Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Swearing in Fiction, Part 5

In my last post on discernment in fiction, I included a clip from The Unsinkable Molly Brown, asking once again whether this was a legitimate use of swearing. While this clip is more borderline, I would say it probably would qualify for three reasons.

The first two reasons mirror those used for the My Fair Lady clip: We are dealing with a non-Christian character who has no restraints against swearing and who has reached a point of extreme emotion. For what else can he say that captures this moment? Even something like “I hate you” doesn’t ring strong or true enough.

But the third factor I see at work here is historical context. James and Margaret Brown were real people. Therefore, the language needs to be consistent with what’s known about them, thus conforming to reality and meeting the standard of “true.”

If James Brown had been the sort of man known for never uttering foul language, I don’t care how extreme the emotion is—the swearing would be inexcusable. However, the Browns (if I have my facts straight) came from a rougher culture where the swearing wouldn’t be unusual. Thus the swearing seems to work here.

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