalize Onscreen F-Bombs?
In a nation where violent torture can be depicted on primetime television and sexually explicit images are as close as a pop-up window, it's a little quaint that Jenny Slate's Saturday Night Live f-bomb has caused such a firestorm of media attention. Quainter still is the depressing realization that while Slate's curse word aired too late at night to cost NBC in fines, if it had appeared in a movie just a few times, it would have automatically merited the film an R rating. Isn't it time the MPAA's fear of this particular four-letter word was called out as the canard it is?
Of course, I'm hardly the first to point out the ridiculous inconsistencies that riddle the MPAA's ratings system, which include severe ratings penalties for sex but a tolerance for violence that's gotten more and more lax. Still, to my eyes, granting an R rating for a simple f-word is the most egregious offense. What exactly is being penalized here, rudeness? Does "having a bad attitude" really merit banishment to the upper reaches of the rating system when impalings and dismemberment can earn a cavalier PG-13?
Equally absurd is the idea of a tiered system of curse words, one where "hell" and "damn" are tamer than "shit," but "fuck" is far ruder to say than "bitch." These. Are. Just. Words. When you start assigning them numeric rankings, at what point do you throw up your hands and realize that a single string of letters, uttered a handful of times, is probably not the most terrible offense that can be committed to film? And even if were one to buy into that idea, how is it that a robot can call Megan Fox a "bitch" in Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, yet the film received a more lenient rating than the R-rated Waiting for Guffman (which was doomed when one of its characters quoted from a Raging Bull monologue)? Which instance of strong language stings more?
The idea of so heavily skewing the ratings system toward curse words has always been specious, but now it's worse: It's outmoded. Perhaps there was a day when the MPAA could fool themselves into thinking that children might have their first exposure to strong language through the movies, as though kids didn't sling curse words on the playground like it was their job, but that day is long gone in today's internet age, where the tamest, G-rated trailer for The Land Before Time 10 will almost certainly invoke YouTube comments like, "FUCK DIS MOVIE, STEGOSARAS CAN EAT ANIMATED SHIT." If a kid can make it to age 13 without being able to spell and define the f-bomb in all its permutations, it's not cause for celebration -- it's a sign that he may be legally blind.
As a society, we're past the point of no return when it comes to strong language, and from this vantage point, it ain't so bad -- or, at least, it doesn't deserve to be treated as such by the MPAA. I'm hardly advocating for f-bombs to be dropped into The Princess and the Frog (I think attitude and decorum will self-regulate in that regard), but I don't think a 12-year-old will be set on a path to delinquency if he hears Matt Damon utter the curse words that earned Good Will Hunting its R-rating. Too many worthy films have been consigned to a restricted rating based on four little letters, and it's time to demand a change; it's time, in fact, to start giving a fuck.