The Art of Vulgarity

DISCLAIMER: DO NOT READ THIS. You will likely be offended by at least two (but likely more) words included in this article. The following text includes extremely offensive language.

Fuck. I use that word quite a bit when I write. And I use that word in its multiple forms: Fucked, Fucking, Fuckers, etc. And I know it’s considered offensive. So, sorry about that. I don’t intend to offend, but I have been known to be relatively lax with my “verbal morality” (as it was referred to in Demolition Man). But let’s face it: You can’t use PG language to describe an R-Rated life. Sure, perhaps I could make my various points without using profanity, but writing is so much more than the mere conveying of information.

Writing is never just words. Writing is a medium that must appeal to all senses beyond the common physical five. For example, when I write dramatically, I do my best to paint a picture that completely swallows and envelops the reader. Consider the following passage from the book I’m currently writing – After 3PM – as I describe my first night in jail after my initial arrest:

It was the middle of the night. As I lay on the rock-solid jailhouse cot in the Sedgwick County Jail, surrounded by eight or nine other cots filled with snoring inmates or absurd and inane conversations, I pretended to sleep. The air was heavy, leaving an odd aftertaste in my uncomfortably-dry mouth, just from breathing. The jail smelled awful, like a musty old warehouse populated with homeless squatters and drug addicts; it smelled like misery and hopelessness. It sounded like a muffled riot zone with the occasional bangs, slams, and shouts of the profanity-ridden manifestos of the imprisoned. It was what I imagined Hell to sound like. However, to everyone around me (who appeared to have been there before), it was business as usual.

The walls, the ceiling, and the floors were all the same color – not white, but not tan. It was like a very-light taupe. “They say taupe is very soothing.” And the only thing that differed from this motif was the trim around the tank windows (an uncomfortable shade of brownish-maroon) and the cots (which were a dark faded metal grayish brown and varied in rust, with mattresses that were a dirty dark green with worn rips that exposed the white(ish) padding). There were no bars – all the “cells” were stone rooms with windows (trimmed in brownish-maroon) that lined the perimeter of the booking area of the jail. There was a seating area in the center of the booking area, populated by uncomfortably dark blue chairs, like a waiting area with no one waiting and televisions no one could hear or watch, but there were no bars in this jail. Sporadically-placed large cylindrical pillars filled any fluid space in the room, some holding an apparatus that anyone who hadn’t been to jail would describe as a “payphone without a coin slot;” but to someone who had been (or was) in jail, it is was lifeline to the outside world.

All five common  physical senses are described in this scene: Sight (describing the colors); Smell (describing the putrid aroma); Taste (describing the aftertaste from the air);  Sound (describing the shouting); and Feel (describing the solid cot). However, there are other senses in this passage as well, the most important of which being the senses of emotion: Fear, Annoyance, Uncertainty, or Despair (“it smelled like misery and hopelessness,” for example). Those emotional senses are every bit as important as the physical five senses because everyone has encountered and endured those other sensations as well (in their own personal contexts), and that’s what bonds with a reader just as much as the physical five, if not more. I don’t simply want the reader to see what it was like to sit in that jail cell, I want them to feel what it was like; I want to connect the reader to that setting with more than just a basic description. I want that picture to be clear, both inside and out.

A writer is a painter with words.

And sometimes, those words can’t merely be elegant brushstrokes. Sometimes, those words must be a violent and uncomfortable splatter across the canvas. This is why I use the word Fuck so much.

I had a wonderful conversation with my aunt a few months ago when she visited. She mentioned that she was a regular reader of mine and liked it very much, with the exception of the interwoven vulgarities within the content of my writing. She expressed that she felt the content would be just fine without the profane language; which, from her perspective, is a valid point. She is a very traditional Christian woman with strong moral character and the use of profanity crosses a line for her. And while I expressed my understanding of her perspective, I provided a bit of insight as to why I include this language and vernacular.

“In much of what I write,” I said, “the content itself requires me to amp-up the intensity a bit. 99% of my writing is a personal narrative, and in those narratives, I often find myself worked-up and passionate about the topic. However, what I must do is convey that passion (or anger) in a manner that sufficiently illustrates those emotional “beyond” senses. So in many contexts, if I use the word ‘fuck,’ as in, ‘these fucking people are…’ then when you see that use of vulgarity, it’s as though I’m verbally clinching my body or gritting my teeth.” She nodded in understanding. “Words like darn-it or shucks simply don’t work to convey that same level of intensity. I could artfully describe the intensity, but dropping the F-word has more punch.”

I’m not saying profanity is moral or immoral, permissible or impermissible; right or wrong – but what I am saying is this: The use of profanity in my writing is not due to a lack of imagination or lack of character or lack of morals. My writing is very calculated and very deliberate. And if profanity is warranted, as a way of sufficiently intensifying the emotional punch of a sentence, then it is best used and best used correctly. The word Fuck doesn’t scare me. No word scares me. No word offends me. Words are words. Words only have as much power as they are given. It is not the word that is offensive – it is the person who is offended. Something is only truly offensive if it is universally offensive – to everyone. And there is no word that can do that. There are some words, granted, that come close – Cunt … Nigger … Faggot – these are all terrible, horrible, no good, very bad words, and even I would think twice before implementing any of them into my writing. However, it is simply impossible for these words to be universally offensive. These words aren’t even universally unacceptable. Scott Baio thinks the word “Cunt” is an acceptable word when describing Hillary Clinton. David Duke thinks the word “Nigger” is perfectly acceptable when describing Barack Obama. The band Dire Straits thought the word “faggot” was an acceptable lyric in their song “Money for Nothing.”

Therefore, the point of the word isn’t simply the word – the point of the word is the reaction to the word. The point of the word is the emotion of the word. The point of the word is the purpose of the word. I do not use the word Fuck for the hollow sake of using the word Fuck. I’m not Samuel L. Jackson. I choose every word carefully. Sometimes, I need to crank up the intensity a little. And that’s exactly what Fuck or Shit can do.

I do not aim to offend anyone. But I have lived an R-Rated life. PG language simply will not suffice. My use of vulgarities is not an indicator of a lack of moral character. My use of profanity is not an indicator of a lack of literary creativity – I’m painting a picture with words, and sometimes there’s no acceptable brush for the canvas in front of me. So all I can do is sit back, take a breath, say “Fuck it,” and keep painting.