A Nicolas Cage clad in a black suit stares seriously at the camera and shoots a stream of insults into the air, all with the word “fuck.” “Of all the bad words in English, none are as malleable as ‘fuck’ (‘fuck’). He is able to express the full range of human expressions ”, he says later, already seated in a leather chair, surrounded by books and bottles, in a pretentiously intellectual environment.
This is how La Historia de las curses starts, the new Netflix docuseries that in a comedy tone, plus some cultural or sociological reference -not entirely proven-, makes a review of the past and present of the most frequent bad words in the United States and other English-speaking countries.
Each of the six short episodes (of 20 minutes) deals with a bad word. In the first chapter, dedicated to “fuck”, an attempt is made to find its etymology – and its relationship with its more literal meaning: “to have sex” – through linguists, teachers and writers, some of them specialists in the field.
It was believed that the word had arisen in the Middle Ages in England, in times when you could only have sex if the king gave his permission to do so. If the monarch granted this right, a sign reading “Fornication Under Consent of the King”, whose initials are “FUCK”, was to be placed on the door. But it ends up admitting that this is just a myth, a resource that will be repeated with other swear words.
The series also collects testimonies from comedians, actors, musicians and people linked to the cultural industry, who explain the different uses of the word in question. From the influence of Fuck the police, a song by the NWA group – pioneers of gangsta rap – that the black community took as a symbol of protest, to the censorship that still persists in the world of film and television.
The host Cage presents the list of the five most fucking actors in Hollywood.
“Why is ‘shit’ a bad word? It’s a six-letter word that means exactly the same as the four-letter word ‘poop,’ ” says comedian Sarah Silverman at the beginning of the second episode, dedicated to“ Shit, ”another frequent bitch that evolved over the years into a positive meaning.
“You can add it to any other swear word and it becomes cool and fun,” argues Joel Kim Booster, another comedian. Renaissance literature doctor Melissa Mohr explains that like most bad words, “Shit” was not obscene at first: it just meant “excrement. “
They say that “Shit” comes from the concept of “Ship High In Transit” since, in 1800, there were ships that transported manure across the Atlantic and had to be set high, because if it was in the hold, methane gas was at risk of catching fire in the heat. But again, the etymological anecdote is discarded.
As with “fuck”, the expression “shit” was censored when African American culture and the explosion of hip hop in the 1980s began to popularize it and incorporate it into mainstream language.
The history of swearing is a paste approach to the world of bad words. With something of the spirit of Drunk History, the international format that had its Argentine version with Pasado de Copas (with Marcos Mundstock as host), appeals to delirious and bizarre humor – Cage’s choice as presenter clearly goes along that line – to cover the history of the most common whores and their cultural impact.
“Fuck” and “Shit” are followed by “Bitch” (“Bitch”), “Dick” (“Dick”), “Pussy” (“Concha”) and “Damn” (“Damn”), all frequently used in its translation into Spanish. Beyond the mocking character of the series, there is a general positive concept around the whore, a kind of vindication that goes against those who only see it as vulgar and as a symbol of rudeness.
The testimonies are interspersed with sequences of films where the expression in question is used; and with precarious animations that serve as setting in the historical routes of the curses.
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