Dawn Colclasure's Blog

Author and poet Dawn Colclasure

Monday, September 28, 2009

Ask me if I give a....

This morning, I was surprised to read about how SNL newcomer Jenny Slate said the "f" word on Saturday night's episode--and how it slipped past censors. According to the article, East Coast viewers heard her say the "f" word loud and clear.

I was surprised by this because it's late-night TV. Why on earth would something like that be considered offensive? It's not like children are watching the show (though if they were, how did that happen? SNL isn't even suitable for young viewers, to begin with.). Additionally, swearing on a late-night TV program is not anything new. I raised an eyebrow when Andy Sipowicz called someone an "a--hole" on an episode of NYPD Blue, but the show's badge of controversy allowed for such language.

Well, according to most people who read that article, this kinda thing bored them. I, too, started to wonder why this was even "news." She only said a swear word, it's not like she flashed her boobs. Any adult who has not lived under a rock their entire lives has heard swear words, even said some swear words themselves. Swear words on a TV program, even late-night TV programs, are nothing new. Ms. Slate is not the first to say such a word on SNL -- and I have a feeling she won't be the last.

This makes one wonder what swear words are okay to say, and what words aren't. Watch any George Carlin skit and you'll hear every swear word in the book. But watch a network program and you won't hear so many. I suppose some words, "a--hole" among them, are okay, but some words are not.

As a writer, I couldn't help but equate this (unimportant) uproar with what's acceptable in literature. Perhaps with some books, some magazines and some online media, a swear word or two are allowed. But very often, a swear word will be either broken up or clustered with asterisks and dashes. In the August issue of Psychology Today, for example, the "f" word has an asterisk in it. In the September issue of Poetry Magazine, you will find the "f" word printed in all its glory. Twice.

Where do we draw the line? What kind of guidelines should we follow when we are using a swear word in our writing? Writers have long debated over whether it's a good idea to use a swear word or not. Proponents say that is how their characters speak. Opponents say, it's a lazy cop-out for good writing.

Everybody has their own writing style and their own way of writing things.

Personally, I feel that Ms. Slate's imagined slip-up wasn't really a slip-up after all. She was depicting a biker chick, and that is how a biker chick would talk. That's exactly the kind of language such a character would use.

This begs the question: Why should staying true to the character be considered such a crime?

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  • At 10:23 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    I think you should stay true to character when writing. Some people swear, ALOT. And if a character in your book is one of these, so be it.

    Sometimes it gets annoying, like when the narraration contains swear words unecessarily, but other than that, I say swear away, it makes your character real.

    As for my kids I always tell them swear words do one thing...make you sound un-intelligent. Like you dont know enough adjectives to express yourself! LOL (But sometimes there just ISNT a better adjective, ha ha!)

  • At 8:24 AM , Blogger Dawn Wilson said...

    Good point, Nancy! :) Thank you for bringing that up. Yes, you can pretty much tell how it would be the way a character talks. Then we could perhaps be a little more forgiving of it. But not when it's overdone.


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