Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Passing Opinion Off As Fact Since 2009

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

What's In A Word? A post in which I curse a lot

I do not necessarily curse often - I would estimate I am in the bottom 40% in terms of curse frequency for my demographic. Regardless, I am completely for parental soap-based legislation and this ilk of media censorship. Without this constant crackdown certain curses would slowly lose all potential for emotional impact.

Preface: One college break I was visited my parents in Upstate New York. It being Thanksgiving, the house seemed especially Rockwellian. It was cold for that is how weather works. Upon my first hour in this aggressively pleasant ranch-style home, my then seven year-old younger brother excitedly came up to me, as he is wont to do. I could tell this time was different though – special – life changing.

“Guess what?” He said, barely able to enunciate through his appropriately mischievous smile.

“Yes?” I said in retort, because as his older sibling I felt it my responsibility to be kind of a dick.

Unperturbed he bounced back, now in an obliviously loud whisper, “I know what the middle-finger word means.”

Instead of going through the whole pretending not hear him rigamorale, I indulged my pre-prepubescent brother, knowing how fun it was going to be to hear him say “fuck” for the next hour or four. And sure enough, it was fun. I am certain he had no idea what the word meant, but he surely knew it was somewhat taboo and powerful. The entire time he maintained the type of grin kids have when given a window into the world of the grown-ups.

I may be 18 years older than my brother was at that time but that word still can be quite evocative. I submit these two songs that use the word very differently yet equally as affectingly:

1) Below is my favorite song from Sufjan Stevens’s new album The Age of Adz. It is important to keep in mind that this song is the second to last song on the record.

Yep, he says “fuck” a lot. It is incredibly arresting simply because it is decidedly not a Sufjan thing to do. Before this record, Mr. Stevens made a career making heavily orchestrated and exceedingly precious music –like a walking, singing Wes Anderson movie. There was no glitchy electronics and hurried screams – there were children’s choirs, Jesus lyrics (FIVE Christmas records worth), gently strummed banjoes, and no curses.

He has been prolifically creating music for 10 years, never before showing a crack in his understated armor, and then BLAMO(!!!!!!!) “I’m not fuckin’ around.” Imagine if the lyric was “I’m not messin’ around,” the song would be emotionally castrated. Listen to it again, the music escalates and echoes his unhinged performance.

This career long tension is reminiscent of this very famous scene from The Simpsons:

Yes, that was in Spanish but you know what was happening, “forgiveness, please.” Sufjan was like that little guy standing in the back, slowly building suspense, waiting for that moment to go berzerk. “I Want to Be Well” is Sufjan Stevens’s version of flipping through the air, kicking a bunch of Italian Mob caricatures in the head.

2) The track does differ greatly from Cee-Lo’s more renowned fuck-sung song. “Fuck You” succeeds as a result of how casually the curse is uttered, not how out of character it is to hear. This is undoubtedly not Cee-Lo’s first time around the fuck block, which seems to be the moral of the song’s story.

Though Cee-Lo has not made a career that effectively builds curse suspense, he has often played the lovable-loser role. He is so fed up that when the chorus hits he sings the most on-the-nose lyric possible.

Cursing in music not something new and nine out ten times the use seems frivolous and lazy. What makes these songs very different is that they are both built around the established emotional history of the respective artists. By saying “fuck” in these cases both Sufjan and Cee-Lo are actually saying a lot more.

It is a word that has a predetermined meaning, yet its real worth is the psychological and emotional weight society has bestowed upon it. Look at the word “shit” that is used so often in media that it is left no harsher than “poop,” "doodie," or "ka-ka." It is similar to how the illegality of under-aged drinking single-handedly makes growing up in the suburbs bearable*. The fact that “fuck” is the only word that should not be said makes it one of the few that truly has worth in saying, which is why we cannot cut and run from the epic war between soap bars and kids’ faces.


1 comment:

  1. All interesting, and just incase you were unaware, Bruno Mars was responsible for writing the Cee Lo song, which I find a bit more surprising than Cee Lo singing it.

    Miss you!