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.

A Window Cleaner’s Curse

by Michael Keyton

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I had a window cleaner once. A real window cleaner who carried his own ladder and bucket, and climbed said ladder at what ever the angle or height of the house. He also whistled so you could choose not to be in or draw the curtains hurriedly depending on circumstances. In every sense, this man was a paragon, and more – a bibliophile.

One summer’s day, as I was pruning roses, he accosted me like an ancient mariner in search of an albatross:

“Tell me your favourite book of all time.”

“I don’t have a favourite book of all time.”

“Well then, tell me one you’d recommend to me – one I would like to read.”

“It depends on what kind of books you enjoy.” I was floundering, and still holding the bucket of fresh water he’d initially requested. He ignored my outstretched arm, the water dripping strategically over his shoes.

“Complex fantasy with a Victorian feel,” he said.

This was no ordinary window cleaner – but my answer was swift. “Gormenghast,” I said, “by Mervyn Peake.” He made me spell it, but didn’t write

it down. He took the bucket from me and placed it on the floor.

“Now I’ll recommend a book to you.” His finger touched me on the chest with conviction and zeal. He could have been saving my soul.

I smiled, caught in a book-trap I hadn’t seen coming.

“You must read Barnaby Rudge.” His eyes burned into mine. “You must read Barnaby Rudge.”

“Dickens, eh,” I said, as one bibliophile to another. “So, what’s so good about Barnaby Rudge?”

“Ah, and there you have it, sir, there you have it.”

This alarmed me. The man spoke Dickensian and without a Newport accent.

“It’s a wonderfully baggy novel, cavernous and windblown with all manner of characters, all manner of characters.”

I raised an eyebrow, wondering when my windows were going to get done.

“Listen to this, sir, hark to what he says about the Secretary Gashford:

This gentleman had an overhanging brow, great hands and feet and ears, and a pair eyes that seemed to have made an unnatural retreat into his head and to have dug themselves a cave to hide in. Ain’t that good, sir. Tell me it’s good.”

“It’s very good, sir, capital in fact.” I was beginning to speak like him.

“Or this…”

“No. The windows. I get it. Barnaby Rudge.”

There were noises coming from the other side of the garden fence.  I thought I heard giggling.

I’ll end on this, sir – just so you know this is a book you must read. He’s talking about Mrs Miggs:

With an expression of face in which a great number of opposite ingredients such as mischief, cunning, malice, triumph and patient expectation, were all mixed up together in a kind of physiognomical punch…

“Physiognomical punch, isn’t that wonderful? Can you see it… Physiognomical punch.”

I told him I could, and that I would read the book, and that the water was cold; would he like more?

The strange thing is that I did read Barnaby Rudge and lost myself in its vast, sprawling, chaotic and evocative world. The bugger was right. But I’ll leave it there in case any of you fears the ancient mariner’s curse is infectious, and the window cleaner will one day knock on your door.

Sometimes I wonder whether he ever did read Gormenghast and what he thought of Prunesquallor and Nanny Slagg:

Do you like babies my dear Mrs Slagg?’ asked the doctor, shifting the poor woman on to his other acutely bended knee-joint and stretching out his former leg as though to ease it.  ‘Are you fond of the little creatures, taken by and large?’

‘Babies?’ said Mrs Slagg in the most animated tone that she had so far used.  ‘I could eat the little darlings, sir, I could eat them up!’

I never found out. I asked him on his next visit and he just tapped his nose and winked, like window cleaners do. And then soon after that we moved from Newport to Monmouth and never saw him again. I still live in hope that one day he might accost another householder with the same artfully designed trap, but this time proclaiming the merits of Gormenghast and Titus Groan.

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.)

 

 

 

 

 

 

Five Thoughts with C.M. Saunders

By C.M. Saunders

1: I Have no Faith in Politicians

And neither should you. No matter what party they represent, or what country they come from, all politicians have one thing in common. They are all lying, scheming, manipulative, self-serving assholes. You think any of them really want what’s best for you? Nope. They want what’s best for them. They want the power, the prestige, and the expense accounts. Whoever they claim to represent, the first sign of trouble they’re going to bail and leave you drowning in the sea of excrement they leave behind while they launch a new career doing after-dinner speeches for £6,000 a time. And it will be your own fault for voting for the cunts.

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2: Music is Getting Progressively Worse

As I get older, I find myself experiencing some weird kind of musical regression. Another sign that modern life is rubbish. I just can’t stomach any chart music these days, apart from a bit of Taylor Swift. My music taste stalled in around 1995, and in recent years I’ve transcended even that embarrassment by discovering a penchant for 70’s and 80’s rock. Deep Purple, Bob Seger, Night Ranger, Cheap Trick, Survivor, you’ll find them all in prominent positions on my playlist. Did you know Survivor had an entire alternate career untainted by Rocky films? Me neither! Less happily, I also discovered that Jimi Jamison, the lead singer who featured on Burning Heart (Rocky IV), the Moment of Truth (Karate Kid) and, most famously, the Baywatch theme, died in 2014 as a result of methamphetamine intoxication.

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3: And While we’re on the Subject…

The recording industry has never shied away from ripping people off, ever since the sixties when labels would release albums by their most popular artists, then put out singles that weren’t on it so fans would have to buy both. But what’s with these ‘Deluxe Versions’ of albums? They have to be the ultimate rip-off. A band puts out a nice, solid 12-track album. It sells well, and the fans love it. In fact, it does so well that six months later, the record label tags on two bonus tracks, either leftovers from the recording sessions or different versions of tracks already on the album, and re-releases it. Except this one costs more money. They might even pull the same trick further down the line and call it a ‘Super Deluxe Version,’ or a ‘Tour Edition.’ These days, some artists license exclusive editions, with subtle changes to the track listing, to large retailers like Target or Walmart, knowing that their hardcore fans, the ones they should be looking after rather than exploiting, will be eager to get everything they put out. Some things change, but record company execs being money-grabbing cunts is one thing that always stays the same.

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4: Technology is Scary

When I was a kid, the height of technological advancement was the Betamax VCR. And that, my friends, was a fucking revelation. You can watch horror movies, with the gory bits still in, whenever you want? Get the fuck outta here!

Now you can make your own movies. On your phone. And then share them with millions of people at the touch of a button. What the actual fuck? Of course, technology comes at a price, and like most people my age, I’m very glad the Internet didn’t exist when I was young and stupid, because there’s no way I’m living that shit down.

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5: Aliens Exist

I believe in ’em. What’s up? When I admit this to people, they very often laugh in my face. But what’s so hard to believe? It’s incredibly arrogant and naïve to go around thinking that in all the infinite vastness of space, the only intelligent life exists right here on this one little floating speck of dust. We don’t even know what lives at the bottom of the ocean for fuck’s sake. Take the blinkers off. The truth is out there.

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PS: The latest release from C.M. Saunders, Apartment 14F: An Oriental Ghost Story, is out now.