Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Art of Swearing

When I was little my dad was very careful to substitute tame words for expletives. His favorite expression was “shoot fire,” which made me giggle. My mother never cursed that I remember. Or maybe the occasional dammit surfaced under duress. I was never quite so disciplined, so between me and TV I’m sure the girls have a working familiarity with colorful language.

I have nothing against swearing. I’ve always felt that people squeamish about it were just too prissy for words. Sorry if that’s you. I spend most days biting my tongue to spare your sensibilities, so be sure to applaud me for my incredible restraint. I know a reliance on profanity can reveal a poverty of language and an inability to properly express oneself. Profanity can also be very aggressive, integral to bullying or verbal abuse. But in general I think life can be difficult enough to warrant a few expletives. God won’t spank you for it.

When the BBC announced that the 12th Doctor (and yes I was ferociously interested in this) would be Peter Capaldi, I decided I would have to investigate the series he’s best known for - The Thick of It. If you don’t know the series, it’s a satire about the British government, in particular the fictional Department of Social Affairs and Citizenship. Peter Capaldi plays Malcolm Tucker, the party's spin doctor. His character, and the show in general, is known for its liberal use of profane language. In fact, I think its MA rating is based purely on language, as I haven’t yet seen any sex or nudity.

I’ve never heard anything quite like The Thick of It. This isn't just letting fly a few curse words. This is extravagance. This is a luxurious jungle of swearing rooted in rich loamy earth. I’m not sure there is a single character who doesn’t participate, but the king is Malcolm Tucker, who uses it like a crowbar to prise open every opportunity that comes his way,  a whip to punish his coworkers, and a bludgeon to beat down objections. And he does it in a Scottish accent. It’s downright mellifluous. I gather that they actually have someone who acts as a "swearing consultant" on the scripts. Imagine that job.

In any case, the show is bitingly funny in a particularly British way. I suppose you could think of Fawlty Towers wed to The Office. Mishaps, misunderstandings, and misdirection accumulate while everyone teeters on the edge of disaster and chaos. If they didn’t swear constantly they would probably leave a trail of blood and bodies behind them.

Everyone wonders what Capaldi will bring to Doctor Who. All the doctors have a catch phrase: Fantastic! (9th), Allons-y! (10th), Geronimo! (11th). Makes you wonder what the 12th will say.

You can actually get this on a T-shirt. There's also an "unbleeped" version, if you're brave.

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