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Monday, March 19, 2012


FROM YESTERDAY’S (SCHENECTADY) SUNDAY GAZETTE: A letter to the editor slugged “Jersey Boys tainted by profanity and sex,” which reads, in full:

“A lot of hype for the Jersey Boys. As a native of South Jersey in the era of the Four Seasons, I was looking forward with anticipation to the March 10 matinee performance with my wife and friends. The music was fantastic – kudos to the talent displayed. But we were appalled at the language and sexual innuendos blatantly displayed. There were children present – shame on parents who allow such language to be heard in the name of ‘entertainment.’ The media hype should have included a disclaimer or a rating about the story content and language (which, by the way, truly isn’t necessary). Sadly their fame came with a heavy price. The audience didn’t need to hear the profanity – just the musical talent.”

That’s got to be a hell of a how-d’ye-do, expecting to see a comfy jukebox musical and getting an onslaught of fuckin’-this and fuckin’-that. Actually, it’s not that much of an onslaught – really just a few fucks and damns and the like sprinkled here and there – but there are also what usually are termed “sexual situations,” in this case of the innuendo variety, so it's rich in potential for the easily offended.

Despite my own fondness for billingsgate, I sympathize with the guy. I’ve been in a couple of situations, when my daughter was much younger and tagging along, when I’ve been moved to speak with nearby profaners. The response was always along the lines of, “Oh, hey, sorry, man, thanks for telling me.”

And then she got old enough (about five, as I recall) to get the talk. “We need to talk about words,” I told her. “You’ve noticed by now that some words get a lot of extra weight attached to them. Words like ‘damn’ and ‘shit’ and ‘fuck’ and the like. Part of your responsibility as a speaker of the language is to get a sense of what that extra weight is all about. A sense of where and when you can say such words.

“As far as I’m concerned, you can say anything you wish around me, provided there’s some justification to what you say. But when you’re out in public, you’re on your own.”

This has worked very well. She swore up a storm in the weeks after that, and it soon eased from her system. She became very acute at determining social contexts, and noticed the different levels of intimacy assumed when people feel comfortable enough to cuss in front of one another.

Eventually she grew old enough to learn the sexual meanings attached not only to the more colorful terms but also in the wide, wonderful realm of double entendre. So by the time we saw “Jersey Boys” a couple of weeks ago, I don’t think much flew by her.

But I see that the letter-writer wasn’t complaining on behalf of any kids in his company, but for the general realm of “children present.” Obviously, he needn’t include mine.

More to the point, he’s protesting on behalf of his wife and friends. I worry when a complaint is pluralized that way. It verges on the “everyone thinks this” generalization. But I’ll give him and his wife and friends the benefit of the doubt. He wished for a disclaimer, and it was there – but it’s on a sign posted inside the theater, visible only after you’ve paid and entered, and it light-heartedly notes that, along with a warning about strobe lights and smoking, “authentic Jersey language” will be heard.

But he goes on to opine that such language “truly isn’t necessary.” There we part company, my friend. This ain’t “The Sound of Music.” The artistic palette has changed, as it must. Art is our commentary on life, and always spins in a crazy dance around a picture of the society that cultivates it.

The language in “Jersey Boys” is necessary to underscore not only the context of the lives and struggle depicted therein, but also the context of the songs that fuel the show. Could you de-fuck-ize the show? Sure. Just as easily as you could do it to “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Speaking of which, my father emerged from a production of Mamet’s masterpiece in a big snit over the rude words. “Do people really talk like that?” he said to my wife.

“How the fuck should I know?” she replied.

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