when words are cultural – don’t ask the minister for culture

Yesterday evening, taking a break from preparation for a job interview tomorrow, I was taken to a play at Belfast Model School for Girls, as part of the Ulster Bank Belfast Festival at Queen’s. I found the play very very moving. The performances of all male cast and the stage setting were extremely well done. The language used, reminded me of soldiers the world over.

Now on Wednesday night, the Minister of Culture, Arts and Leisure for Northern Ireland, Nelson McCausland, of the Democratic Unionist Party, was at this play. Indeed, his department helps fund the Belfast Festival at Queen’s. It seems that the minister took objection to the language found in the play.

Writing on his blog, he wrote:

Why is it that some modern playwrights feel obliged to pepper their work with so much bad language?

Perhaps, because it is reflective of the society in which we live.

As a politican and someone who is out and about in the community day after day, in all sorts of areas and situations, I meet thousands of people and I have never encountered the intensity of profanity that appears in some of these productions.

Nelson McCausland MLA, NI Minister for Culture, Arts & Leisure

I live in the minister’s constituency. I know that in some of the streets in the community of North Belfast, it is very easy to encounter such ‘profanity’ if indeed it is profanity at all. I believe that in the Obscenity Trial against Penguin Books regarding the publication of DH Lawrence‘s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, it was suggested that the word ‘fuck’ (to which I am supposing the minister objects) is merely the appropriate word in English for the sexual act, both as a noun and as a verb.

In my opinion, there is no word that is in or of itself ‘obscene’ or ‘profane. It is the context that makes the uses ‘obscene’ or ‘profane’. In last night’s play there was none of that. It was merely the use of language that solders use. But not just soldiers, most people in the society that Mr McCausland is elected to represent. Perhaps he should go out into his constituency and get to know them. Most of my friends use words like ‘fuck’ and ‘fucking’ or ‘feck’ and ‘feckin” quite a lot of the time.

Language that is said to be obscene in the present context, may not have been obscene in the past, and vice versa. I am guessing that Mr McCausland would not refer to Nelson Mandela as a ‘nigger’, for ‘nigger’ has become a word that is seen to be obscene. It’s all a cultural thing.

One thought on “when words are cultural – don’t ask the minister for culture

  1. Remind me not to invite the Minister to my play when it finally gets written and preformed then. He’d object to the language in there, and it is all used in context.

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