Every time I write this humble rumination in my head, I come off sounding insufferable – So let me just jump in. I did not like the book that birthed a brilliant movie I did love, Julie & Julia . She relied on one too many “F”- bombs to convey how she felt. The recovering English major in me wished she had tried a bit harder to describe her emotions – experiences – exuberance – without lapsing into so many expletives. For in her exuberance to define herself Julie Powell uncovered other people’s secrets – her parents, for example. I learned more about her (and her family) in her book than I needed to know – she might have taken a cue from Noah’s son, Ham, who shamelessly broadcast his dad’s nakedness. (Genesis 9:20-25)
An alternative comes to mind: Shakespeare’s portrayal of Hamlet’s mom. We get the drift of some of Gertrude’s issues, without so much detail. We learn about some pressures on Hamlet without profanity repeatedly used as verbs and adjectives. Of course, we should give credit where credit is due and note that the Bard was one of the first to use crude language to highlight a character’s character, or their state of mind.
Writing about why we think we are the people we've become is hard work. So is having a conversation that communicates ideas. Occasionally profanity makes a point that no other word can in writing about pain or evil – and perhaps frustration. Profanity and gossip (a.k.a. throwing up on your audience) may make getting words on paper easier, but neither edifies nor encourages readers – much less the writer. Its shock value is arresting in speech or writing. Ms. Powell’s choices stopped my reading her material.
In the movie, the character “Julie” asks if her repeated use of a particular profanity may have offended Julia Child. Who knows? It wasn’t as if either Julia Child or I have never heard crude language or blasphemy. In my teens, I slipped into swearing, the way I slipped into smoking and drinking. I thought that’s what grown-ups did coming in the 1960's. Movies, music and literature strongly suggested potty mouths were cool – and that’s what I wanted to be, cool, unencumbered by the heat of social conventions.
I rarely thought of how I sounded to others, so impressed I was with how I sounded to me until a woman I worked with graciously told me how I sounded when I took the Lord’s name in vain: “You know, Barbara, one day you might be in trouble and pray; God won’t know if you mean it or are just cursing.” Its theology is a topic for another day, perhaps. However, with that reproof she held up a mirror – well, maybe a set of earphones. She didn’t want to listen to what I said because of how I chose to season my message. And Ms Powell unwisely spiced up a warm story with words that stopped this reader. That’s a shame; Julie Powell did stick to a regime that was daunting – with a tenacity that was formidable and winsome – but she over salted her fare.
Wow how sour are my grapes, anyway?