Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.
The Author: Wes Anderson
Work in Question: Fantastic Mr. Fox
The Profanity: “cuss”
Okay, before we get into this one, I think it’s helpful to see it in use.
It’s hard to look at Fantastic Mr. Fox and not address the aesthetic aspects. It’s a technical masterpiece which tells a simple story based on a Roald Dahl novel from 1974. “Cuss” never appears in the original source material—this is a product of the screenplay. Like most Wes Anderson films, there is as much style as there is substance, and there are layers that shouldn’t be ignored.
“Cuss,” in this case, is fascinating. It’s used as a profanity; it assuredly runs the gamut and replaces other much more offensive words—but never of the same type. At one point it’s an oath, a vulgarity in other moments, and it can even be licentious: it doesn’t matter, and that’s the point. “Cuss” replaces everything. But it does this in a way that is more amusing than offensive. Where “frak” was a clear attempt to get around censors, and “shazbot” was goofy foolishness played for laughs, “cuss” ends up being a subtle (and effective) commentary (that also happens to be played for laughs).
“Cuss” by itself means nothing outside of its recognized definition. But when it describes nonsense, it becomes nonsense. It becomes a parody; it pokes fun and recognizes the absurdity and duality inherent in language, and in this way it transcends faux-profanity.
So, where does that leave me in a series in which I rate the effectiveness of faux-profanity? “Cuss” is effective as commentary, but as profanity, it falls short. And I think that’s the point.
Score: No Score, you sly fox 😒
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Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.