Sunday, December 30, 2007

"This Be the Worse"

This Be the Man?
Photograph by Philip Sayer
Cover of Required Writing

When the British poet Philip Larkin published his unprintable poem "This Be the Verse" in the August 1971 issue of the New Humanist, he probably didn't foresee how widely, even colloquially, it would come to be quoted despite (or perhaps because of) containing one of the seven dirty words that you can never say on television.

I mean the f-word.

Pan forward to Korea, 2007. Yesterday, my daughter -- who has only recently turned eleven -- mentioned the movie Die Hard. Now, I happen to like that 1988 action film, but I was surprised that my daughter had heard of it.

"You've heard of the film?" I asked.

"I've seen it," she replied.

I looked at her. "You've seen it?"


"The Bruce Willis movie?" I checked.

She looked puzzled, so I asked, "Was there a lot of shooting?"


"Where did you see it?"

"In school. Our teacher showed it."

I sat there astounded, wondering, What could her teacher have been thinking? I then went to my wife and told her:
"Sun-Ae, you need to speak to Sa-Rah's teacher. He showed the film Die Hard to his fifth-grade class. It's a film with a lot of violence and a lot of bad language. It's completely inappropriate for children. If I recall, it was rated R, which means that you can't see it without a parent if you're under 17."

I added, "The main character, played by Bruce Willis, uses the f-word a lot."
Sun-Ae didn't specifically say that she'd speak with Sa-Rah's teacher, but she agreed with me about the film being inappropriate for children:
"A lot of Koreans have no sense of what movies children should be allowed to see. The kids probably see the same film at home on DVD."
She's right . . . which doesn't make it right.

But getting back to Larkin . . . I don't blame him for popularizing the f-word (which I admit also escapes my lips from time to time), but his poem "The Be the Verse" serves as a convenient postillion upon which to vent my paternal wrath.
This Be the Worse
When Philip Larkin wrote, that cad,
In nineteen-seventy-f*cking-two,
He fouled me with the fault he had
Of saying well what isn't true.

But he was f*cked up in his turn
From closely cultivating oats
That he had wildly sown to learn
What he could then shove down our throats.

"Man hands on misery to man"?
His own sits there upon my shelf.
"Get out as early as you can"?
At least he had no kids himself.
No kids. That's one thing in his favor . . . and (whinging aside) I also happen to like his poem. It's catchy.

Which doesn't make it right...

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At 12:44 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As an elementary school teacher, all I can say is "Wow!" My school district forbids the showing of any video not owned by the school. I wonder what curriculum standard was being taught by showing the video. Seriously. Save for the occasional Friday afternoon or afternoon before a holiday, anything I do in my classroom had better be linked to a curriculum standard. Moreover, copyright laws forbid the showing of copyrighted material like a movie to a public audience such as schoolchildren, even though no money was charged.

Your wife is right that Koreans have no sense of the foulness of foul language in English. I realized this when a sweet young Korean woman began the first sentence of her midterm exam with the words "Oh, fuck, what do I write?" I spoke to the woman privately and had a quick lesson with the class on the most common swear words. Most adult Koreans know the Korean equivalents of English curse words yet can't "feel" their offensiveness.

At 3:51 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Well, Koreans have a distorted view of America anyway, partly based on Hollywood movies.

They see a Bruce Willis movie and imagine that every American man must constantly litter his language with the f-word.

I remember the "F*cking America" song of 2002, and I think that most Koreans -- singing along to its vulgar lyrics and thereby joining in the nasty fray to demonize the two American soldiers involved in that tank accident that killed the two young girls -- had no idea of how vulgar that very popular song made Koreans seem.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:26 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

They see a Bruce Willis movie and imagine that every American man must constantly litter his language with the f-word.

Up until about ten years ago, I could accept this as an excuse, for Korean movie dialogs were fairly clean, and English cuss words were liberally translated into less vulgar Korean terms. The language and the content of Korean movies has gotten more graphic (ask your wife what she thinks), so I would expect Koreans, if they thought about the matter, to realize that American movies do not represent how Americans speak and behave any more than Korean movies represent how Koreans speak and behave.

Even before I became fluent in Korean and Chinese, I always enjoyed watching K/C dramas and films. I was shocked by a Chinese prime time drama which depicted a third trimester abortion in a rather graphic fashion with a close up of a metal pan containing foreceps in a pool of blood. The female character was a married woman who aborted her fetus after she caught her husband fooling around. On another drama, two characters planning to immigrate to Australia on investors' visas opined wryly that Australia was a country where citizenship was for sale.

Do you watch Korean dramas or films?

At 5:50 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

No, I don't watch Korean dramas or films. I generally don't watch television and rarely have time to get to a movie. Sun-Ae and I choose our movies carefully, and most things that we see have to include the children . . . so we've 'infantilized' ourselves...

You may be right, at any rate, about Koreans easily knowing better than to believe Hollywood movies.

Jeffery Hodges

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