Monday, May 07, 2012

I have seen television's future ...

... and it isn't fucking Leave It To Beaver, now is it? Lots of viewers have apparently told BBC America just that, so it will be interesting to see if the cable channel continues its policy of bleeping out swear words from its broadcasts of The Thick of It.

I never watched this British political comedy/drama until Adrian McKinty's blog post yesterday about the bleeping; I've now watched all of Series 1 and a good chunk of Series 3 (in their uncensored versions). McKinty calls the show's invective "some of the best and most creative swearing that we've seen in the English language since Chaucer" and, while he unaccountably omits to mention Shakespeare, his head is in the right place.

The show, a purported look at the inner workings of the British government, is a symphony of swearing, with strings of ingeniously baroque invective from Malcolm Tucker, the brilliant and much-feared government communications director, punctuated by four-letter grace notes from him and the rest of the cast. The swearing is just part of the reason I'm more impressed by The Thick of It than by anything I've seen from Seinfeld, The Wire, The Sopranos or Curb Your Enthusiasm.

But I'm really here to ask for your favorite examples of published or broadcast fictional insult and invective. They need not involve sexual or bodily functions or even dirty words of any kind; one of my favorite invective set pieces in crime fiction is Salvo Montalbano's habit of cursing the saints at moments of tension in Andrea Camilleri's novels. That's up there with Thersites, the "deformed and scurrilous Greek" in Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, whose lines include:
"I would thou didst itch from head to foot and I had the scratching of thee; I would make thee the loathsomest scab in Greece."
Those are my favorite examples; what are yours? And what distinguishes good swearing from tedious, offensive swearing in books, movies, and plays and on television?

© Peter Rozovsky 2012

Labels: , , , , , ,


Blogger akikana said...

I guess this gem from "Derek and Clive" passes muster? All one long 'bleep' methinks!

May 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

That's a beautiful, absurd word symphony. I'm laughing my ass off.

May 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

The central word in that skit plays a significant role in one episode of The Thick of It. I wonder what BBC America did or will do with it.

And thanks for the Dave and Clive clip. It's great. And here it is in handy clickable form.

May 07, 2012  
Blogger Philip Amos said...

It would have to be Kent's vanquishing of Oswald in King Lear, Act II, Scene II. It occupies about one-third of the scene all told, so I must leave those who don't know it to look it up. Well worth it.

I have wondered if it inspired a famous theatrical anecdote, and a true one. The egregiously noisome Laurence Harvey, having somehow wheedled his way into a party, said something arrogantly derogatory about a most distinguished actor in the hearing of Olivier, who promptly lauched at Harvey such a catalogue of invective that I should think the latter oily oik was on Valium for weeks after. In a volume of memoirs, Olivier confirmed the incident and was even thoughtful enough to try to reconstruct it after many years.

May 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

A knave; a rascal; an eater of broken meats; a
base, proud, shallow, beggarly, three-suited,
hundred-pound, filthy, worsted-stocking knave; a
lily-livered, action-taking knave, a whoreson,
glass-gazing, super-serviceable finical rogue;
one-trunk-inheriting slave; one that wouldst be a
bawd, in way of good service, and art nothing but
the composition of a knave, beggar, coward, pandar,
and the son and heir of a mongrel bitch: one whom I
will beat into clamorous whining, if thou deniest
the least syllable of thy addition.

Yes, that will do nicely. Thank you.

Ye gods, a party full of actors projecting all over the place -- not the place fpr a quiet evening.

May 07, 2012  
Blogger adrian mckinty said...


I wonder what broken meats are?

May 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Thersites would call you beef-witted for not knowing that:

Eater of broken meats is an insult of social position (indicating that the person eats other people's leftovers.

May 07, 2012  
Anonymous solo said...

I know you promised to slip in some La Rochefoucauld but this is more like La Rochefuckauld.

And vérité, my arse. Shoot that fucking cameraman.

May 07, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

La Roche-fuck-all sounds like something Malcolm Tucker might say. I like it.

I hate the hand-held camera work that is such an obtrusive and annoying part of so many "edgy" television shows. I assumed the makers of The Thick of It were taking the piss out of such shows, and I found it pretty funny.

May 08, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

Yes. There's a plethora of swear words in Camilleri's latest Salvo Montalbano adventure, The Potter's Field. But, how well it fits into the dialogue and into Salvo's frustrated comments to the police team in Vigata.

This is an excellent, fun book. A Maontalbano fan should run, not walk to the nearest library or bookstore to get a copy. Plan on doing no tasks or errands until the book is finished.

And, oh, yes, Montalbano swipes some sweets from another's stash, and he eats them one cannolo at a time.

And, he looks to the most importance source for clues -- Andrea Camilleri.

This book has had me laughing since I began it.

May 11, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I reviewed The Potter’s Field in my newspaper. I didn’t mention the swearing, though I did think of Salvo’s occasional outbursts of profanity when I wrote this post. That the swearing is effective is a tribute to his translator, Stephen Sartarelli. I think the Montalbano books have got stronger as the series has gone on.

May 12, 2012  
Anonymous kathy d. said...

I'm raving about this Montalbano, and reading rave comments across the mystery readers' blogs.

It is just a delightful book. What a loss for any reader who enjoys well-written mysteries -- and humor -- to bypass this one.

That Montalbano is feeling more pangs of aging is sad. I would want this series to go on for years more, for Camilleri to live to 100, churning out these books.

I haven't laughed this much at a book in a long time. Montalbano playing chess with himself -- and losing to his worthy opponent, consulting Camilleri for clues,
and characterizing politicians as entering that profession because they have no talents or skills; all of it shows a genius at work --author and inspector.

Where is your review?

Swearing sometimes annoys me, but not in this book. Who wouldn't swear at Catarella's crazy antics, and so much more?

May 13, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

Kathy, you'll find the review by clicking on the link in my comment right before this one. Click on the words "in my newspaper."

I've liked the Montalbano novels more and more as Camilleri has had Salvo think about aging. Keep in mind that the author was sixty-nine years old when he began writing the series and that he takes the protagonist from his forties into his fifties. It's udnerstandable aging and mortality should be on his mind.

The swearing is very much in line with the characters and the situations. That's one reasonf the recurring biut about cursing the saints is so funny.

May 13, 2012  
Blogger May said...

Peter, do you watch other BBC shows? Canal+ recently started airing Luther, and I am enjoying it. Know it?

May 30, 2012  
Blogger Peter Rozovsky said...

I have the barest acquaintance with BBC shows, but programs that originate on BBC4 seem quite good, the sort of thing unlikely to show up on American television, where even HBO censored "The Thick Of It."

I don't know know "Luther." What should I know about it?

May 30, 2012  

Post a Comment

<< Home