Plugged In Talks Content: Crude or Profane Language

Plugged In Talks Content Crude or Profane Language

Editor’s Note: Plugged In movie reviews are split into content sections, and sometimes Plugged In is asked, Why? This series of blogs seeks answer that and many other questions. We’ll unpack each content section in turn and explain why we believe each is important. We’ll give you a peek at how we think and talk about movies—and in so doing, perhaps you’ll learn something about us, the movies we watch and maybe even how can you watch them with a discerning eye, too.

Our sixth post in this series is about profanity. (See previous post on Violent Content here.)

Of all the content issues we deal with at Plugged In, this might be the one where some Christians might say, “Hey, this isn’t a big deal, right?” I mean, we know that we shouldn’t sleep with other people’s spouses or get drunk. Even if Christians have been known to do such things (and let’s not kid ourselves, some do), most know they shouldn’t.

But swearing feels, for many of us, different. We learn—and learn to use—colorful words from the playground to the Army barracks. In our coarsening culture, they’ve become a part of our everyday lexicon, and they’re almost impossible to get away from in movies.

Plus (we might argue), curses are more contextual. While adultery is a sin the whole world ‘round, foul language is dependent on both time and place. While folks who lived during King David’s reign in ancient Israel likely had their own crudities, theirs weren’t ours. Even when we speak the same language, we find cultural differences: Say the word “bloody” to an American, and she’d likely think you’re talking about some sort of injury or carpet stain. Say it to an Englishman, and you could receive a much different reaction.

I get all that. And yet, the issue of profanity ultimately hits an important bit of bedrock for me: Language matters. And bad language matters, too.

Most parents would say that language matters … for their kids. No one wants little Suzy slinging four-letter words at Grandma Josephine during Thanksgiving dinner. Most moms and dads are careful about cautioning their sons and daughters from using foul language (even if those same moms and dads aren’t so great about curbing their own tongues).

And why would that be, if language is such an innocuous offense?

Well, maybe because the Bible itself tells us to watch our language.

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear,” Paul writes in Ephesians 4:29. The Message translation puts things even more baldly: “Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth.” And Paul’s not done. “Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving” (Ephesians 5:4, ESV). Makes me wonder whether those Ephesians were notorious swearers.

Words are important. They’re so important, in fact, that God literally spoke creation into being. They’re so important that John, in his own Gospel, tells us that “In the beginning was the Word.” (emphasis mine).

And as such, the words we say and hear, even in the context of a movie, are important, too.

But I think that foul language, especially in films, often illustrates something else: lazy writing.

I’m admittedly a lover of words. I’ve worked closely with them for my entire professional life. I think a really, really well-constructed sentence—the stuff you might read from Shakespeare or Dickens or Maya Angelou—can feel like music. And with more than 171,000 words at our disposal (according to the Oxford English Dictionary), that’s a lot of notes to choose from.

Why use just such a small handful of revolting words to make a point?

Part of it is the shock value that those words inherently carry, even now when we seem to hear them everywhere. But there’s an irony embedded therein: The more crass our culture becomes, and the more those words become ubiquitous, the less power they carry. Their overuse undercuts the reason we use them. I’ve argued, half seriously, that lovers of profanity would do well to use their crudities sparingly, lest society stops considering them to be crude.

Speaking of the profanity proliferation, we count those profanities (particularly the strongest ones) because we know that moviegoers draw their own lines on just how much is too much. For some, any profanity is too much. Others might feel that a couple of curses are navigable, but 20 f-words? Or 200? Too much. Still others might not worry so much about obscenities (technically stuff that would refer to bodily parts or actions), but don’t want to hear God’s or Jesus’s name misused at all. We try to embrace all those different takes in this section, giving people the information they need to make, for them and their families, the wisest decision possible.

One of entertainment’s most prolific swearers is Roy Kent of Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso. Roy often takes care of his niece, Phoebe, but he doesn’t curb his language around her. (In fact, in one episode, we learn that Roy owes Phoebe more than 1,200 pounds for all the vulgarities he’s uttered.) But he’s surprised when he learns that she’s been swearing at school.

“You know the influence you have on her,” Phoebe’s primary school teacher tells Roy. “Use it.”

Entertainment has an influence on kids and teens. It has an influence on moms and dads, too.  But our movies and television shows don’t have a kindly teacher to remind them of the power they wield. That means that we—the viewers—must use our own discernment. And in our Crude and Profane Language section, we try to give you the tools to do just that.

Next up in this series is Drug and Alcohol Content.

Paul Asay

Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.

3 Responses

  1. -The only movies I’ve ever seen that had so much cussing in them I literally couldn’t get past it all to get to the heart of the story that was trying to be told was number one Good Will Hunting and number two The Departed. I suppose there could be worse movies out there but those are the only ones that truly made me feel filthy watching them, not to mention had my head swimming thanks to the endless cussing that was going on.

    1. -In that case I do NOT recommend The Wolf of Wall Street, Uncut Gems, Casino, Pulp Fiction, The Big Lebowski…

      1. -I’m not saying I’ve never seen movies with tons of cussing in them, just most of the time I’m still able to enjoy the movie for what it is, but for some reason there was just so much of it in good will hunting and the departed that it felt like that’s all there was in the movie. And for what it’s worth I’ve seen pulp fiction the big Lebowski and wolf of wall street and hated them all but not because there was too much profanity. Pulp was just boring and not that interesting to me, Lebowski was just moronic, and wall street was equally stupid. The only films by those directors I love are kill Bill one and two, Fargo, silence, Hugo and the aviator.