Sunday, August 10, 2014

Bad Language

This comes from a facebook discussion of whether Guardian of the Galaxy's use of the words "whore" and "bitch" made the movie misogynistic. The conversation started with an article in Dailydot. I wrote:
Well, I finally went and read the article. How do you make a movie about low lifers who behave badly and use bad language WITHOUT showing them behaving badly and using bad language? Peter grew up among criminals. In many ways he is a jerk. Rocket is a criminal. Gamorra is a trained killer. We meet Drax in prison. These are not nice people. Only the plant is nice, but the plant has gotten into bad company. The person who wrote the article appears to have missed the fact that these are not nice people and is complaining that they are not nice. This is not a good criticism.

The language did not bother me, because the characters in the movie use street language. They are thugs, after all, living in a criminal subculture. I'm not sure they are misogynistic. The culture obviously has a streak of misogyny, since the words have remained in use.
Lyda Morehouse disagreed with me, pointing out that the Marvel comics and the other Marvel movies have not used bad language, and I wrote:
I defer to your knowledge of Marvel, Lyda. But I think -- in this one movie -- the sleaziness, including the language, works. They could have pulled all the bad language, and the movie would have still worked. But it would not have been as sleazy. Peter's forgotten date and the Collector's slave girl would also have to go, if we want to get rid of sleaze. You'd end with something like the WWII war movie flavor of the first Captain America. Clean violence. Clean evil.

Thor is clean evil too. As far as we know, frost giants aren't misogynistic. In fact, they don't seem to have any women, which makes it hard to explain Loki. What could be cleaner than all that ice and snow?

I will also add that I am increasingly reluctant to use bad language in my own writing, which means it reads as if an editor came through with a bar of soap. The ultimate test is the n-word, which I never use. If a movie was about racism and racists, would it be possible to use the n-word? Yes, if the movie was Blazing Saddles, but that was made a long time ago. In science fiction, this could be handled by making up a racist word. "You vile human! You Earthie! You skwilk!"
But does it really make sense to remove bad language -- and bad behavior -- from art, because we loath it? And why is killing still acceptable? There is a lot of killing in Guardians of the Galaxy and no one is objecting to this.

P.S. I decided Lyda far knows more about the Marvel Universe than I do, and if she says the language is not appropriate, then she is right. Also, the director of the movie, who worked on the script, apparently has a rep as the misogynist. Maybe he stuck the bad words in, because it's the kind of language he uses.

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