The Big Issue : Edition 463
THE BIG ISSUE 18 – 31 JULY 2014 29 culture police Fiona Scott-Norman ILLUSTRATIONBYGREGBAKES;ORIGINALPHOTOGRAPHBYMILESSTANDISH WHEN IS SWEARING GOOD STRESS RELIEF, AND WHEN IS IT JUST MAKING THINGS WORSE? Fighting the F Word delivering a Shakespearian quality monologue while receiving, er, oral love – knows that the vilest of language becomes poetry in the right hands. So my first reaction to Humphries’ announcement was that he was having a ‘you kids get off my lawn’ moment. My second was that he was being a publicity genius: I don’t think the Adelaide Cabaret Festival has ‘trended’ since it launched in 2002. So, nicely done, tiger. My third is...maybe he has a point. Not (lord no) that we need more cabaret singers staring into the middle distance, fiddling with their pearls and talking about their childhood. But as much as I love a useful flurry of f**kery in the fernery, I’ve been noting of late that getting rude doesn’t get us anywhere. The internet undulates with profanity like a sea of maggots, and gives a voice to every angry noob this side of the ozone layer. It may be a useful stress-relieving device to wear a ‘F**k Tony Abbott’ T-shirt to whichever rally you’re attending this minute, but it doesn’t help. Nor is it useful to compare the current regime to Nazi Germany, or, as one contributor to my Facebook page did, suggest that Tony Abbott is no better than Rolf Harris. Not okay. Yes, we’re angry. And..? What, exactly, does typing ‘F**K OFF YOU C**T’ achieve? Anything? No. It’s simply an alligator surfacing from our limbic system, and no one, particularly the government, will take that seriously. Look at Ronald Williams, the Toowoomba father who challenged federal funding of the national chaplaincy program, and won. Did he turn up to court in a F**k Tony Abbott T-shirt? No. He pulled on a suit and went to court. We need more Ronalds, not keyboard warriors. Godwin’s Law states that as soon as anyone on the internet mentions Hitler or the Nazis, they’ve lost the argument. I reckon the second you flick the switch to f**k, you’re done and dusted. Plus, you won’t be invited to next year’s Cabaret Festival. THERE ARE TWO types of people in the world. People who swear, and my mum. Norah never swears unless: a) She’s had a champagne; b) She can’t find her glasses; or c) I encourage her to do so. So, actually, more often than you’d think for a lady who models herself on the Queen. Does the Queen swear? Not in public. But Prince Philip is ex-Navy and renowned for his blunt manner, casual racism and saying ‘bloody’ (often followed by ‘fool’). One suspects things might get fruity behind closed doors in the Windsor household. Particularly if one trips over a corgi. Swearing is a part of most everyone’s vocabulary, from pre- schooler to pensioner, politician to pole dancer. As every parent knows, children are swear-hoovering machines. Most people remember swear words four times better than regular ones. In time of emotional stress, swearing surfaces like a sewer- dwelling alligator from the lower depths of our brain. The beige tones of ‘oh flip’ or ‘dash it’ are often simply inadequate. What is intriguing, then, is that incoming Adelaide Cabaret Festival head honcho and long-time provocateur, Barry Humphries, has pronounced that he is banning the f-word from next year’s festival. “I have found, without wanting to sound prudish, that too many young comedians – many of great brilliance – still resort to the f-word to get a laugh,” he said in Adelaide’s Advertiser, sounding terrifically like my mum in full possession of her glasses. Unsurprisingly, The Advertiser had no difficulty finding some outraged second-tier local comics to tell Barry Humphries to “go f**k himself”. But Humphries is no more likely to ask rough, local stand-ups to do an hour at the Cabaret Festival than Channel 9 is to request that I perform ‘The Wind Beneath My Wings’ at next year’s Logies. Humphries is also, let’s face it, unlikely to genuinely censor his acts. Not only is the rumpled old so-and-so an iconoclast from way back, but for every performer who reaches for ‘f**k’ out of nervousness or the inability to craft a punchline, there are technicians like Tim Minchin or Eddie Perfect who wield profanity like a scalpel. Anyone who has seen HBO series Deadwood – and character Al Swearengen » For virtually more FSN, visit fionascottnorman.com.au or follow her on Twitter @FScottNorman.