If I asked for a cup of coffee, someone would search for the double meaning
– Mae West
On this day in 1927, Mae West was sentenced to ten days in jail for obscenity for her play Sex.
I didn’t spend a lot of time researching the play. In other words, I couldn’t really find out what it was about the play that was considered obscene. My guess, however, is that it was probably pretty tame by today’s standards.
In fact, in many cases, today’s standards are designed to shock. I mean, I’ll be blunt, salty language doesn’t bother me. Don’t be shocked but I used a bit of it in my recent performance in Neil Simon’s I Ought to Be in Pictures. The words were not necessarily part of my every day language, but they were also not strange to me.
Still, I don’t get the use of profanity, or nudity, or violence just because you can. If it means something to the story, if it means something to the plot, if it adds realism, then maybe. Or maybe not.
I recently binge-watched The Ranch on Netflix. It’s not great television, but it had its moments that unfortunately were blurred by the use of the laugh track every time an actor dropped an f-bomb. And let’s just say there were a lot of explosions.
Are we really that juvenile that the word is funny to us? I’ve seen it happen in live theater as well.
I mean, are we really so middle-schoolish that we giggle every time someone says a naughty word?
To me a work can be just as strong, or perhaps stronger, without it.
As a writer who is also an actor I think my challenge is to write something that is compelling without using words, or sex, or violence for the shock value.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not saying that those things don’t have their proper place and usage. Just that, if they’re they only thing that makes something a “good” work, then perhaps the work wasn’t that good to start with.
Speaking of middle-school, for years we avoided showing our son the full-length version of either Titanic or Shakespeare in Love.
Yes, women have breasts. But yes, the movies could have been made without showing either pair. It just wasn’t necessary.
And good heavens, when a couple of years ago they brought Titanic back in 3D…
On the other hand, how could you have had Schindler’s List without showing the naked bodies heading for the chambers?
Look, I’m not into censorship. In most cases I’ll tell people if something offends you, change the channel, turn off the television, go to another movie.
Words are just words. Bodies are just bodies.
All I’m saying is use them wisely.