This post is about swearing. If you don’t want to see rude words written down, look away now…
I think it was Dave Lashbrook who leant me his copy of National Lampoon’s Radio Dinner. It usually was. He was the sort of friend who would press twelve inches of vinyl into my hands with the words “you should listen to this”. Radio Dinner contains a series of send-ups of the Beatles. In 1970, John Lennon gave a rambling, sweary interview which was published verbatim by Rolling Stone magazine. That interview was the basis of the track Magical Misery Tour, performed by Tony Hendra in a Lennon voice, very much in the style of I am the Walrus. (You can probably find it somewhere on the web, but since that’s likely to be in breach of copyright, it’s not something I can encourage!) It goes like this:
I resent performing for you fuckers tell me what do you know?
A lot of faggot middle-class kids wearing long hair and trendy clothes.
Look, I’m not your fuckin’ parents and I’m sick of uptight hippies
coming knocking at my door with a fuckin’ peace symbol
“Get this, get that,” I don’t owe you fuckers anything
and all I got to say is fuck you-oo-oo
The sky is blue-oo-oo
Dave was particularly amused by the parody inherent in that last line – an innocent, irrelevant platitude thrown-in just for the sake of rhyme. What I remembered most was the comment (it is there in almost the same way in Lennon’s Rolling Stone interview) “I’m not your fuckin’ parents”. Lennon didn’t want responsibility for the choices, taste or lifestyle of his fans. Whilst it can be argued that he was a role model, I think his position was that he was an artist; he was what he was, and it was up to parents and educators to provide role models, not him.
I feel much the same about the plays we publish: some of the authors write characters who exemplify good behaviour, but since drama comes out of conflict, there are plenty of characters who are not there to be role models. Some of our plays contain swearing, and sometimes this will offend audiences. (After the inaugural production of Terry Hammond’s Ten Rods, there were some complaints about the amount of swearing. Terry mentioned this to some friends who had come down from London to see the show, and they asked “What swearing?”) On the whole, offending some people is a good thing: if swearing were not offensive, there’d be no point to it. There are even occasions where there may not be enough swearing. Whilst liaising with the author in response to a customer question about resetting A Controlling Interest in the USA, I found this production note:
“The characters don’t swear very much, even in stressful situations. That’s just how the writing came out (the voices in the author’s head!) If that seems understated as you play the characters, then there is scope for a little extemporisation in the fights…”
So, we’re not your parents. I don’t see it as the publisher’s duty to be a guardian of public decency. We are, of course, willing to offer some guidance, but only to people who recognise that we are imperfect. We automatically check all our plays for offensive language of various kinds – there’s a sort of user’s guide to swearing in our on-line help which explains what we look for – and the results of the check appear in the on-line metadata, but we don’t necessarily get everything right because language is so mutable. For example, it is entirely possible to mistake a female sex-worker for a chuckle from Father Christmas.
Ho, ho, ho.