We started with sex and – surprise, surprise – here we go again. Race and disability can take a back seat; when it comes to Percy Filth, we Brits excel like few others. Yet, this week’s word is perhaps more common across the pond and probably emanates from Ancient Greek. It’s a tragedy.
As an insult that places the target amongst the lowest of the low, motherfucker once had few peers. Perhaps it’s been superseded now in terms of a sexual slur by the oddly acceptable ‘Paedo’ and by the fact that motherfucker itself has now become something of a meaningless word, used with careless colloquial frequency within black culture and, courtesy of black culture’s worldwide reach, virtually everyone else under 40. In one respect, the fact the word has been rendered somewhat without meaning could be viewed as a good thing; the more of these taboo words that become absorbed into a kind of universal white noise slang, the fewer of them we’ll have. But it is strange that a word describing something so wrong can have slipped down the charts when what it signifies remains an illicit sin everywhere bar the Forest of Dean and the odd East Anglian outpost.
The ultimate moral minefield as far as carnal relations go, incest of the mother/son variety nevertheless recurs regularly throughout popular culture and has done all the way back to ‘Oedipus Rex’. With the loosening of numerous restrictions on film-makers in the 1970s, directors weren’t slow to take advantage, yet most cinematic portrayals, such as Louis Malle’s ‘Le Souffle au Coeur’, Bertolucci’s ‘La Luna’ and the more recent ‘Spanking the Monkey’, have all covered this tricky subject with both wit and sensitivity, largely eschewing sensation.
The censor’s scissors were taken to two tracks on the debut LP by The Doors; the first was indicative of the times, as the ‘She gets high’ line on ‘Break on Through (To the Other Side)’ was pruned of its offending druggy buzzword so that it became the considerably more nonsensical ‘She gets…’ However, it was ‘The End’, the album’s epic closing track, which presented the band’s record label with a problem and reflected the uniquely erudite leanings of The Doors. Jim Morrison tapped into the Oedipus myth with the memorable couplet, ‘Father, I want to kill you/Mother, I want to fuck you’. Even counter-cultural poster-boys could only get away with so much in 1967, and the line became ‘Mother, I want to…’ The rest was left to the listener’s imagination.
Around twenty years later, when Derek Jarman’s 1976 movie ‘Sebastiane’ was screened on Channel 4, the sight of Roman soldiers touching each other up didn’t worry the broadcaster, whereas the English subtitles did. Motherfucker was spoken on screen in Latin, yet the translators baulked at spelling it out for those non-Latin speakers following the arty bum-action. They probably wouldn’t consider it a problem now. Like Cunt, Motherfucker was intended to be used as the worst word that could be conjured up to describe an especially unpleasant person, though it’s now perilously close to becoming a term of endearment.
Mind you, don’t expect ‘Blue Peter’ presenters to start referring to each other as motherfuckers in a jocular manner. It could very easily have an eye out.