American commercial television networks need to loosen up. This is not news, of course, but I’m still often amused and/or annoyed by the choices network censors make. It’s a given that R-rated movies will be edited for television, but why must the poopy words be overdubbed with weak, non-poopy equivalents? What ever happened to the bleep?
The Matrix is on TNT as I type this, a film which contains a few naughty words. At one point Neo made the profane exclamation “jeepers creepers.” This was their poorly-dubbed replacement for the phrase “Jesus Christ”, which is apparently offensive to some people for some reason (something about a commandment I think). I’m sure TNT — and their parent company, Time-Warner — don’t want to upset their constituents in picket-fenced townships in the flyover states, the kinds of people who would be so outraged at the airing of casual blasphemy in their floral-printed family rooms that they would surely write angry letters and boycott advertisers. But come on, “jeepers creepers”?!
A few minutes earlier, as Agent Smith offered Neo a clean slate in exchange for handing over Morpheus, Neo’s witty counter-offer was to “give you a flipper” followed by a clumsy jump-cut edit. Those who recall the film will know that Neo’s original response was to “give you the finger” and execute a rude gesture. I could understand them not wishing to show the offending digit, but since when is the word “finger” on the List of Seven? A few minutes before that, Trinity was heard to utter the word “shucks” as an expression of her anger and frustration. I could tolerate “shoot” as a phonetic replacement, or the scatalogically correct yet oddly acceptable “crap,” but seriously, has anyone used the word “shucks” non-sarcastically since 1955?
I can accept that a commercial network, even on basic cable, would need to adjust a film’s content for broadcast. But the real problem here is the arbitrary modification of someone else’s art. By putting silly schoolyard expletives into the mouths of these characters, the censors are completely changing the tone and intent of what the filmmakers have created. Changing a character’s dialogue effectively changes the character, and shouldn’t that be the choice of the people who created it? Morpheus and Neo are supposed to be elite cyberninjas, not Wally and the Beaver.
If you must water down a movie for broadcast, what’s so wrong with a bleep or unobtrusive simple silence? I find that much less distracting than allegedly tough grownups calling each other “melon farmers” (an actual example from a TV edit of Repo Man). We all know what they’re saying anyway so it’s pointless to pretend they said something else. Delete the expletives if you must, but don’t substitute stilted playground hokum.
Do network executives and FCC politicians really think we’re all such infants that we need to be protected from rampant potty mouth? Or perhaps we should blame the clench-cheeked letter-writers, the holy rolling Stepford wives who want to ban everything their kids enjoy so they can avoid ever having to actually talk to their kids. They need to loosen up too. An adult character in a movie marketed to other adults should be allowed to exclaim realistically in an intense situation. If someone extracted an organo-metallic insect from my navel I’d probably scream much harsher words than “Jesus Christ.”