“…laden with invective and billingsgate”

The other day, while looking for something else entirely, I came across an article that was technically a jokey post about parental advisories for books. Some of the jokes were funny, but most weren’t. One of the reasons was the unexpectedly mean-spirited nature of the post.

It was the way that the writer opened it. (Not naming names or linking, since that is usually a bad idea) At the very start, the blogger wrote that they had themselves been perusing another site, and posted a comment found there. The comment was a comment on the use of profanity in the commenter’s reading genre of choice.

The tone of the comment was possibly leaning towards being either racist or at least prejudiced in some way to a perceived lower class, and it was a rather poorly expressed opinion.

But the way the blogger sharing this comment pounced on it as stupid, invalid, and worthy of mockery rather disappointed and even stunned me a little. It was so vehement, so violently offended. As if, rather than just expressing an opinion, the commenter had judged anyone who disagreed (definitely didn’t btw) and exposed some kind of personal naive idiocy about some essential world truth.

It was like walking in on a conversation like this:

A: “I don’t like when movies like this swear a lot. It makes the characters sound uneducated and crass.”

B: “WHAT. Somebody call the waaaahmbulance! You are so hilariously stupid! Cursing in this genre is essential to the verisimilitude, you bigoted EXPLETIVING EXPLETIVE!”

At least, that’s how I felt about it. I’m not trying to defend the commenter too much, although I don’t think that the rudeness/prejudice was as overt as the blogger seemed to believe. It was just an incredibly disproportionate response, and it was… well, wrong.

There’s never a time that a fictional character must swear. Would, definitely. Should, maybe. But a situation where they have to? No. Just no. Not unless there’s some weird plot thing going on, and that’s besides the point.

By all that, I mean, there are plenty of writers who write books about characters who could curse the air blue and justify it, but they don’t have to do so. They can choose not to, if they just don’t want to have their promiscuous vampire hunter swear. Some people simply don’t.

It doesn’t ruin the book if Sassy McHero doesn’t swear.

Some people find vulgar language to be just that: vulgar. It makes them uncomfortable, and they should never ever be made to feel bad about that. If they make someone else feel bad, say by insulting someone for liking profanity or using it, then they should apologise and be more tolerant (or at least polite), but honestly. No one should be ridiculed for disliking this kind of thing. It’s not like they’re being virulently homophobic or something.

My own reaction to cursing in books and films doesn’t enter in. The point I want to make is that it’s unacceptable to judge someone based on something so trivial. Especially when, as in this case, that person did not say, “I don’t like this and you shouldn’t either.” Yet the response was quite clearly, “You are stupid for not liking it; it doesn’t bother me, so it shouldn’t bother you.”

I mean, come on.


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