Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Teaching kids to say the f-word

Is it just me, or are animated films involved in some kind of conspiracy to insinuate, use replacements for, and in all other ways put the word "fuck" into kids' minds?

This occurred to me as I was waiting for Rango to start on Saturday afternoon, when two straight trailers alluded to the word "fuck" without actually saying it.

First it was the newest trailer for Rio -- which, darn it, I can't find online -- in which the bird played by George Lopez says "Yippee Ki Yay [something something]." (See, that's why I needed to find the trailer.) Suffice it to say that he says a four-syllable phrase beginning with "M." That is, of course, an allusion to Die Hard, in which Bruce Willis famously says "Yippee Ki Yay, Motherfucker!"

The second was the newest trailer for Kung Fu Panda 2, in which the word "freakin'" makes several appearances. The word "freakin'" or "freaking" would not exist at all if it weren't being used as a non-vulgar substitute for "fucking."

You might say this isn't much evidence. In the first instance, you have to have actually seen Die Hard to get that the word "fuck" is being referenced. In the second, if you haven't heard the word "fucking" before, you have no idea that "freaking" is a cleaner synonym.

But we parents ... we get both of them, don't we? And it does make a person wonder.

And then, when Rango started, the allusions to swear words came fast and furious. I don't know about you, but when I grew up, I learned that these were the swear words: hell, damn, bitch, shit, ass and fuck. Yeah, there are words that are worse than all of these, that aren't technically swears, and at least half of these curse words can freely be said on television ("shit" and "fuck" being the only definite exceptions, and you can even say "shit" on basic cable now). But I think we can generally agree that none of them have a real place in a children's movie, right?

Well, I counted at least three instances of one of these words, either said or alluded to. When the hawk attacks Rango and that other lizard in the desert, and ends up grabbing the other lizard and flying off, you hear the other lizard curse Rango's name as he disappears into the sky: "You son of a biiiiiii ..." He doesn't get the whole word out, so it's okay. Then later on, the word "hell" is spoken at least twice. The first of which is really chilling, and may be the single clearest indication that this movie is not appropriate for young kids. The villain Rattlesnake Jake makes the following threat: "I'll send your soul straight to hell!" Yeah, I bet some kids were asking their parents about that one. Then the heroine, a lizard named Beans, tells Jake later on to "go to hell." Relatively tame by comparison.

I'm no prude -- not in the least. (If I were, would I have written out the word "fuck" eight times in this post already? Make that nine.) I just like to point out apparent hypocrisies when I see them. Here you have three children's movies that are, I'm sure, being embraced by conservative parents' groups everywhere, and each is doing its damnnedest (pun intended) to give their children a potty mouth.

But maybe it's much simpler than I'm making it out to be. Maybe those groups talk the talk about keeping young minds in pristine condition, but they don't really want to walk the walk. Maybe they really want their kids to learn these words.

Think about it. How much easier would it be if children could learn the bad language they're eventually going to learn, now, and just get it out of the way?

Parents would no longer have to worry about what their kids are watching on TV. They'd no longer have to wonder if the music their kids listen to contains explicit lyrics. Most importantly, they'd no longer have to worry about the words coming out of their own mouths. I think it's safe to say that a lot of us like dropping an f-bomb now and again, regardless of whether we're churchgoing folk, new-age liberals, or somewhere in between. If the kids knew those words already, it would let us all off the hook.

I'm obviously being a little bit disingenuous when I say this. It's straight-up bad parenting to not care what your kids watch or listen to, because it's not the word itself that is usually the problem, but an undercurrent of violence the word may suggest, in the context it is being used. We probably observe a difference between the way "fuck" comes out of our own mouths and the way it comes out of the mouths of gangsta rappers. At least when it's us saying it, we can control the context.

Still, I think it's interesting to note the way animated films are pushing their own standards of decency, just as the other parts of the entertainment world are doing the same. In the interest of making the movie seem like it speaks to adults -- and Rango may actually speak to adults more than it does to kids -- the writers want to give the movie some clear-cut adult content, or at least content that adults recognize is intended for them. The surest way to do that is something like the "Yippee Ki Yay" line in Rio, which will be entirely over the heads of children, but work as a wink to their parents. At some level it is simply a calculated attempt to get a higher box office. The best path to a good box office is when you can also get people to go without their kids -- like I did on Saturday.

I guess it's probably a freakin' good idea.


Simon said...

I learned all the big curse words from my parents, but I never got the illusions in movies, like the one you're talking about. Like the entirety of Shrek just flew over my head.

Vancetastic said...

Ha, sometimes it's funny to think of the age difference between myself and other bloggers. I was 27 when Shrek came out.

Then again, there are some bloggers who are older than me, too.

Was Shrek filled with things that came up just short of f-words, or are you more speaking to the general attempt to provide adult-oriented content?

Simon said...

General attempts. I got most of the literal fairy-tale humor, and a bit of the more famous homages, just because I'd seen them imitated too many times to count, but most of it was kind of ridiculous for a kid film.

Daddy Geek Boy said...

Aaaah, issues I would have never thought important before parenthood.

Taking the Rango example...if know what the end of the "son of a biiii..." line is that you already know the word.

That said, as a parent I do think that sometimes this kind of language is used too commonly. Woody calls Buzz an idiot approximately 157 times in the first Toy Story. Thankfully my kid hasn't picked up on it yet, but it's a matter of time.

I haven't watched the Kung Fu Panda trailer in question (yet), but it seems to me that for a movie expressly aimed at kids--they should have toned it down.