Letters from Midgard
Killing Miss Prignasal
Can you just see poor Miss Prignasal squirming in agony? It seems that television actors actually emphasize these words whenever they say them, just to be sure we heard. Do they make your head spin with delight? Are we having fun yet? Now that we can say a--- on television, t--- won't be long in coming. Both words refer to body parts I plainly adore, but what is the goal here? Are the scriptwriters trying to murder Miss Prignasal slowly, by degrees? Is the strategy to induce a new set of juvenile giggles every few years, until the vocabulary is finally used up? What will we do then?
Moving from the free broadcast venues to paid venues such as movies, pay-TV, and theater, we encounter f--- and its relatives. This word can be useful, descriptive, and even charming in certain contexts. But I have heard writers who say they use it (as profanity, not as a descriptive verb or noun) because it adds "authenticity" to dialogue. If the goal is to write dialogue that is authentically dumb and depressing and thoroughly misunderstands what maturity and intensity are, they might be right. There are characters for whom profanity is appropriate, up to the point that we've gotten the message. After that: enough, where the recognition of enough is one of the essences of art.
With many modern scripts, though, I wonder if the writer is being paid by the word, where f--- is the only word that matters. When they write this way, do they imagine the Authenticity Meter is automatically pegged at 11? And when I'm subjected to it, can I get my money back?
The attempt to kill Miss Prignasal has been going on for a long time. I once saw a stage comedy from the 1920s in which the boorish boss character punctuated most of his lines by yelling "G--- d-----!" I suppose this language was hot stuff back then. Even eighty years later, it got a good laugh the first couple of times as we came to understand what this character was about. After that, the response was only that nervous titter emitted by an audience when they know they're supposed to respond, but aren't sure they want to any more.
The attempts on Miss Prignasal's life became more determined in the 1960s, which I remember well. I am old enough to remember some of the 1950s and its expectations of conformity. Apparently, I wasn't the only one who was unwilling to accept them, and bucking such expectations can be a good thing if they've gotten out of hand. But, as with many lessons of the 1960s, the real issue of reasonable individual freedom was forgotten, and tilling the anti-field of the out-of-bounds became a goal in itself.
Now that soil grows only weeds. Miss Prignasal's body is buried out there somewhere, but her decaying carcass turned out to be not very good fertilizer. But what did anyone really expect? Have her murderers even noticed that she's dead?
This issue goes far beyond the use of words that used to get children's mouths washed out with soap. Crassness and disrespect are now the basic construction materials of many writers. Trashiness-on-purpose has become a virtue. I can't exactly say this will come to a bad end, because I think it already has. Ideas matter, even bad ideas. Art matters, even bad art. If ugliness is what we consume, ugly is what we become. That's the power of art. Is that what we want?
Agnes Prignasal terrorized us with just how blue her nose could be (and it thrilled her to do so). To her, good riddance. But Agnes has a classy cousin who is a very different person. Due to a strong family resemblance, some people have a hard time telling them apart, while others, who ought to know better, don't seem to care. But I, for one, hope we will become much better acquainted.
Steven Thor Abell is a storyteller and the author of Days in Midgard: A Thousand Years On, a collection of original modern stories based on Heathen myths. As of 2013, he is also Steersman of the High Rede of The Troth.
Abell's column, "Letters from Midgard," is published on occasional Thursdays on the Pagan channel. Subscribe via email or RSS.