Opinion | Netflix's 'History of Swear Words' proves swearing is fun — and Nic Cage is still weird

Opinion | Noah Berlatsky: Netflix's 'History of Swear Words' proves swearing is fun — and Nic Cage is still weird. - @NBCNewsTHINK

1/14/2021 12:32:00 PM

Opinion | Noah Berlatsky: Netflix's 'History of Swear Words' proves swearing is fun — and Nic Cage is still weird. - NBCNewsTHINK

But to be fair to Cage, his sneering unpleasantness also highlights something about the power of profanity that the rest of the show doesn't quite capture.

Adam Rose / NetflixJan. 14, 2021, 1:47 AM UTCByNetflix's new comedy series"History of Swear Words"is cheerfully profane and profanely cheerful. Experts and celebrities spend each of the six 20-minute episodes saying the"bad" word of the moment with glee and aplomb. It's a clever, well-designed show — except for the bizarre choice of host. Nicolas Cage completely undermines the show's straightforward, wholesome edutainment with a cascade of smarminess. He's painful to watch. But his sneering unpleasantness also highlights something about the power of profanity that the rest of the show, in its clear-eyed good humor, doesn't quite capture.

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Experts and celebrities spend each of the six 20-minute episodes saying the “bad” word of the moment with glee and aplomb."History of Swear Words" is certainlyinterestedin nailing down the power of profanity. In one of the series' most enjoyable and striking segments, cognitive scientist Benjamin Bergen explains that cursing can

actually reduce pain, which is probably why people curse when they're hurt. Scientists are still trying to figure out why curse words have analgesic properties. But whatever the reason, it's enjoyable to watch comedians like Zainab Johnson and Nikki Glaser plunge their hands into ice water in a scientific effort to prove that they can endure the cold better while shouting profanities. headtopics.com

The series also recognizes that curse words retain their force in some more traditional ways. The show notes in passing that young people tend to see slurs as the most offensive words, and while the series mostly avoids those to concentrate on excrement and sex-based filth, it does include an episode on"b----."

Many of the contributors talk about how the word is still denigrating and painful, even as some women have reclaimed it in some situations. Johnson, for example, explains that she thinks it's fine when her female friends use it, but never a man. Rapper Open Mike Eagle talks about the prevalence of the pejorative in hip-hop and how"people who normally would not allow that type of talk in any other media, they're OK with it in hip-hop." He adds that he wonders whether there's not some"underlying racism" there, which makes people decide that Black artists can't do better or that it's OK to speak about Black women, specifically, in this way."It's something I'd like to challenge people not to do," he concludes.

For the most part, though,"History of Swear Words" tends to defang swearing, rather than to reaffirm its power. The mere act of saying any word over and over for 20 minutes is going to banish any lingering taboos.Tracing each word's history also has an inevitable desensitizing effect; any monster, no matter how mean-spirited or looming, is less impressive on the dissecting table.

anatomizes each term with all the relish of objectivity, delving into each word's historical origins and evolution over time. Some words have more obvious beginnings than others, but all are interesting. Read more: NBC News »

Romney calls Capitol riot 'an insurrection incited by the President'

Congress will resume the joint session tonight to certify President-elect Joe Biden's win after Pro-Trump rioters stormed the US Capitol earlier today. Follow here for the latest.

THINK Now that Trump has been impeached for the behavior of others, he should pardon everyone that entered the Capitol on 1/6/21. Only those people who directly assaulted police officers should face charges. THINK gabemschneider thought you would like this THINK Is that Castor Troy? THINK Who watches this garbage and pays for it?

THINK Blasphemy is just fucking profanity THINK Just glad Cage is getting work, tbh THINK I think its just that hair piece he has going on thats weird. THINK