By Team Backbeat
By Amber Taufen
By Jon Solomon
By Tom Murphy
By Jesse Livingston
By Alejandra Loera
By Stephanie March
By Tom Murphy
Every society has its share of fucks. Across the board, there are, in all cultures, a handful of words deemed taboo or offensive; in some cultures, these words tend to relate to religion -- like goddamn or hell -- in others (like ours) they tend to denote sex or bodily functions; cunt, asshole, shit, cock, faggot.
Chances are, you raised an eyebrow at some point during that list, and there's a very good reason for that: Swear words have fucking power.
Consider the rare condition of coprolalia (the most hilarious form of Tourette's syndrome), which causes uncontrollable cursing: In brain scans of coprolalia patients, the mind's emotional centers light up just before an episode -- the cascade of shits, fucks, damns, hells and asses that follows is a virtual pressure valve. (Side note: The term "coprolalia" is itself an ancient Greek swear word: "Lalia" basically means "babble," while "copro" means "shit." In effect, "shit babble.")
Similarly, in Ashley Montagu's definitive The Anatomy of Swearing, the anthropologist asserts that a well-placed obscenity serves a physiological function much like weeping: The act is preceded by physical symptoms of stress, like increased muscular tension and blood pressure. Weeping soothes that tension, physically slowing us down. On a smaller scale, the same physiology takes place in cursing: Tension builds, and we turn on the "shit-fuck" hose, so to speak, to release it.
And swearing doesn't just have an effect on the swearer, either. Electrodermal studies of people listening to random strings of words punctuated by the occasional "shit" or "fuck" show signs of instant arousal in those listeners.
That said, it's no surprise that Cee-Lo Green's triumphant "Fuck You" is so great: By virtue of its profanity, the song packs the emotional impact of Rocky punching a steak; Cee-Lo's pain and catharsis are literally palpable.
Notably, "Fuck You" was accompanied last week on the Billboard Hot 100 by Pink's "Fuckin' Perfect" (spelled "F**k You" and "F**kin' Perfect," as if the asterisks will somehow prevent you from inferring the meaning) and "Tonight (I'm F**kin' You)" -- aka "Tonight (I'm Lovin' You)," by Enrique Iglesias. It's safe to say that at no point in history have there been so many fucks in the Billboard top ten.
"Fuckin' Perfect" is not nearly as good as "Fuck You," of course -- it's a maudlin ballad with none of the playfulness and charm Cee-Lo brings to everything he does -- but still, there's something about that "Fuckin'" that lends it an authenticity that the censored version lacks. But at least in the latter, Pink just cuts out the "fuckin'" altogether. Cee-Lo's pandering conversion of "Fuck You" to "Forget You," on the other hand, renders the song almost unlistenable, replacing the raw aggression of the original statement with a tame one that comes off as laughably petulant. It's the lyrical equivalent of fucking with a limp dick: You might as well not do it at all.
In fact, to do it is much worse, because by accepting these songs and then depriving them of their power, we emasculate them. If we were offended by them, if we feared their power, we could have kept them at arm's length; instead, we've invited them in, chopped off their balls and paraded them around in a humiliating display for our own amusement. It's sadistic.
And it'll make you angry enough to make you want to say something like -- oh, I don't know -- fuck shit cunt asshole cock faggot.
Or maybe just Fuck You.
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