Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Not the Same and Not Equal

Have you ever seen the TV-ized version of The Breakfast Club? I'm guessing that unless you were in high school in the mid-eighties, chances are the only version you've seen is the TV-ized version. When I say TV-ized, I'm talking about the "changed for content" they do to remove all obscenities or any hint of anything inappropriate for teenagers to say, do, or think about.

For those of you who've never seen TBC or just forget, this is the show about the five high school kids who must spend a Saturday detention together, and over the course of the day discover that they all have a lot more in common than they ever could have imagined. I first saw this movie when it was originally released in 1985 (very timely since I was a senior at that time), and I remember feeling thoroughly stunned when I walked out of the theatre. I'd gone to the movies with my brother and cousin, both of whom wanted to see Beverly Hills Cop. So I'd opted to see TBC all by myself, and I couldn't stand that I had no one to talk to about it.

Anyway, since that night twenty-one years ago, I've seen TBC on television some gazillion times. It's always on, and it's great background noise. I can look up from whatever I'm doing and pick up the story at any point.

Except, in cleaning up TBC for public consumption, the network people have created something so laughable it's hard to watch with any other intent than wincing when parts of the movie come up. First of all, the voice overs with the cleaner dialogue are so obviously not the original actors. It's the audio equivalent of Photoshopping Joan Cusack's head onto Heidi Klum's body. Huge disconnect.

Even worse than this are the words they've chosen as replacements. Okay, this is a movie about teenagers. And as such, they use very colorful language. Thing is, unlike today, the specific words chosen by the characters (via the writers) have meaning. It isn't a case of fuck being used as every possible part of grammar but rather with specific and significant meaning. But, hey, I can undertand that fuck and its four-plus letter siblings aren't acceptable language for mixed company and thus have to go. Part of paying the price for free TV.

But some of the things they've censored out aren't necessarily off-color. And in changing them to cater to some puritanic sensibility, what results makes no sense at all. So when the censors determine that "eat my shorts" is far too risque for under-aged consumption, what results is the very lame "eat my socks". Um, yeah.

One particularly poorly butchered dialogue set ends up making no sense whatsoever. The original dialogue takes place between John, the rebel juvenile delinquent, and Claire, the pristine prom queen. They're about to eat lunch, and it goes like this:

JOHN: (looking at the bag Claire has just taken out) What's in there?
CLAIRE: Guess. Where's your lunch?

JOHN: You're wearing it.
CLAIRE: You're nauseating...

Okay, the innuendo is obvious, so I guess I can see why the hyper-cautious out there might need to change it to protect our virgin ears. Here's what TBS came up with to sanitize it:

JOHN: (looking at the bag Claire has just taken out) What's in there?
CLAIRE: Guess. Where's your lunch?
JOHN: You're eating it.

CLAIRE: You're nauseating...

Um, this now makes no sense. Claire's response is ridiculous. By changing the dialogue, which was arguably not so bad to begin with, the entire interchange is stupid. The censors haven't just cleaned up the story, they've changed the meaning of it.

I know. I know. In the grand scheme of things, this just doesn't matter. But it does, in a way. What John Hughes wrote was changed at the fundamental level, not just on the surface. For those who've never seen the real version, the one intended to be seen, you have to wonder what they think. Probably that the writer of this show was smoking something.

Profanity for the sake of profanity doesn't make something better. If you can exchange the four-letter word with a cleaner version and the meaning remains the same, then maybe it wasn't really necessary. Except to give a character a particular slant; I don't imagine many Navy SEALS would yell "Oh, sugar!" if they start getting shot at.

But sometimes the writer meant something exactly the way it was written. And if a certain audience is deemed too young to read it as written, then so be it. In my opinion, if teenagers can say it - which they do - they certainly can hear it. But, hey, that's just me.

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