By Matt Welch
Did you have a sad last night when the deserving Brad Pitt lost out for Best Actor to eyebrow-gymnast Jean Dujardin (John of the Garden) for expressing all of two emotions in a charming but overrated silent movie? Me too! But at least Brice de Nice got away with saying in French what the Federal Communications Commission thinks is deserving of a six-figure fine in English. It's at the end of this clip:
If George Valentine could speak, he'd say "Wow! Putain! Génial! Merci! Formidable!"
Why, it's like those French have a different word for everything!
Putain is not a back-handed reference to Vichy shame-receptacle Philippe Pétain, but rather the most flexible of French curse-words, meaning literally (of course!) "whore" (but with more of a c***y vibe), and also, as in last night, a celebratory interjection, a la "F**k yeah!" It is in every case a vulgarity, and as such sometimes funny. In Dujardin's amped-up barking, it served mostly as a timely reminder that–as anyone who has sat through a César Awards ceremony can tell you–ye olde Cinéma Français should not be confused with high-toned, above-it-all sophistication.
But the true moral of the story is that government censorship, or the threat thereof, has no place in self-congratulatory awards broadcasts, or any other broadcast for that matter. If the Academy, or ABC, feel strongly enough on their own to bleep out a stray "f**king amazing," that's on them. But even a happy "Putain!" is considerably more vulgar, and yet we all wake up the next day mostly unscathed.
Luckily, the Supreme Court will soon consider not just the FCC's "fleeting expletives" doctrine, but the whole government enterprise of policing indecency. Read about that here.