Allow Me to ManSplain Woman in Horror Month To You, My Dear

 by Steve Wetherell

I don’t know why I write these things. I’m sure it’s just an earnest need to scratch an itch and make an argument I think is being overlooked, but some part of me suspects that I might just have a fetish for being beaten up by women.

 Either way, why don’t you womanfolk adjust your bras, take five minutes off from hitting punch bags while flicking your immaculate hair, and send your comically inept husband out of the room (did he walk into the door frame again? Ha! Idiot.)

It’s time for me to do what men do best, and explain things to you that you’re already fully aware of. So: Women in Horror Month, a time to focus on the great names in horror fiction who don’t have a dick.

I personally like the idea of Women in Horror Month. But many don’t. And no, not all those people are neck beard misogynists or women who have internalised the patriarchy, some of them are actual real people who have a justified opinion. Some might say; “Why do we need a special month? Shouldn’t we be supporting women writers all year round?” Other may say; “If women are the equal of men, and I believe they are, then why do they need special consideration?”

Fair questions both.

Here’s my take, just to clarify.

I’ve never looked at a movie poster and scanned the credits to see if the director is a woman. I don’t really care about the gender of the author of a book. I honestly think that most people don’t even consider it. Not consciously. But then… is it entirely coincidence that most of my favourite writers and directors are men?

There are proven gender conceptions in the genres. Is this because of the da man keeping the ladies down? It’s a little more complicated than that. For instance, a disproportionate amount of literary agents are women, yet women writers still find more acceptance when they use a male or gender anonymous name. Also, men find it easier to be accepted in romance and crime fiction when using a female pseudonym. The evidence is clear that, while no one is actively keeping women down in this instance, there are ingrained, perhaps audience driven, gender biases within the genres.

So why not have a Woman in Horror month? The status quo is a big, heavy, slow motherfucker and it needs a severe nudge now and then. If the evidence is there that the playing field isn’t level, then take some steps to level the playing field. That’s how you get quality of opportunity, which I don’t think any sane person is against.

It is, of course, not that simple. Nothing is. An acquaintance of mine who runs a much loved horror fan site in his spare time is not observing Woman in Horror month this year. The amount of abuse he got (from women) for observing it last year was too much for him. Predictably, he is already getting abuse for not observing it this year.

Deviant Dolls own Renee Miller recently blogged about her experiences of having a story accepted by a publisher, only to be told she was part of a conscious drive to recruit more women writers in the horror genre. Her response was predictably Renee, and I heard they never found the guy’s head. (I’m kidding of course. They found it eventually.)

It’s not simple and it doesn’t need to be. It’s an ongoing discussion and what is most important is that the discussion happens. I’ll put up with a lot of silliness in the name of equality of opportunity.

But what of equality of outcome? Here’s where things get a little fuzzy for me.

‘Thin-end-of-the-wedge’ is one of those conversational hand grenades, often used to take a hypothetical scenario to its most thrilling extreme. We say, “Sure we have Woman in Horror Month now, but what about when it becomes Woman in Horror DECADE? What if men aren’t giving a fair shake because publishers only want women? How is that fair?”

One might argue that there is room enough for all, and men will never be specifically overlooked in favour of women. I hope so, for my sake. One might also argue that straight white men have had it too good for too long, and taking opportunity from them is justified. Well, I believe in inherited advantages, but I also think that promoting punishment for original sin is darkly psychotic.

Maybe there is a thin-end-of-the-wedge. Maybe it compromises a lot of people’s ideals of fairness. Or maybe those people’s over reactions are holding back progress to a new and better kind of fairness.

I have to confess, I’m not entirely against thin-end-of-the-wedge arguers. I used to be, but then I saw what they did with Ghostbusters 2016. There is a real possibility that we’ll take any old shit just because it lives up to a political ideal, and when you start saying you have to like a soul-less, lazy, cynical piece of shit like Ghostbusters 2016 because it has women in it, you’ve stopped focusing on equality of opportunity and started focusing on equality of outcome- you’ve stopped believing that something should stand on its merits. I can’t go down that path with you, and I like to believe that most writers wouldn’t either, male or female.

But I get that there’s a struggle, I do. I’m a straight, white male, and probably Hitler, but if someone told me they’d only signed up my work because they needed a token fat guy I might just be outraged enough to spit out my flapjacks. I believe artists want to be judged on their quality, not their race, religion, gender or size.

However, I am of a certain generation, sandwiched between Xers and Millennials, and my beliefs may be old hat, deemed an unnecessary speed bump on the road to utopia. Maybe the youngers really do believe that artists should warrant special consideration purely for not being male or white.

Maybe it’s time for people like me to just back away and shut our mouths, while the old ideas of excellence are torn down and rebuilt into a colourful rainbow.

I won’t, though. That’s not how writers work.

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Yes, Politics Does Ruin Star Wars. Here’s How…

 by Steve Wetherell

Look, America. I understand that your president is embarrassing and you feel humiliated, and you’re looking for easy wins on battlefields of your own choosing. I get it. It’s more fun than voting, less time consuming than volunteering and much easier than becoming a lawyer or something.  But can we keep your real life battles away from fantasy space battles, please?

Some of you are already screaming that all art is political. Yes. In the same way that all conversations are political. Which is about as useful as saying everything is science. Or all art is valid.

I am suspicious of those stances. The last guy who told me everything is subjective was trying to defend the Ghostbusters reboot. So you can fuck off with that. There has to be practicality. There has to be perspective. Otherwise you can deconstruct whatever you want until it lines up with how you’re feeling. If we truly all believed everything was subjective, there would be no art.

So, here is my stance. Ahem. Any attempt to bring political significance to Star Wars makes the movies a lesser experience.

I want to talk about Star Wars: The Last Jedi, and how it is a great example of why political perspective can spoil something that was just fine, like taking a shit into a piping bag and writing a racial slur on a perfectly good sponge cake.

There are, of course, MANY MANY SPOILERS.

On Watching The Last Jedi

The Last Jedi was great, I thought. It has some great moments, some good lines, a charming cast, a wonderful score, brilliant special effects, tense battles. It had weak parts, but I thought they were overshadowed by the good parts. I even liked the Porgs, and god help me I did not expect to.

I was surprised by the amount of polarized opinion on what was a well-crafted instalment in a beloved, if tarnished, franchise. Who were these people saying that Rose was fire and they were going to get her face tattooed over their own face? Who were these people who were acting like they had just seen Luke Skywalker laying in a gutter begging for change so he can buy blue crack? When did fucking Porgs transform from a briefly amusing special effect into an icon for the ideologically pure to worship and the cave trolls to desecrate?

It was clear to me that politics had happened, and we were getting into that tiresome territory where artificial importance had bloated something so much that one could not sit comfortably on top of it anymore, and had to slide hard left or right. I had to pick a side- was I a neckbeard virgin fanboy who was probably a secret nazi? Or was I a soy boy tumbler SJW cry-bully cuck?

I am neither of those things. I’m just a Star Wars fan, and have been since…oh… since before you were born.

So let’s talk about some of the reactions I’ve been seeing:

Luke’s Arc:

They Done Luke Wrong!

I have an emotional attachment to Luke Skywalker. When I was a four year old boy I basically played A New Hope (or Just Star Wars, as it was known at the time) on repeat until the VHS melted. Han was cooler, of course, but I liked Luke. There’s something about his naivety that speaks to a little kid. And even in Return of the Jedi- scarred, hurt and transformed by the weight of his battles- he never lost that endearing child-like spark. It was what saved him in the end, and Vader too. That message, that everyone was good, deep down, was… inaccurate, probably, but important to my developing world view.

How would I feel about seeing him thirty years on? That spark was gone, certainly. Gruff, sarcastic, a little mean. But then, here is a man who has saved the universe twice, but cannot save the soul of his only nephew. Here is a man who knows firsthand the destructive cycle of the force, and the folly of trying to control or weaponize it.

Did I think his brief moment of considering ending Ben’s life was out of character? Yes. It was a momentary slip for which he paid dearly. I don’t know anybody who hasn’t had that, and I related. Was I sad to see him like that? Yes. But I got it.

I understood his reluctance, I understood his isolation. His redemption was… satisfying. I felt like I said goodbye to Star Wars a little when he went, in a way I didn’t with Han Solo. And that’s fine.

You can point to the burning of the Jedi texts and make comparisons to historical vandalism all you want, but the fact is the Force always worked better when it was a vague and enigmatic allusion. Start giving it too much context and you get midichlorians, or as I like the call them ‘The Part Where I Realized The Phantom Menace Wasn’t Going to Get Any Better.’

Is the dismantling of the Force as mystical somehow necessary to appeal to today’s less religiously inclined audience? Well, only if you can’t tell fantasy from reality, I suppose. Anybody who sees either victory or defeat in the casting off of ancient Jedi lore so the protagonist can be a hero on their own terms is forgetting that’s exactly what Luke did (although, he did it with more subtlety and over three movies, which, let’s be fair, ain’t nobody got time for that.)

If we start looking at the sidelining of Skywalker as politically significant, on either side, it falls apart rather quickly. If he’s a good riddance to the supremacist ideals of the classic White Straight Male patriarchal values, necessary for Rey to succeed by presumably different ideals- then why do we see him bring the entire First Order to a standstill with his very presence? Establishing him as a living legend and making every other protagonist in the movie thus far look like a pretender? Like Obi Wan before him, he is far more powerful in death than he was in life. And that same interpretation applies if you somehow think Luke was cucked out of his true destiny. I do not think he was shoved aside to make some progressive point about the patriarchy, and if he was, it didn’t make sense. See that kid playing with the action figure at the end? Is that a princess Leah action figure? No. No it isn’t.

Finn’s Arc:

Rose is Fire!

No, she isn’t, she’s a wasted opportunity to give Finn a cool alien sidekick. Maybe one of those guys with three eyes that look a bit like a goat. Remember those guys? They were cool.

I understood that Poe’s plan blowing up in his face was supposed to have narrative purpose (and even some will argue a moral purpose, but we’ll get to that.) I still don’t know why they spent half an hour on planet One Percent to get there though. Its only purpose was for Rose to keep it real and ‘Show us the human cost of the Empire.’

Yeah…already saw them blow up six planets as an opening gambit, mate, think I know what the stakes are.

Finn and Rose ruminating that the true evil is the force of capitalism behind the Empire is about useful to the plot as rescuing a space horse form a space horse coliseum. Oh, what’s that Rose, the real victory was rescuing the space horse? Yeah, those kids really remembered that. That’s why they were playing with the Rose Rescues a Fucking Space Horse action set at the end there.

And knocking Finn out of sacrificing himself for the good of the Rebellion with your presumptuous “That’s not how we’ll win this” line, even though thanks to Luke and Admiral What’s her Face that’s exactly how the Rebellion survives? If I want someone to tell me that the true magic of the Force is friendship, I will re-watch My Little Pony: Equestrian Girls. Frankly those magic horses pretending to be magic horse-teenage girls are written more convincingly.

The worst part about Finn’s arc isn’t his seemingly air-dropped in sidekick and for-some-reason love interest though. It’s the wasted potential. As soon as it was revealed the Empire were tracking the Rebellion through Hyperspace, I knew, I just KNEW, they had some sort of implant in Finn that would turn out to be standard to all new Storm Troopers. It would’ve made perfect sense (as much as anything does in a story about space wizards.) It would have also made sense because Finn’s primary motivator, other than failing to be Rey’s love interest, is being fucking terrified of the First Order, his childhood abusers. Setting Finn up to have no choice but to confront the Order he only recently escaped from head on, else doom his new friends, would have been emotionally engaging.

Also, why did Finn and the unproven Rose go to planet Perrier? Why not Finn and Poe? Why not pay off on that bro moment they had in TFA? Why not Poe teach Finn about the realities of being in the Rebellion? He is, after all, perfectly equipped to do so, having sent people to their deaths in the name of war. But no, a mechanic will be fine. She lost her sister, I guess, so she has some skin in the fight.

…what was her sister’s name again? …

Oh, and DJ was a waste of time. Having him shrug like a Frenchman and suggest there is no such thing as good and evil does not make one lick of sense in an established universe where there clearly is. You get fucking lightning powers, DJ, we’ve seen it. He doesn’t even make sense as a utility character, as I’m sure BB-8 could have done everything he did and sold more action figures doing it.

My beef with Finns’ arc is not just that all the adventures on planet Country Club were made to make a brief real-world political statement that anyone in the real world knows is eye-rollingly reductive, but that the time could have been given over to hyping up the Finn and Captain Phasma grudge match.

How cool would that have been?

But no, we got Rose. I kind of side with the child murdering Nazis on this one, because it does seem like the only purpose of writing in this character was to appeal to progressives who will be excited about the inclusion of a woman POC character in a leading role, which is fair enough. I sort of hope this is the reason, because it would explain the rather forced introduction or an otherwise entirely unnecessary character.

But, again, this is another example of how, if you watch this with political axe to grind, it somehow becomes more cynical. On both sides.

Poe’s Arc:

Take THAT hothead!

Ha! Poe sure learned his lesson when his desperate one in a million gambit failed, right? He should have listened to his space mom and done what he was told! Or she could have taken five minute to explain the plan to him when he desperately begged her on behalf of the crew to explain what the fucking plan was, but whatever. The important thing is that he learned to always follow orders and never, ever defy authority.

This is exactly why we loved Han Solo so much, I believe. Because of the way he blindly followed orders to the letter and never took risks.

You can say this turn of events was interesting and unexpected, but do we tune into space fantasy to see blandly practical solutions? No. Not really.

And that’s not the point, is it? Because if I watch Poe’s arc through a current politics lens, what’s significant isn’t that he defied authority and it blew up in his face- it’s that he defied female authority. His toxic masculinity caused unnecessary death, while toeing the line and running and hiding was the thing to do.

See, I’ll accept that in real life, no problem. If this movie was Schindler’s List; absolutely. Run, hide, don’t be a hero. It’s not, though. It’s Star Wars. A movie about laser battles. Treating this as a necessary subversion that points out problematic male behavior is like pausing a Rocky montage to point out that true excellence can only be achieved over a life time of physical discipline, emotional commitment and proper nutrition. That’s true, yes, but also get the fuck out of my montage.

It also ignores the fact that Poe’s specific brand of heroism is the only reason any of them survived the previous movie. See? If you come into this movie intent on pulling on a political thread, don’t be surprised when the whole thing starts to unravel.

I also want to go back to Finn and Poe spending more time together, because if it had been Poe that had rammed Finn away from making the ultimate sacrifice rather than Rose, it would have actually made sense. The daredevil hotshot who can’t walk away from a fight learns that some things are more sacred than the battle by saving the thing he loves- Finn. Also, Poe kissing Finn would have made a million times more sense than Rose doing so. Not because it would be wonderfully progressive to have a confirmed gay man in a leading Star Wars role (I think it would be,) but because it would have paid off on the duo’s unexpected chemistry in TFA.

Poe falling for Finn, and choosing to save the things he loves over fighting the things he hates, would have given his character depth and meaning. And Finn realizing he might have feelings for another man would have been interesting- his emotional uncertainty would have made sense, and he would have been given fresh new perspective with which to analyze his unreciprocated romantic infatuation with Rey. Instead he just looks confused that Rose kissed him, and well he should, because who the fuck is Rose again?

In fact, the more I think about it, the more I’m certain this is what was supposed to have happened and it got derailed by a studio executive with an eye to Poe action figure sales.

Speaking of who the fuck…

Who the fuck is Vice Admiral Blue Hair?

And why isn’t she a cool alien? Honestly, if you’re going to give Admiral Akbar an off-screen death, you best be bringing in a character that’s actually memorable, rather than a slightly tranquillized HR manager at a corporate dinner party. See, if her purpose in Poe’s arc was about deconstructing toxic masculinity, then this is another great example of why trying to be political can go so terribly wrong. This character was pointless. I was glad when her boring plan failed. When she sacrificed her life for the good of the escape plan, I did not give a shit.

Who is she that we should care? Where was she in at the beginning? Not the beginning of the franchise, I mean the beginning of this movie?

It should have been Leah in that chair, or Mon Mothma, even, then we would have cared. Or why not Akbar himself? He can’t be patriarchy, he’s a fucking fish!

Also…

That Bit With Leah Flying Was a Bit Shit

Not really political, but I have to get this off my chest. Not only was taking Leah out of the picture not really necessary for the plot (unless you really, really want the Vice Admiral You’ve Already Forgotten Her Name.) But her using the force powers to fly through space seemed a bit ridiculous. Maybe if we knew Leah had at any point gave a fuck about her latent force powers, it would have been a triumphant moment. She didn’t, though. She didn’t mention them once. So why do we care? It saved her life, yes, but you know what else would have? Getting off the bridge before it exploded. She can sense disturbances in the force, right? ‘Course she can, we’ve seen her do it. Sensing her imminent death shouldn’t be too hard. “Everyone off the bridge, now!” She says. Boom, problem solved. You could have still had her be the last out and taken some debris as she escaped, if you really needed her in a coma.

Rey’s Arc:

Wow, she sure can Jedi!

I like Rey. I like the fact that she’s ridiculously OP. Because I firmly believe it’s going somewhere. I have faith that it won’t turn out she’s the best at Jedi-ing because little girls need role models. That would be a laughably stupid way to write a movie. I am still holding on to my theory that she’s the next Anakin, and that her potential shift to the dark side will be the hub of movie three. All those little snaps against her well-meaning allies that we give her a pass on will start to get a little meaner, a little more explosive. Soon she won’t be pulling a light saber on a defenseless Luke, but maybe on anyone who gets in her way. Then the too-perfect attitude and optimism all makes sense. She will be defined by her final struggle. Maybe Kylo Ren will have some part in her redemption. That fits.

Because if not… she’s a bit dull. Seriously, Luke taking the piss out of her a bit and Snoke smacking her upside the head with her own lightsaber were thus far the only challenges Rey has actually faced and not instantly overcome by the power of her own moxie. And here’s where political awareness once again fucks up a perfectly good movie. Luke had to work for shit. He was talented, sure, but he was trained. He made mistakes, was punished for his impatience, got his hand cut off, lost people he loved, and he still didn’t become half the Jedi that any single robe wearer in the prequels became. Remember when it was such a big deal the first time he summoned his Light Saber? That was movie two. It took him a whole movie to get there. Rey just… does it. Kind of like she just get things handed to her…because she’s got an English accent? No that can’t be it. Let me see… what else is definitive about Rey to the point that everyone makes a massive fucking deal about it? Oh yeah! Tits!

See, that’s the problem with deconstructing shit- either side can do it. And most of the time it’s like cutting up a tapestry so you can see the thread work. You lose the truth of the whole for something that, really, you weren’t supposed to be looking at.

Where Are All These Subverted Tropes I Keep Hearing About?

The problem with tropes is you may as well call them ‘story components’ and they’re there for a reason. You put furniture together, you use screws and glue. Start getting clever and using, say, lime jelly, all you get is a mess. That’s why Star Wars: Return of the Jedi sensibly refused to turn well-worn tropes upside down.

You know, like a last minute betrayal of the Emperor. Fighting a rear guard mission on Not Hoth. Having an eccentric old hermit first refuse to train, then train an eager pupil. Having a double agent betray the heroes (Even if we don’t give a shit about that character.) Having a naive hopeful stand up to his former bully.  You know, all that good stuff.

Unless you’re talking about the bits with the bad writing? Are they the ones you mean? You know, how Rey faces the darkness, but it doesn’t actually show her anything or have any consequences? Or how Finn’s martyrdom was subverted, while other martyrdoms were just fine, apparently? Or how the hothead’s reckless last-minute plan just failed, like it would in shitty old real life? Or how Rey came from nowhere and has god like powers with no training or guidance just because? Or how Snoke also had god like powers, but we never found out anything about where he came from?

Are we calling that smashing expectations? Because if I go to see a comedian and she sets up a joke and then doesn’t deliver a punchline, she’s smashes my expectations, sure, but she’s also completely failed to tell a joke.

See, I liked the fact that Rey came from nowhere. It was a nice touch. But it doesn’t explain why she’s more powerful than Kylo Ren. If we believe the force is genetic, Kylo wins, hands down. If we believe the force has to be mastered, Kylo wins, hands down. If we believe neither of those things, then what’s the fucking point? You may as well say Chewie is a Jedi Master and be done with it.

Patting this movie on the back for subverting expectations is like applauding a ballerina who dances one half of a familiar routine and then falls off the stage. The parts where it attempts to subvert expectations are the weakest parts of the movie. And if you’re lording any change as good, because of some conceit about tearing down the old white patriarchal straight guy ways to make room for your glorious new age- your new age best fucking deliver. But it doesn’t. Not in this movie. We’re so enamored with what certain characters represent in our current political climate, we forgot to give them any special significance in the actual fucking movie.

Just stop it…

But you see, I only really noticed the politics in this movie when a load of internet posts from over-excited bloggers told me I should (except for all that bullshit on planet Live-In Nanny, but we can all agree that’s political Duplo, right? And if it didn’t happen nothing would have changed, right?) Because the movie was a lot of fun. But that’s all it was. It wasn’t significant. Neither was the Force Awakens. Neither was Rogue One, really, though it desperately tried to be.

Star Wars was significant. For its time. Those movies will always be important. Even The Return of the Jedi, which, with its ambitious art direction and swash-buckling sense of fun, provided stand out iconic moments yet to be topped by any recent instalment. It was never, ever significant for its political context. It was in fact, almost anti-politics, delivering a feel good shot of fantasy at a time when post-Vietnam America was massively disillusioned with itself.

We should have learned from The Phantom Menace that there can be no significant expansion of the original trilogy in the movie universe. They did not need the political context ham-fistedly provided by the prequels. The story of how the Death Star plans were retrieved is entirely unimportant though entertaining enough. We cannot replace the sincerity and innocence of those three original films with ironic allusion or political flag waving.

Sure, we can never go back, and must move forward. But I do not like you scrabbling in the mud for the Star Wars banner, and holding it above your head as your own. I do not like being told I must like a character because she is a woman. I do not believe a fantasy character is made significant simply because of her ethnicity. I do not think that relevance to American socio-political attitudes excuses flawed film making. Likewise I do not believe that the inclusion of strong female characters or more ethnically diverse characters are automatically a threat to the traditional values of a movie. Why should they be? That’s ridiculous.

And you know what? I wouldn’t have given a shit about any of these things if people didn’t keep screaming about them. Because the context you are all arguing about is the weakest, most inconsequential part of an otherwise solid and enjoyable movie. It feels like an attempt to pad out a Media student’s dissertation- and this is coming from a guy who padded the shit out his Media student dissertation. Your grand political narrative is meaningless in the face of what Star Wars does best- which is lightsabers, space battles, cool robots, magic powers and hokey but satisfying dialogue. I’d no more expect Star Wars to confirm to current political ideals than I would Super Mario.

Star Wars is not a statue to be torn down, or a Wikipedia article to be corrected, or a history book to be revised. Don’t try and weaponize it.

Happy Halloween

by Steve Wetherell

 

I guess I was maybe five years old or so when my dog died. Her name was Sherry, a big loafy German Shepard who I assume was brought as protection, but whom I never recall even snarling. I had come down into the hallway on an ice white morning, barefoot in my pajamas, my parents not yet up. I found her lying there in a way that I must have known wasn’t natural. Her eyes were open, she had a dried trickle of blood on her nose. I suppose I must have been old enough to process this as ‘dead’ rather than ‘sleeping’.

I don’t remember being scared, horrified or even sad. I found my siblings and we told our parents. Then Sherry was taken away. It was just a thing that happened.

If I remember one emotion I attached to the event it was excitement. Let me explain, because I know that sounds pretty awful.

As a kid I was obsessed with the paranormal. Ghostbusters was my favourite movie, even though the librarian gave me nightmares. Thanks to a big sack of pirated VHS tapes and our parents often leaving us to our own devices, my brothers and sisters let me watch a whole host of horror movies we shouldn’t have. If you think the furry scene in The Shining is disturbing as an adult, try processing that shit as someone who is only a few years removed from learning where poop is supposed to go.

The night before the death of Sherry I’d been up with my brother and cousin, swapping tales about the White Lady. No, she wasn’t a pumpkin spice obsessed yoga instructor. She was a typical Victorian apparition of a long dead lady who had flung herself from a balcony. She was rumoured to haunt the private school my brother attended, but I later found out she was sort of a franchise operation, claimed by any old building with a balcony that wanted to jazz up their history. When I found the corpse of my dog, I didn’t process it as a natural death. I clearly remember exchanging hushed whispers with my siblings. It was the work of the White Lady. She had come in the night. Our dog had died protecting us.

This would similarly link up to the next time we saw a dog corpse. We were creeping around a junk yard, that same brother and cousin and I, when amongst the majestic piles of abandoned appliances and spindly old bikes, we saw a dog, lolling out of a pile of trash-bags as though frozen mid catch. Clearly this dog was another victim of the White Lady’s gaze.

I guess it’s understandable. I guess it’s just taking a big, complicated shape and squeezing it into something a child can hold in his head. What should have been at least a little traumatic became a jump scare in an ongoing game.

That obsession with the supernatural never really left me. I don’t believe in ghosts (except the brief moments when I do, before I remind myself I’m a 250-lb grown up with a Quarter 4 planning meeting early in the morning,) but I sort of want to. Maybe that’s just ingrained in me now. That when something awful happens, it’s because of something.

This is not a healthy habit, and I wonder how many other writers, comedians and creators have it at their core. That little part of you, in the midst of disaster, is already weaving this awful news into punchlines, blog posts and prose.

That thing that, when finding a pet dead on the floor, won’t let you stay with it. Is already licking the tip of its pencil.

I mean, that’s sick, right? That’s got to be some sort of obsessive compulsive narcissism? Or maybe it’s just sad, maybe it’s just a human looking through a window at a sky full of terrible void, and writing something distracting in the condensation. I dunno. It’s pretty scary.

Happy Halloween.

 

The Swearing Corner: The N-Word and other words I won’t say (mostly)  

by Steve Wetherell

I’ll never say the n-word. Well, not in any official capacity. I might sing along to an Anderson Paak song, and my usual tactic of replacing it with ‘fella’ doesn’t always scan well. Also, I might write the word in the mouth of a racist character or such. Also, I might get drunk and scream it at someone’s wedding. Not the last one. That was a joke.

 

I wouldn’t say the word because it’s a very sensitive, contentious word, with a dark and terrible history, and it makes people uncomfortable. Saying it, to me, is far more effort that it’s worth. I mean, really, considering the fallout, I’d need a really, really good reason to say it. Maybe to prove some point about free speech and sensible conversation or such, or because Samuel L. Jackson commanded me to say it on national television. And that’s not really going to be an issue for me. I’m slightly suspicious of anyone who does think it is an issue. Why do you want to say that word? Is it because you were told you can’t? You coy little minx. Wash your mouth out. Also your soul.

 

Should the word have such power, though? The short answer is yes, but I may live to see a time when it loses that power. For example, when I was a young kid, referring to a black guy as a black guy was thought to be extremely crass. More sensitive people would say ‘the coloured chap’ or ‘Dave’ depending on how well they knew him. These days referring to anyone as ‘coloured’ is career damagingly offensive, and as ‘black’ is fine. Things change.

 

Faggot is another word I won’t say, apart from just then, obviously. Although it’s a fun word to say. (In England, a faggot is something you eat. It’s also a meat dish.) I won’t say faggot for the same reason I’ll never un-ironically say ‘cuck’, because it’s too often used by macho types with the self-awareness of a dick shaped lollipop and the compassion of an alligator. Also, it too has a pretty damned dark history. Again, not being able to say this word is really no skin off my nose.

 

I do miss “Gaaaaay” though. No, hear me out. We pretty much said everything was gay when I was younger, largely due to South Park. It’s got a big dumb mooing quality to it that makes it silly. Geography? Gaaaay. Newspapers? Gaaaay. Any outward sign of affection between two straight men? Gaaaay. In fact, the only thing we wouldn’t derisively call gay was actual gay people, because that would have been mean. Obviously, as we matured we realised that setting a tone where the word gay was used derisively was a problem in itself. It didn’t peter out entirely though. One of my favourite jokes in one my favourite movies- Shaun of the Dead- was the following exchange.

 

Shaun: We have to save Liz!

Ed: Why?

Shaun: Because I love her.

Ed: Alright… gay.

 

One grown man calling another grown man gay for admitting he loves his girlfriend is still hilarious to me. It’s absurd, and silly. I didn’t really stop saying gay in that way until my best friend and housemate came out to me in university. We had a frank and serious discussion about whether we were both supposed to stop calling things gay now, and he suggested that we should just carry on as normal. We didn’t though. I gradually phased it out. Now that it was more personal to me, it didn’t seem as silly.

 

Like retard. Remember when everything was retarded? Again, you’d call everything retarded apart from someone who was actually retarded, because what are you, a monster? Same situation as Faggot though. Phased that out. I’ve replaced it with fucktarded, but that’s still a bit dicey as the clue to its origin is fairly embedded in its structure. But here’s the problem- where I come from, flat out calling someone an idiot is a bit serious. It can be used light-heartedly, sure, but it’s also the word you use when you stop fucking around and want someone to know that they’ve sincerely fucked up. So, I sort of need a less serious word than ‘Idiot’ and less heinous word than ‘Retard.’

 

Answers on a postcard.

 

 

 

Doctor Who Has a Dick and You Just Need to Accept That

by Steve Wetherell 

 

 

Listen up you mindless sheeple, ‘cause I’m about to mansplain a few things to you. I’ll happily accept that women can be doctors (providing they’re not my doctor) but I draw the line that at women being Doctor Whos. They just can’t. Because Doctor Who is a man, and has been for generations. Through his various iterations, brought to life by various actors and writers each with their own unique perspectives on the character, the unifying characteristics have always been that the Time Lord has two hearts and two balls.

A woman being a Doctor Who is just ludicrous. I mean, Doctor Who is a calm, rational pacifist, and everyone knows that women are screeching lunatics with no sense of proportion. A woman Doctor Who would probably try to claw the Master’s eyes out before breaking down and crying into a tampon. Then they’d travel back in time to when they were prettier and never come back because they’d met a nice man and settled down. And exactly how much maternity leave does a Time Lord expect? Will the world be laid to waste by Cyber Men because Lady Doctor took nine hundred years off to stay at home watching daytime TV and eating toast? FUCK THAT!

It’s time we took back Doctor Who from the Cuck Travelling Time Lord he has become (sorry, that should read Time Travelling Cuck Lord) and made him a man’s man again. Maybe have a Doctor with a beard who just continuously flaps his balls onto the table whenever he’s talking. Maybe a Doctor who finally puts a decent spoiler on the Tardis, and kits it out with a plush leather interior. Some respectable subwoofers. A Doctor that smokes cigars and once hit someone with a pool cue because that someone said something about his mum. And give him a robot dog again, for fuck’s sake! And don’t even think about substituting with a robot cat. Cats are gay, and anyone who disagrees can travel back in time to when women still knew how to make sandwiches, and make me a fucking time travel sandwich. 

 

By now you probably think I’m satirising all the misogynists who can’t stand the thought of a female Doctor Who, but I’m actually not. I thought I’d just contribute something controversial, because the people outraged about misogynists being against a female Doctor Who seem to vastly outnumber the actual misogynists who are against a female Doctor Who. I rather suspect that it’s just one person living in Croydon whose mum once stamped on his model Daleck. 

I don’t think there are really that many professed Doctor Who fans who also hate women, though there will be some, obviously, because chances are one in ten people you meet is an irredeemable cock-hole. (But which one? Look out, it’s the one dressed as a priest! He’s got a knife!) And as for those who aren’t Doctor Who fans, well they probably just don’t give a shiny golden fuck about your tea-drinking dimension-hopping train spotter.

I must admit, when I see people openly weeping about there being a woman Doctor, I feel like I’ve gotten up for a piss and then realised mid-flow that I’m actually at a Peruvian wedding. And then I realise it’s a dream, and I’ve pissed myself, and that I’m at an entirely different Peruvian wedding. I find it weird, is what I’m saying.

Is it important? It certainly seems like it. Freud died without ever answering the question “What do women want?” If someone would have just told him it was a female Doctor Who we could have saved the guy a lot of trouble. Likewise, if we’d known that solving equality would have been as simple as gender swapping a kids TV show character, we could have demanded this be done years ago.

So, what next? Why not a woman Robin Hood? Why not a woman King Arthur? Why not a woman James Bond? There is no real answer. It doesn’t matter. And if it sells more reboots? Have at it. (So long as you don’t get a fucking American to play it, because that kind of prejudice is fine, for some reason.) 

…One thing, though. If gender representation in pop culture is so important, and little girls need to be able to see themselves as Doctor Whos, and Ghostbusters and Iron Mans, then isn’t anyone a little concerned that we’ve just gender swapped the one pacifist, intellectual male adventure hero in the mainstream? 

…Just gonna leave that there…

 …and back away slowly…

 giphy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Swearing Corner: USA vs UK

 by Steve Wetherell

Like much of the world, I grew up on American television, and so was comfortably exposed to a lot of American swear words. (‘Shit’ was the big deal when I was a kid. People always seems to be shouting “Ooooh, shiiiiiit!”)

However, I’ve also always been proud of the wonderful rainbow of swearwords in my own country. I don’t think you’ve really heard ‘wanker’ until you’ve heard it said by an angry cockney, and the sheer dismissive silliness of a northern Englishman calling you a ‘bell-end’ is a whimsical thing indeed.

So, I’ve always considered it a fine thing that I have two pots of foul language to draw from. But, let’s be real here, not all swear words transfer across the Atlantic particularly well. There are some words that just sound better in Americanese, and likewise some that sound better in Original Recipe English. 

Ass versus Arse is a great example. There are some British who seem to think these are interchangeable, and in fairness they both technically mean the same thing. There’s a whole different universe of inflection there, though. Arse is just…well… a bit grimy, and so is suited when a bit of dirtiness is called for. Ass is generally more positive, more action orientated. You’d kick an ass, you’d move an ass, you’d get some ass. Arse, has an insidious drawl to it. If you kick an arse, you might need to disinfect your foot afterwards, and god help the sinister pervert who openly says he wants to get some arse. People will, quite rightly, move away from him on the bus. 

On the other hand, if you call someone an ass, it’s very PG13. Call someone an arse, and it packs more of a punch. This stands up even to the addition of ‘hole’. 

On the flip side, Americans can simply not say ‘twat’ properly. They pronounce if ‘Twodt’ which sounds like a fish course for which you need an acquired taste (I realise there’s a solid innuendo there.) But that softening of the consonant robs it of any veracity. 

The British pronounce twat in two distinct ways. There’s ‘twadt’ with a soft T. This is when you roll your eyes because someone’s being silly. Then there’s ‘twatt’ with the hard T. This is for when the knives come out. 

The final comparison is in the old staple for when you desire personal space; ‘fuck off’. Again, there’s no separate meaning, but it’s all about inflection. American’s tend to emphasise the latter half of the phrase: “Fuck OFF” or even ‘Fuk’OFF’. Shortening the Fuck and elongating the Off. That’s got a real nice aggressive ring to it. Carries a lot of weight in a small package, like a pool ball in a sock. In Britain, it tends to be the opposite; “FUCK off.” A pronunciation particularly prevalent in Scotland. While this pronunciation acts the growl of its American counterpart, it does have an airy dismissiveness to it that can be useful. In short, the American version serves as a warning. It implies consequence. The British version merely scatters your opinion to the wind and then goes off to buy another drink.

Multiculturalism is a wonderful thing…

 

The Swearing Corner: The “C” Word

by Steve Wetherell

I was in Newfoundland once, for whatever reason, sitting in the smoking area in their seemingly eternal winter and talking to some locals. They were curious about my English heritage, and as a bit of fun, we got onto popular swear words. What, they wanted to know, was a common swear word unique to your neck of the woods.

“Bawbag,” I said, after some consideration. It’s essentially “Ball-bag” (or scrotum) filtered through the Scots-English heritage of my hometown. It’s a nice handy put down, often said with a half smile and a shake of the head when someone accidentally throws up on his own dog. My turn done, the locals turned their attention to my sister, a Londoner then of five years or so.

She squinted into the perennial snowstorm for a moment, before answering; “Cunt.”

Unexpectedly, the tone of the gathering changed almost instantly, and I was surprised to see genuine shock on the faces of our hosts.

It seemed that “Cunt” had a little more sting in its tail across the cold Atlantic than it did on our own side.

Since this worldly revelation, I’ve been more careful about using the word in company, particularly in front of Canadians, Americans, and other weirdos. Where I come from “Cunt” is a fairly genderless put down that can be used both casually and with venom. Someone leaves his wallet at home? He’s a silly cunt. Someone runs over your cat, deliberately? He’s a proper cunt.

However, whenever I see the word used in American media (and that’s rarely) it is always a man being venomous to a woman. it seems that, in a very popular sense, it is very much a word that hates women. That’s a shame, because it’s a create word. Think of it phonetically.

“Kk”

“UUUnn”

“Tt”

There’s so many hard, visceral sounds in that word its practically pornographic. It’s a word that can be growled, spit or screamed with utter confidence. It’s a word that carries.

Is it anymore offensive to women than, say, ‘prick’ is to men? Yes, I think so, simply because of the strength of the word. The soft ‘Puh’ or prick doesn’t sand up to the hard ‘Cuh’, and while Cock has a Cuh’ sound going for it ‘ock’ lacks the deep undulating ‘uh’ and the final disapproving ‘tttt’.

You can see why we Brits adopted it as punctuation.

Still, knowing its power, and because my audience is mostly American, its a word I try to use sparingly.

Other than in this article, of course.

You cunt.

The Swearing Corner: Dicks

by Steve Wetherell

 

When Stephen Colbert suggested that Trump’s mouth was only useful as a holster for Vladimir Putin’s dick, there was a backlash suggesting this comment was homophobic. I am here to argue that it wasn’t.

For a start, I have a feeling this accusation is disingenuous. There’s a culture war going on right now that exist whether you acknowledge it or not, and this backlash whiffs of “Oh the left think they’re so progressive, but here they are making gay jokes!” Sadly, though, political correctness is at present such hot territory that a lot of leftists (most of them likely straight) are considering that perhaps there’s some truth to it. This is because, in this culture war, either side is united by the theory that tactics are irrelevant and targets are all that matter.

So, is telling someone to go eat a big hot dick homophobic? I’m going to say no.

To put it in context, there once was an Irish king who, when subjects swore fealty to him, would demand they suck his nipples. Now, this wasn’t because the King happened to be in a loving consensual relationship with his subjects, it was about power. He was subjugating them. When Colbert says Trump sucks Putin’s dick he isn’t implying they are two men engaging in a  completely normal sex act for their mutual pleasure, he is implying that Trump is willingly subjugating himself to Putin in a graphic and obvious way.

There’s a similar backstory to fag. In English private school history there was a tradition of older boys forcing younger boys to be their dogs bodies. This was called fagging for someone, or being their fag. No sex involved (although, being an English private school, there was bound to be at least some sodomy). It’s all about power.

Now, this theory doesn’t give carte blanche to start dishing out the gay insults, of course. There’s a distinctive difference between demanding someone choke on a dick salad, and merely showing disgust in the fact they like sucking cock. Statistically, a great deal of people must at least be tolerable of sucking cock, or agree with the act on principle, so merely saying “I bet you like sucking dick!” is a lot different from saying “I’m not surprised all you can talk is bollocks considering so and so’s dick is so far down your throat.”

It’s all about context.

But what about the casual “Eat a dick dumb shit!”? It would seem to suggest that the act of dick sucking is indeed bad, so let me try and grasp it another way (as the nun said to the vicar.) Like so much in life, it’s all about give and take, and there’s something emasculating about taking it. The process of emasculation comes with its own baggage (“Oh, so being anything other than a man is BAD somehow?”) but for the sake of practicality, I’ll focus on what is actually being said, rather than the uncharitable ocean of implication. Emasculation is a big part of social leveling in men- you can’t have someone getting too big for their boots, or taking themselves too seriously. Every bully and thug is a guy who was too big and tough to be mocked, who let all that raw testosterone go unchecked, so the process of “busting someone’s balls” is, metaphorically, exactly that. It’s a process of humiliation, and going down on someone else, whether you are gay or straight, is an act of humility and subservience. So, that’s the mechanics sorted, but down to the nitty gritty. Is it homophobic? Nah. Conversely, if I tell another guy to suck my dick, it’s not about being gay, it’s not even about sex. It’s just a gorilla thumping its chest. It’s about power.

However, you don’t get to choose who takes offence, so do I force a future where telling someone to go and eat a dick is a progressive no no? Yeah, it’s possible. So what I intend to do is what I do in most situations- destroy any serious implication with ridiculous hyperbole. With this in mind, here’s a few examples that can’t possibly be interpreted as homophobic by anyone who actually understands what a gay is. Enjoy!

“Drown in a tsunami of dicks.”

“I hope you are slapped a million times in a hurricane of dicks.”

“I hope that when you die the ghosts of every dick you thought about sucking but didn’t because you’re a fucking coward is waiting for you with your mom.”

“Dine out on a dick salad. An over priced, low-calorie dick salad.”

“I hope they throw you out of the all you can eat dick buffet before you’re even full.”

The Hermione Factor: Why I’m Bored of Strong Female Characters

by Steve Wetherell

I stopped looking for myself in Hollywood movies a long time ago. Oh, don’t get me wrong, I entertained the leading man fantasy. I recall as a boy watching Young Guns and trying to jut out my jaw like Emilio Estevez, hoping that with enough stretching my ball-like face might become a little narrower. I trained myself as a teen to raise a single eyebrow like Bruce Campbell, as though the rest of my body might get its act together and follow suit.

It didn’t, of course. There is no Hollywood representation of me, because even Paul Blart had a full head of hair.

But it’s undeniable there’s no shortage of straight white men on screen, in far more variations than their non-straight, non-white and (least forgivably perhaps, seeing as they’re half the world,) non-male counterparts. This is not to say that men aren’t dumbed down into boxes by Hollywood. Of course. That is what Hollywood does. But there are far less boxes for women, it seems. Maybe only three, in fact. Love interest, Mother and Unflappable Bad Ass who Knows Everything and is Always Right Bar A Few Instances of Watery Eyed Vulnerability. Otherwise known as The Strong Female Character.

These three boxes, to me, are each exactly as boring and predictable as the other. The Strong Female Character is a damned yawn fest and I’m sick of it. I have been for a long time, and I’ll set the scene for when I first noticed;

Years ago I was working on a self-financed short film and talking to my assistant producer about casting. I needed a guy to play the lead; a soldier in a post-apocalyptic zombie infested wasteland. I can’t remember why I wrote the soldier as a guy, I just did. I get the impression it was a mixture of pragmatism (I knew more guys than girls who might be interested in running around in a field for no pay while I shouted at them,) and unconscious wish fulfilment (like many young men, I secretly believed that I could only truly be happy when everyone else was dead.)

Anyway, as it turned out, my assistant producer didn’t know any men, but did know an interested woman. “Why don’t we turn the stereotype on its head?” she suggested. I agreed. But the phrase bothered me.

At this point, wasn’t a badass, undead-fighting woman already the stereotype? Had she not heard of Buffy? Underworld? Resident Evil? Countless B-movies where slight blonde women used the power of kung-fu to beat down men and monsters twice their size? Had she, by all that’s holy, forgotten about Xena?

Anyway, as the years went by the ‘turned on its head’ stereotype became the plain old mainstream stereotype. Was I surprised when watching Shrek that Princess Fiona, for no real reason, had an entire scene dedicated to her exceptional kung-fu skills, which are then never mentioned again? Nah. That’s just girl power. Just another trope, a shortcut to remind you that, while she may not be the leading man, she can kick his ass anytime she wants. She just doesn’t feel like it at the moment.

Flash forward to present day and I’m watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2. There’s an opening scene where the Guardians are all getting their asses handed to them by a giant space beast. Well, almost all of them. While every male Guardian takes his lumps, Gamora, the Unflappable Bad Ass who Knows Everything and is Always Right Bar A Few Instances of Watery Eyed Vulnerability, never has a shot landed on her.

Why not? Why can’t she be part of the fun? Peter Quill, the leading man, endures all kinds of physical and emotional humiliation, and we love him for it. Gamora’s entire emotional journey apexes with her admitting she might have emotions. Do I have a problem with that? No, not really. Differing characters make for a fun movie, and GoTG2 is all about very different personalities finding a sense of family with one another.

But here’s the thing- more and more people are starting to realise “Hey, wait, if Gamora is stronger, smarter, more capable and more mature than Peter Quill, why isn’t she the leading character?”

It’s a fair point, and to answer it I’d like to introduce you to a trope I call The Hermione Factor.

Harry Potter is a story about a young orphan boy destined to be the saviour of the wizarding world. He has two key allies- Ron Weasley, who is good hearted but bad everything else, and Hermione, a girl so smart her teachers force her to break the laws of physics just so she can over-achieve to her full potential. Hermione’s only weakness is that she’s so much smarter than everybody else that she finds it difficult to make friends, and this weakness is all but obliterated as soon as she grows tits. (She may have developed as a character beyond this. I’ll confess- I couldn’t force myself to read beyond Goblet of Fire. Still, if it’s true for four books, please do indulge me.)

There’s a lot of joking (and serious) memes that Hermione should have been the one to take on Voldemort, as she is vastly, vastly more capable than Harry, and so far ahead of Ron that he may as well be a sentient ginger turd. Remember, in the wizarding world, knowledge is power. Literal shooting-lightning-at-a-motherfucker power. And Hermione is more knowledgeable than everyone else. And so we have the Hermione Factor- a supporting character, almost certainly female, who is best qualified to be the hero but somehow isn’t.

Think about it- Harry Potter as a hero character is pure, balls-out wish fulfilment. Sure his parents are dead, but their love of him echoes through the ages. He’s a fish out of water, but he garners instant wealth, celebrity, sporting heroism, an enigmatic benefactor and the favouritism of the most beloved teacher. The guy’s made. But still, Hermione consistently one-ups him. And yet she’s not the hero.

Is this patriarchal injustice? Or is it bad story telling?

Neither, it’s just an over correction. Women have been denied a fair share of leading roles, so to make up for it we subconsciously make them invincible, the same way movies will make up for the lack of black leads by making the police chief/president/wisest character black. We forget to treat them like fallible human beings, so they become just another box. A positive one, sure, but boxed in none-the-less.

This, to me, becomes very boring. I don’t want an invincible character in the lead. That’s dull. I want a John McClane. Sure, he’s technically invincible (all action heroes are,) but he does a very good job of convincing you he’s not. Remember when action heroes used to sweat? Used to get beat down? Rebuffed? Remember when they used to show fear? Genuine comical fear? Indiana Jones was the ultimate macho leading man, but he spent a good portion of his screen time being a sweaty, beat-down, desperate punchline.

When’s the last time you saw a female action star do any of that? We’re so busy putting the ‘strong’ In Strong Female Character we forget to make them fun.

And that’s the ultimate flaw of the Hermione factor. For all her strengths, she’s just not that interesting a character. If we read the adventures of Hermione, it’d be a very short book about how there was a problem and how she instantly solved it because she’s never wrong. Gamora’s the least popular character in GOTG2 precisely because she is the least fun. When you’re far more sensible than everyone else, you almost always default to wet-blanket.

The danger of the Hermione factor is that it has stifled the way Hollywood writes women, and so further boxed our expectations as an audience. To site Guardians 2 again (yeah, I really enjoyed that movie) a new female character they introduced was Mantis. I was speaking on a marvel movie panel at a convention recently, and a fellow panellist could not disguise his contempt for the movie character. She wasn’t the badass she was in the comics. She was submissive. She was weak. She perpetuated negative Asian woman stereotypes. All of those things are true, from a certain perspective, but here’s the thing; she was fun. She was a funny, likeable, warm character. And you know what? She took her lumps! She was made fun of! She was physically hurt in amusing ways! Just like the guys! She was by no means a Strong Female Character, she wasn’t icy and no-nonsense, but she made me laugh more in one scene than Gamora and Nebula had over two movies. She endeared me to her in the same way that Rocket, Groot, Drax and Quill had. She was flawed, and silly, but still brave and capable and true when it counted.

As of writing, I’ve yet to see Wonder Woman. I will, I’m just waiting for my daughter to pester me about it (she hasn’t, yet. Much like me at that age, her idea of a strong character is based on how many anvils they can take to the face.) But I have to say, I’m genuinely surprised by the emotion surrounding the release of the movie. I read a lot of posts about people genuinely crying to see a woman triumphing in an action scene (I read similar about Holtzmann’s action scene in the Ghostbusters remake*.) And if the posts are anything to go by, seeing a female lead directed by a woman director is literally going to explode my head.

Am I little cynical? Yeah, probably. I am, after all, a prick, and to be fair I did watch the Ghostbuster’s remake. But I’m also a little hopeful, because maybe Wonder Woman is what I’ve been waiting for- maybe she’s not just another Strong Female Character. Maybe she’s just a great heroine.

 

(*As an aside, I recognise that the Ghostbuster’s remake was cast with character that were silly, funny and non-sexualised, yet also capable and brave. It just goes to show that good female characters aren’t in and of themselves enough to save a bad movie.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Swearing Corner: Why Swear?

by Steve Wetherell

Swearing is fucking great. I mean, some people don’t think so, and that’s fine, but you can’t deny swearing has power. No really, you can’t, science fucking says so. Studies show that your pain management greatly improves when you swear. It’s purely psychological of course, you can’t just substitute the swear word with an angry noise and get the same effect. So, when you hit your thumb with a hammer, you call the hammer a cunt, and then throw it through a cunting window and then scream at your bastard wife when she asks you what the cunt you think you’re playing at.

Swearing has power, and that’s why it’s a useful tool for the writer. The right swear word at that right time can amplify a threat, lend further weight to despair, or sharpen the edge of spite. And that’s not even getting into the comedic potential, where a swear word can act like a punch line in and of itself (if you ever need to end a scene on a high note, have a sweet old lady say “piss flaps”.)

This is not to say, however, that a writer shouldn’t exercise restraint. Not for any kind of moral reason, but to increase the impact. Just like violence, sex and humorous ethnic comic relief, too much of a good thing can lessen its value. Saving your big guns for the right moment can give you some vital muscle when its needed, which might otherwise be lost in the static of a dropping an f-bomb every paragraph.

Of course, that’s no iron clad rule. Casual swearing can be hilarious, or it can set the entire tone of your piece. Think about any Tarantino movie, for example, or anything by Irvin Welsh. Your book may want to reflect a type of social environment where everything is expressed through enthusiastic genital references. That’s fine and perfectly valid.

You may, however, want to write a book where no on uses any foul language at all. It’s perfectly possible, I’ve done it myself (if you don’t count crap, bugger, arse and hog-shagger which… I guess are swear words, actually, now that I think about it.) But you will be depriving yourself of some of the most creative, historic and powerful words known to the English tongue. These words have weight and history, and no, I don’t mean internet puffery like “twat waffle” and “cum burglar”, I mean the classics. Stuff that goes right back to Chaucer. You shouldn’t be ashamed of them, or to admit they have power. Break ‘em out like a surgeon breaks out the bone saw now and then.

 Fuck it.