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Profuse profanity does not a winner make in Hollywood

While I will admit to having occasionally uttered a crass word or two in anger, I am not generally prone to profanity. My parents didn't swear very often, and in raising my own children I've tried to set an example . . . though it sometimes requires biting my tongue (which has, admittedly, gotten rather bloody on occasion).

But these days, however casual the household, the amount of profanity kids hear at home can't compare to what they hear elsewhere. - and I don't just mean walking by road-construction sites.Profane and vulgar language in movies, on television and in popular music has gotten way out of hand.

Regular readers know this is a subject I've complained about before, but an item in Parade magazine a couple of weeks ago got me thinking about it again.

In his regular Page 2 column, "Walter Scott's Personality Parade," a Texas reader asked why the thriller "Ransom," which starred Mel Gibson, was replete with Hollywood's favorite four-letter word. Scott's three-prong reply is instructive, if not entirely correct:

1. "Many screenwriters sprinkle their scripts with that word because they lack the talent to write convincing dialogue without it."

2. "Studios prefer to make films containing violence and foul language because they earn an R rating (and thus attract teenagers who shun PG and PG-13 films, seeing them as a sign of `immaturity')."

3. "Perhaps most important, many moviegoers use profanity in their own speech and don't mind when it crops up onscreen."

With the latter argument, Scott added a warning that it "cheapens us as a nation and a people."

On the whole, I have no argument with any of this. But I do have a couple of quibbles with specifics:

1. Yes, less-than-talented screenwriters adore that famous expletive, but even the most talented writers also embrace it. Quentin Tarantino ("Pulp Fiction"), for example, has a clever way with a phrase, but his characters use every profane variation imaginable.

2. While studios do grind out more R-rated movies than any other kind, the rating probably doesn't make much difference to most teens. The only teens who pay attention to ratings are those who want to avoid R-rated movies because their parents or their date - or their date's parents - disapprove.

3. OK, many people do cuss. And profanity does seem much more common in everyday conversation than it once was. And we have become desensitized to it in the movies.

But that doesn't mean we like it.

There is a reason, after all, that movies are edited for commercial television - to remove foul language that would otherwise chase away a large segment of the audience.

It also applies to movies. An amazing number of people have approached me over the past few months to say how much they liked "Air Force One," adding, "but did it have to have so much profanity?"

Ever since "Patriot Games," I've been subjected to a phenomenon that seems to occur every summer. Call it the Harrison Ford Syndrome.

Around May, I start getting calls asking if the next Ford action picture is going to have an R or PG-13 rating. Why? Because some of those people simply won't go to R-rated movies. Others are concerned and will wait and see just how "hard" the R rating is.

This began in 1992, when "Patriot Games" was released with an R. And the disappointment in the voices of people asking about it was noticeable.

But over the next two summers, when "The Fugitive" and "Clear and Present Danger" were scheduled, people were delighted to find that they were rated PG-13.

This year, however, the disappointment returned as people were told that "Air Force One" had an R rating.

All of which begs the question - was either "The Fugitive" or "Clear and Present Danger" a lesser film because Hollywood's favorite cuss word wasn't used in every other sentence?

Of course not. In fact, those two movies made more money and received more positive critical reviews than either "Patriot Games" or "Air Force One."

And my guess is that not one person came out of "The Fugitive" or "Clear and Present Danger" complaining about the lack of profanity.