The Joy Of Vulgarity

Perhaps because I am wholesomely uncultured and brilliantly wicked, I get a kick out of using the F-word. Even the phrase “the F-word” makes puritanical parents tremble, shriek, and cry, “Think about the children!” But this sometimes only comes through while I’m writing fiction. While working on any journalistic piece, I subscribe to standards: I strive to be unbiased, to offend no one, to please and please and please.

But sometimes, in fictional worlds, authors can afford to be offensive. We can say things that offend others because we hide behind characters who can tout those controversial beliefs with the pride and assurance any self-respecting American would never wear unless he or she were a member of the Westboro Baptist Church.

While being a professional at work or pretending to be a functioning adult, we would never use such vulgar words or talk so casually about sex and drugs and crime. But when we write, even the primmest of the proper may indulge in the vulgar. We relish the dirty grit of life because we do not always live it. To live in such a way, we may experience extreme trauma, ultimate failure. To write about such things, however, offers us no true consequences. We can throw rotten eggs at retirees, burn down buildings, live in squalor– all from the safety of books.

With the advent of the e-book, without so many people in public able to see what we’re actively reading, we may venture into newer

territory. We are comfortable reading books with strange names, strange titles– things we have not considered reading because of fear of public ridicule. Remove that? Suddenly, every middle-aged woman reads 50 Shades of Grey. Erotica, stories of gruesome crime, books about drug addiction– we are allowed to indulge in these interests in complete secret. All of our darkest fantasies open for opportunity.

Not long ago, I posted this about a similar subject. We read what we cannot experience. Therefore, we write what we cannot experience. At the moment, I enjoy writing about murder, drugs, and mayhem. Do I regularly butcher people and snort cocaine? Of course not, but boy is it fun to write about.

Maybe that makes me a terrible person to put characters through a vulgar gauntlet, but if that offends you, well you don’t have to read my stories. In fact, when I first began this blog, I thought it would edgy, cutting-edge. I would post fiction and poems that pushed boundaries. I read the likes of Craig Clevinger and Chuck Palahniuk. I loved whatever offended people, but now I only do so passively.

That teenage urge died out. I care now only about telling good stories, not garnering attention through offense. But do I still think vulgarity makes for good subject matter? Yes. Yes, I do. Besides, I write about teenagers. I could easily skip around profanity and discussions about sex that would make E. L. James turn read, but I don’t want to.

It’s simply not as much fun.

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About Derek Berry

Derek Berry is a novelist and spoken word poet. Derek is the author of Heathens and Liars of Lickskillet County (PRA Publishing, 2016). He co-founded and organizes The Unspoken Word, a literary non-profit based out of Charleston, SC, which provides an intendent home for the poetic arts through regular readings, workshops, and community fundraisers. He is on the Executive Board of the Charleston Poetry Festival, the inaugural production of which will be Fall 2017. His work has appeared in The Southern Tablet, Cattywampus, Charleston Currents, Illuminations, RiverSedge, and other journals.He has performed in venues across the United States and Germany. He has worked as a photographer’s assistant, busboy, and bookseller. He currently works at a curation facility for Cold War History.

Posted on July 27, 2012, in books, Characters, Controversy, culture, Fiction, Humor, Teenagers, writer, Writing, writing advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. The F-word never passes my lips, but my characters use it with abandon. So does my son, my best friend and my husband (not quite so much as the first two) It has ceased to be offensive to me, but I’m pretty sure I’ll be struck by lightening if I utter the word outloud.

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