I grew up on a strict diet of Disney, the Wonderful World of Disney, and Disney Vault. My older sister's job was to fast-forward inappropriate scenes in movies from other production houses, or at the very least cover my eyes. I loved flying on airplanes because the movies were edited for content, which meant that I could watch them. Tamora Pierce and Sweet Valley High books were screened and approved on a case by case basis. That was just at home, too; in school, the librarian considered jettisoning Thackeray's Vanity Fair for being too risqué. Shakespeare's Julius Caesar was assigned in an abridged, sanitized edition and we didn't study Romeo and Juliet. Which is why I find it amusing now, as an adult, when I come across a TV show that has to comply with all of the rules I dealt with as a child. Specifically, when a TV show's characters are meant to curse but the show has to keep it PG.
Most TV shows that aren't on premium cable have this problem. Most writers work their way around the issue by avoiding profanity altogether. Recently, Sam Esmail's Mr. Robot started poking fun at curse words when its main hacker group called itself "fsociety" in the pilot. As the season continued, though, it was refreshing to realize that you could see – if not hear – characters saying the F-word, sentences broken up with a deliberate beat of silence accompanied by bottom lips tucked under teeth. The not-profanity didn't happen often, but enough to make you feel a little bit naughty watching it go down on the USA Network: home to the buddy shows, the funny shows, the white collar rascals with their blinding smiles.
This week's episode – the last one before next week's finale – changed that. Elliot (Rami Malek), the protagonist, uncovers information that makes him question his safety and his sanity. As a result, he lashes out at Mr. Robot (Christian Slater), the head of fsociety. Elliot's ensuing anger and panic result in a stream of targeted expletives, to the point where if maybe you didn't catch that words were being censored before, you couldn't possibly miss it now.
I found the scene fascinating. First, because Elliot's controlled buildup to this breaking point is mirrored by the buildup in profanity use as well. In addition, the writers make the silence feel organic. Obviously the bleeped out words are distracting; but at the same time they add to the tension and claustrophobic atmosphere intrinsic to the show, evidenced in the producers' choice of music and irregular cinematography. They feel like a decision that was as deliberate and intentional as the rest of the script.
The actual swear words would have improved the scene. The character is meant to be swearing. The censorship doesn't make the work better. But the choice to include the profanity anyway makes me appreciate the thought process that goes into writing the show. As someone who didn't understand the concept of curse words until I was twelve years old, I love the thought of someone finding a workaround that (almost) benefits the story.
Thoughts with Alisa
Current writing on pop culture. Also known as my post-graduate school writing motivation.