So it was my son’s ninth birthday, and he wanted to go to the movies to celebrate. We had a hard time finding something that was age appropriate, so we settled on “Million Dollar Arm,” a movie I knew absolutely nothing about beyond the fact that it was the only one with a PG rating currently playing in theaters.
It turned out to be a delightful little film that recounts the true story of a sports agent who stages a talent contest in India to find the first Indian pitcher for Major League Baseball. Sure, it was formulaic and predictable, but it was so earnestly played on all sides that it was hard not to like it. A good time was had by all.
As we walked out of the theater, I turned to my wife and said, “You know, there wasn’t a single bad word in that entire movie.” She pondered that for a moment and then said, “You know, I think you’re right.”
Now it’s possible I may have missed something, but when it comes to recognizing foul language, I’m a trained professional. As I mentioned in a previous column, I worked my way through college counting the swears in all the latest releases for a magazine that specifically catalogued all objectionable content for its readers. To this day, almost without trying, I can still walk out of a film with a remarkably reliable profanity tally. And this is the first movie I’ve seen in ages without any cussing whatsoever.
I’m confident that very few people noticed, and I’m even more confident that nobody complained.
Think about it. When was the last time you heard someone grumble about a movie’s shortage of expletives? Plenty of people will carp and whine about a film with too many four-letter words, but are there any that lament a lack of them?
That’s not true with other potentially offensive elements. There are plenty of action junkies who prefer R-rated excessive violence to the watered-down PG-13 stuff, and there are horror aficionados who will groan if the producers skimp on the gore. And, of course, there’s always an audience for sexually explicit content. But even those with the most obscene tastes are never found campaigning for more verbal obscenities on the silver screen.
So where does this disconnect come from?
In the days before the PG-13 rating, a single use of the most egregious vulgarity automatically bumped a movie from PG to R-rated territory. But now PG-13 movies can use that word once, and, for some reason, every one of them does. It’s like clockwork — you can practically set your watch to it. And every time, it’s completely unnecessary. I suppose there may be an exception to that rule, but in the three decades or so since the PG-13 rating was introduced, I haven’t seen one.
Nobody wants it, yet it’s always there.
I’ve heard some defenses of foul language in movies from those who think bad words ought to show up in movies because bad words show up in real life. But so what if they do? Movies are a heightened reality, and the good ones lift us beyond the mundane. In addition, “Million Dollar Arm” provides a practical example of how silly that kind of thinking is. This was based on a true story and real people, some of whom undoubtedly use bad words on occasion. Yet their cinematic versions didn’t, and the movie still worked.
So if there’s no measurable demand for profanity in movies, why does there seem to be an unlimited supply?
Jim Bennett is a recovering actor, theater producer and politico, and he writes about pop culture and politics at his blog, stallioncornell.com.