Jennifer Aniston and the New F-Word

Jennifer Aniston and the New F-Word

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aniston.JPGEarlier this week I sat (or, more accurately, suffered) through the new movie Horrible Bosses, a dark comedy about three guys who decide they've had enough of their despotic supervisors—so much so that they begin plotting to kill them.

One of those bosses is an insatiable nymphomaniac named Julia, played by Jennifer Aniston, whose every scene is an absurd exercise in sexual harassment taken to the outer limits. Specifically, she keeps trying to convince her dental assistant, Dale, to have sex with her. In pursuit of that goal, she frequently propositions him in unseemly ways. (She also sexually abuses her knocked-out patients.) But Dale steadfastly, repeatedly resists her immoral advances.

And then it happens. At one point when he starts talking about remaining faithful to his fiancée, Aniston's character spits, "You're starting to sound like a little f-ggot there, Dale."

While there are haystacks of offensiveness in this film, this exclamation is being picked out as the needle. In a culture that's increasingly sensitive to how certain demeaning words are used to bully gays—and especially in light of the suicides of several gay teenagers last year—some are asking whether the use of this slur is acceptable in any cinematic context, even in a boundary-pushing, hard-R comedy like this one.

The movie's two screenwriters have talked about their decision to use the word as a means of conveying the utter despicability of Aniston's character. John Francis Daley told The Daily Beast, "She is a horrible person, so I think when it is coming out of her mouth, it is understandably offensive." Fellow writer Jonathan Goldstein adds, "It's indefensible. I think part of the challenge is to, in a fairly short amount of time, get these guys to a place where an audience can empathize. …To shorthand that, we tried to think: What are the most offensive things they can say? Using a word like that I think is one of them. It says this woman is irredeemable."

Not everyone is buying those justifications. Dan Bucatinsky, executive producer of Showtime's Web Therapy (which stars another Friends alumna, Lisa Kudrow), said, "I just don't know if everybody is thinking about the collateral damage they are creating. … What's going to happen when millions of people watch an actress who is supposed to be America's Sweetheart say a word like that?"

That question, in a more general sense, is one that some other high-profile entertainers have been mulling of late as well. In February, shock jock Howard Stern—no stranger to inflammatory language—announced that he would no longer be using the word. "I have tremendous compassion for people who are homosexual. I feel like they are bullied and abused in our society. I've put a lot of thought into this. … I've tried to change my thought about that word. I've tried to stop using it."

This is a telling case study in how a culture's mores shift over time. It's an example of content that, not too long ago, wouldn't have raised eyebrows or garnered public censure.

Another prime example: In 1985, nobody blinked when Dire Straits released "Money for Nothing," a song that repeated the phrase, "That little f-ggot." But early this year, the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council banned it on Canadian airwaves.

Meanwhile, public sensitivity over the film's other 250 or so vulgarities—it's pornographically inclined dialogue about male and female anatomy, and its protagonists' brainstorming about offing their bosses—doesn't seem to be anywhere near the level it would have been 25 years ago.

And without taking anything away from the fact that pejorative slurs are hurtful and wrong, that's pretty telling, too.

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  • Comment by  Hithwenur:

    Hm.Something my mind is drawn to, thinking about this... there was a time when the shortened version of that word (first syllable) had, at least is Britain, no resemblence to the modern meaning. It was used as a term for bullied freshman students, basically. You see it used that way by both Kipling and C.S. Lewis. It's interesting, and rather creepy, to see how different the meaning of a word can become over time.Another thing, something that's now used as silly and over-the-top, the exclamation "Zounds"... long ago, was considered a strong swear-word. Contraction of "God's wounds."

  • Comment by  Sam:

    I mean, I appreciate that that word is getting censored lately, but it seems a little off balance. Using that word or making anything close to a derogatory remark about gays seems to spark an immediate public outcry these days, but nobody bats an eyelash at other material that is far more offensive to everyone. I'm not saying we shouldn't worry about this word, but it would be nice if the outrage was proportionate to the offense.

  • Comment by  kate:

    I think there is a difference between curse words and pejorative slurs. Slurs target a particular group of people to demean and stereotype- be it jews, gays, women, african americans, even the intellectually disabled.

    On the same note,  ''pornographically inclined dialogue about male and female anatomy'' doesn't target specific persons for the purpose of belittlement. I think it's easier for something that was shunned to become popular via exposure over time (e.g. curse words) than for something popular to become shunned (e.g. calling gays, f*ggots). Given the historical violence and social maltreatment associated with slurs, I would argue it is more damaging and more of a sensitive issue.

  • Comment by  Aaron:

    As foul and offensive as the word in question is, I think I rather agree John Francis Daley.  In film, television, and literature, bad people--by definition--do bad things.  Naturally, critics don't generally respond negatively to a villain killing someone; it's just what villains do.  Darth Vader chokes people to death with the force, 1930s gangsters shoot people, Jason Vorhees kills campers.  So why should it be such an outrage that an antagonist (it would probably be going too far to say "villain") would use an offensive term?

  • Comment by  Crossdive:

    I think this is, underneath, more about pro-homosexuality worldview-pushing. There is automatic outcry from select parties over this, whereas when, say, "Gran Torino" came out, nobody was having a hayday lobbing condemnation at it for its abundance of racial epithets. I'm sure some people were particularly offended, so much so that they didn't enjoy the movie in spite of all its positive aspects, but it didn't get written up as a crime against the human race or something. Men are increasingly told we are stupid, worthless, inherently perserve, inferior creatures by the modern media and culture, but you don't see a lot of groups standing up against gender discrimination in that way. In some cases, probably many of which we as the public never even get told about, women still suffer discrimination in workplaces, to say nothing of how horrifically objectified and under-respected certain media and ad campaigns make them. Sure, we see the occasional group against it come up, but not in such intense, widely publicized manner. What about all the anti-Semitism? Who stands out and it permitted to be heard in defense of persecuted Jews?In essence, I can see how this is an issue (homosexuality is a sin, but we are to LOVE the sinner and HATE the sin, and hurtful language is rather unlikely to lead any of these broken, lost souls closer to Jesus' waiting arms), I just find it convenient in a culture that is increasingly aggressive towards truth, morality, and all else God-centered that this is made a huge deal, while other, broader-scope injustices are allowed to persist and grow. I am all for watching how we talk. Words cut deep. I don't believe it's right to use hurtful or hateful language with someone. I also think that if we are going to literally ban this unloving word from theaters everywhere, regardless of context or story significance (which seems, admittedly, somewhat debatable either way, in the "Horrible Bosses" instance), that we should be looking just as much to stop racial epithets, gender-bigoted language, and, for that matter, ugly language like the abuse of the Lord's Name (that absolutely qualifies if we are looking to eliminate language that offends a specific group of people).

  • Comment by  kate:

    Because homosexuality is a sin doesn't make it okay to call a gay person a 'f*ggot'. This is not about pushing pro-gay messages. It is especially sensitive now because the violence against gays is still fresh in society's memory. Other racial slurs are sensitive too but less so because the holocaust, civil rights mvmt and feminist mvmt happened a long time ago. Back then, using slurs would have been just as insensitive as it is now. In a couple of years, I don't think 'f*ggot' would be as big a deal as it is now (not that it's a good thing).

  • Comment by  Dr. Ambiguous:

    It's interesting to see how words change in meaning, some words from good to bad, and bad to good. One example I like to use is zounds, seems not very many people know what it actually means so I'm suprised that someone else already pointed it out. At the same time it's interesting to see what some words actually mean, like the aforementioned zounds. People don't relize that it comes from a Yiddish word that is roughly equivalent to calling someone a d-ck. On a similiar note, gay used to mean happy, now it means homesexual, and sometimes it is considered a slur.

    But onto the word f-g, it actually means tired (also, f-agged). The word f-aggot can also refer to a bundle of sticks, or even a type of meatball. These words -f-ag, f-agged, and f-ggot- are all used in Britian today in for reasons other than slurs. (Quick side not, there are words that we use here in America that are considered profane in Britian).

    Which shows that words only mean what we give to them for meaning, and a lot of this is determined by culture and context. Hell may or may not be considered profane depending on the context, the same of which is true for the d-word. Likewise, both the a-word and b-word can be used as "bad" words or the technical terms for certain animals, (donkeys for the first, female dogs and female foxes for the second). Similiarly, the words p-ss, wh-re, and b-stard are considered profanity by some people but all of them appear in the Kings James version of the Bible (8, 65, and 3 times respectivly).

    I don't think that any of this justifies using these words lightly or in every day conversation, and some of them may not ever be morally acceptable. I also don't think that it's right to call someone a f-g/f-ggot, but I do feel that this is being made a big deal because of the homosexual rights movement. Homosexuals have been pushing their agenda very aggresivly lately. The media has also been portraying it as "normal" or "just the way they are" for some time now and using the word this way probably runs counter-productive to their agenda. It also makes one wonder why so few people make any commotion over all the other profanity, crude slang, and slurs used in both this and other movies.In essence, I don't think that it's appropriote to call peope f-ags/f-ggots, but I do feel that this is a big deal because of the homosexual agenda,.

  • Comment by  Dr. Ambiguous:

    One thing I forgot to mention is that even though a lot of bad words have non-bad meanings, it can be unwise to use these words even in a non-derogatory way because of the stigma that is associated with them and the fact that many people think that these words have only one meaning and don't relize that a word can have a non-derogatory way. The truth is almost every word (maybe even every word) in the English language has more than one definition.

  • Comment by  Veronica:

    Well stated.  I agree completely, and appreciate your logical progression of thought, and the kindness with which it is presented.

  • Comment by  Crossdive:

    I agree. Did you see my whole post? I said it's not okay to use hurtful language like that, and that we should love the sinner and hate the sin; part of loving the sinner is not slamming nasty words on them. :-) So it sounds like we are on the same page.

    Thanks, Veronica. You have no idea how nice it was to read that. :-)

  • Comment by  Blake:

    ...and yet it is perfectly acceptable in our culture to use the name of our wise, loving God as a swear word.

  • Comment by  RevD:

    If you're talking about people misusing the name of Christ as a swear word, I agree that should be seen as disrespectful to Jesus and at the very least to us, His followers.

    The more generic "OMG" has never really bothered me. Other than making the user seem like an airheaded Valley Girl (look it up, youngsters!), the name of our God isn't a generic synonym for deity. If I heard someone spouting off Elohim, Jehovah, Yahweh, or Adonai in anger, then I'd be a little more concerned.

  • Comment by  rabidhunter:

    One thing that I don't think anybody else has talked upon is about the context in which the word was used in the movie.  And it is that context which bothers me even more than the word itself.  That Dale is being teased for something as commendable as being faithful to the woman he is about to marry.  Just another attack against traditional marriage.

  • Comment by  Crossdive:

    True, rabidhunter. I think that observation got lost in my torrent of thoughts, earlier. Thanks for taking the time to point that out. :-)

  • Comment by  Anon:

    But isn't Dale the protagonist? Aren't we supposed to see his dedication to his ideals as commendable, and this teasing as another cruel act by a terrible person, made all the more despicable through her use of the word "f*ggot"? Isn't that actually supporting traditional marriage in a rather roundabout way? I haven't actually seen the film, so maybe someone who has could correct me here.