I thought of this after Variety recently noted the new record for film use of the word “fuck”: Martin Scorcese’s The Wolf of Wall Street uses it — drumroll — 506 times! That’s a fuckload of fucking f-words! If you’ll pardon my fucking French. The only words used more often were “the” and the pronoun “I.”
If you’d asked me earlier, I would have guessed the record-holder to be Goodfellas (300 times) or The Big Lebowski (292 times.) Hard to imagine a time when one use of the word “damn” created such a stir in Gone With the Wind. We’ve come a long way. I completely understand why Mom, whom I’ve heard swear exactly twice in six decades, doesn’t go to the movies anymore.
I also understand why Scorcese keeps upping the f-word ante. I’m quite sure that the real wolves of Wall Street talk just this way, as do butchers and bakers and candlestick makers. And cops and clerks and school teachers. Did we learn it from the movies, or did the movies learn it from us?
In any case, if this is the way we all talk now, what does it mean when every sentence must contain what used to be the queen mother of swear words? In any language, profanity exists for a reason. If everything is profane, then nothing is. All our amps are turned to 11 right at the get-go. So we’re kind of losing the ability to emphasize.
Key & Peele illustrated this in a recent sketch, having Peele’s gangster character repeatedly utter a complex sentence composed almost entirely of the word “motherf&%$#er” — I mean, the word did every duty a word can do: noun, verb, adjective, adverb, conjunction and maybe an infinitive or two. Talk about some harsh gerunds.
It was pretty funny, and pretty effective satire of the trend. I think modern script writers should check it out. Yep, it’s harder when you have to come up with a lot of different words. But maybe the sentences will be more interesting.