Nicolas Cage, looking better than he does in most of his movies — looking so good, in fact, that major studios should consider him again to star in bombastic tentpole projects — goes into the history of a few choice swear words. What’s not to like?

The concept is an immediate sell, if you ask me. The actor, with his stylised, manic, hammy screen persona, is the perfect host for the series, whose episodes dive head-first into the myth and history of particular swear words that cannot be published in this, or for that matter any legitimate, publication. The only two exceptions to the list would be “Bitch” and “Damn”.

There are six episodes of 20-odd minute run times. Like the words, they are short and effective.

The series is hardly serious about the content. In fact, tonally, even when serious discussions and analysis are presented, the feeling one gets is often jovial and dismissive. Interviews intercut from comedians and entertainers to learned men and women — professors of linguistics, women’s studies, cognitive studies, a former editor of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, and even film critics (Elvis Mitchell, who used to write for the New York Times and LA Weekly). Topics slingshot from the words’ cultural impact to how their meanings evolved with time, to how they may have come into being.

A light-hearted history of profanity, presented by Nicolas Cage — you could do worse

The actual history is hilarious but hardly believable, even from a scholarly point of view. One tall tale included having a king’s written consent for fornication — ie, Fornication Under Consent of the King.

Discarding the historic tall tales aspect of the show — which has negligible screen time — the real interest of the producers is to show how cusswords can easily be employed in everyday language. The show, effectively, proposes to legitimise the adaptability of the words; the idea, this critic felt, was to pass them off as a new normal way of communication.

Based largely on the arguments presented by stand-up comics, whose content rely heavily on cussing and swearing, I would think that the producers are hardly interesting in presenting a valid, scholarly look at the history of profanity. Even the scholars and professionals have a happy-go-lucky, off-the-cuff vibe. The show targets young adults, so the tone of easy dismissiveness is prevalent in every second.

Still, older people will love Nicolas Cage’s novelty addition — he is, by far, the most interesting aspect of the show; in fact, he could do the show in his sleep. Performance-wise, as a host, he exhibits better control of his usual theatrical eccentrics. He screams, he yells, he lets out a barrage of expletives in sentences that cover the range from being insulting verbs to harmless nouns, and he makes it all work. The rest of the series, as put forward in the manner of the show, can go **** itself.

History of Swear Words streams now on Netflix. It is rated 18+, obviously. Watch it without the family, if the rapid-fire barrage of bad language is music to your ears

Published in Dawn, ICON, January 17th, 2021

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