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Censorship is and always has been a concern. What we can allow in ﬁlm,
television, music, print, and other media is always something that is negotiated by social norms and mores, values, and usually what we would be willing to expose others to. There are some things, I believe, which will always be wrong and taboo (snuff, child pornography, other similar things) and then there are other things which are commonly available but based on my aesthetics and personal values I ﬁnd disgusting and would much rather not ever see. ! Despite my own acknowledgement that there are things I believe are better not
seen or heard, I respect peopleʼs liberties to choose their content. Thus I would rather that instead of external censors, we help people to develop their own aesthetics so that they can decide for themselves what is appropriate. While we try to develop that (something quite utopian really, but we might as well set our goals at the level of utopia and fall short, than to be bound by what are “manageable expectations”) I believe that we have to differentiate between content that is blatantly sick, disturbing, or offensive, and that which manages to use certain images, acts, or language for artistic effect. ! It is thus that we move from censorship in general to the censorship of profanity or
what might be considered improper language. We must acknowledge that profanity, swearing, cursing, or whatever we may want to call it, is part of our daily lexicon, that though we may not use these words ourselves, we hear them used. Now if you are a writer and you want to capture a speciﬁc kind of character, or a ﬁlmmaker and you similarly want to portray a character, it is essential that you deploy the kind of language and manner of speaking that the character would. Sometimes writers have to work around limitations of the form which they are working in. For example the television series 24 was on American broadcast television network Fox, and thus could not use profanity. So while it would have
been more realistic for Keifer Sutherlandʼs character Jack Bauer to say fuck or shit, he would only use the word dammit. ! In music, particularly rap and hip-hop, there is a good amount of profanity. It has
reached a point where parental advisory warnings no longer sufﬁce and there are “clean” versions of albums released, while the “dirty” versions are only sold to buyers over eighteen. Of course this is easily subverted in the digital age, but the principle exists. And more telling, that a “clean” version exists which means that you can understand and appreciate the album with all its expletives replaced with more acceptable language, or merely rubbed out. This does not bode well then for the usage of profanity in rap and hiphop, because it shows that this language is unnecessary, and the songʼs artistry does not suffer by its deletion or replacement. ! It is here then that I would like to differentiate Cee Loʼs “Fuck You” from all those
other songs and point to how essential the profanity and use of the word fuck is to building the songʼs meaning. While it sounds crude and crass to say fuck, without it the song loses a power that is created in the usage of profanity ! We must understand the way that profanity operates and how it is accessed in our
brains. Sure we pepper our language with it sometimes, and you donʼt have to be a rapper or a poet to know the various ways that one can deploy the word fuck, employing it and its conjugations as different parts of speech. But when we use profanity inadvertently, it points to our neural processes and how the use of profanity traces back to something primordial and instinctive. ! Consider this: Youʼre walking along and you slip. As youʼre falling you donʼt think
about it, you just scream out an expletive in response to the surprise of your falling. ! Or: Youʼre hammering in some nails and you accidentally hit your thumb. Without
stopping to think, an expletive issues forth from your lips.
Or: You see your ex-girlfriend in the arms of another. A, “What the fuck?” comes out
rhetorically before you have had the opportunity to process what you are witnessing. ! The explanation is this: Though we do sometimes consciously use profanity in our
language, when things like the examples above happen, we respond instinctively, with profanity bypass the thought and language centers and just getting blurted out. ! When something happens which we respond instinctively to, it is the Amygdala, the
old reptilian part of our brain, where reside the instincts, that is activated. Thus even the most modest-spoken person can at times say the most profane things, when this instinctive reaction is provoked. We cannot stop or control this, we just respond automatically. Again, instinct comes into play, thus without thinking we resort to profanity just as much as our ancestors would have responded in yelps. ! Sometimes well-considered, well-chosen words and proper language fail to express
what we feel. Though we could be more eloquent, that eloquence might not suit the situation, and it might not even be available to us because we are responding in an instinctive, automatic fashion. ! This is where the brilliance of Cee Loʼs use of profanity comes in. There are things
that cannot be expressed with anything but profanity. Cee Lo uses different words and metaphors in his song, yet the core of it, the deepest, most real thing he wants to say can only be expressed by saying, “Fuck you.” ! We understand then that sometimes we cannot express ourselves except through
profanity, because the raw power, the unmitigated meaning of it is there. It isnʼt merely the word, but its being profane, which gives it power too. Cee Lo invokes this power to convey the anger and hurt of the persona in “Fuck You” for powerful dramatic effect. It is not a mere decision to use profanity to sound cool or strong or street. Rather it becomes clear that there is no other way to say these things than through the use of profane language.
He sings, “If I was richer Iʼd still be with you/ Now ainʼt that some shit,” and here we
see again the deployment of profanity furthering the depth of emotion that the persona cannot convey through any other word, and can only show the hurt and feeling of rejection by invoking this profanity. ! When we consider the cleaned up version, forget you, we cannot help but feel how
hugely the meaning, the impulse behind the sentiment, is gone. It is not merely replaced, but the feeling is smothered and lost. How far is a fuck you from a forget you? Sure itʼs only a few letters difference, but we all know how much more powerful and evocative the one is over the other. ! And thus when Cee Lo describes the scene, and he sings, “I see you driving around
town with the girl I love and Iʼm like fuck you and fuck her too,” we get that real, powerful emotion that could not be expressed in any other way than to evoke this kind of language. We must not censor this, lest we lose that which Cee Lo has chosen to express. ! His decision to use expletives and deploy them as he has is an artistic and
aesthetic choice. Thus I believe we must admire and appreciate this decision, because it conveys a meaning more powerfully precisely because of that choice. More importantly, no other words work as well to illustrate and express what the persona feels. After all, when taking the dramatic situation presented in the song, what else can one say, really, to express all the pain, hurt, anger, rejection, betrayal, loss, yearning, regret, and hatred, than, “Fuck You?”
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