Freak those monkey-fightin’ melon farmers!

Snakes on a Plane was, if nothing else, a success of marketing over, well, every other aspect of filmmaking. Even those who resisted watching it are likely to be familiar with a line from Samuel L. Jackson, so successfully did it percolate into pop culture (video NSFW; assume the same throughout):

It’s a good line and a great delivery, but family-friendly it ain’t. So as a happy consequence it was dubbed for TV into the wonderful non sequitur ‘monkey-fightin’ snakes on this Monday-to-Friday plane’ (and with fuckin’ softened to freakin’):

Already we can see a variety of approaches to taboo avoidance in film dubs. Sometimes the sense is entirely scrambled; sometimes it’s retained in part or a congruent new sense is created. Some dubs attempt to match lip movements; others don’t bother or else cut away to avoid egregious unsyncing.

Sticking with motherfucker for now, dubbing has given us mothercrusher (Robocop):

motivator (Resident Evil: Apocalypse):

money-lover (Casino):

and little sucker (Pulp Fiction):

All preserve the original word’s vital double trochee. In Snakes, the swear in ‘Turn this big motherfucker left’ – referring to the plane – is replaced by the ridiculous but perhaps tenuously meaningful ‘money-fueller’, while ‘My ass’ sees the speaker’s injury moved to his rib, the bowdlerisation clumsily bypassing all attempts at close lip-syncing:

The multi-film montage below has a few clever euphemistic manoeuvres: ‘Hand me the keys, you fairy godmother’ (for fucking cocksucker); ‘My eyes are wide focused open’ (fucking); ‘This is bozo, man’ (bullshit). Some aim for rhyme as well as reason: maggot for faggot; and Scarface’s witty ‘This town [is] like a great big chicken just waitin’ to get plucked’ (replacing pussy . . . fucked):

The last item in that video is another classic of the type, a dub of The Big Lebowski that conjures up ‘find a stranger in the Alps’ and ‘feed a stoner scrambled eggs’ as substitutes for ‘fuck a stranger in the ass’. It’s hard not to be impressed by their inventive silliness. Here’s a longer clip that includes both:

Likewise casserole for asshole in Pineapple Express, which works so weirdly well it cries out for casserole to be inducted as an honourary pseudo-swear. (I expect this has already happened in campus slang.)

Freakin’ for fuckin’ is a popular minced oath, the kind you hear in real life. Still, its use in a police station, as in this Die Hard 2 redub, strikes me as implausible enough to constitute a minor misdemeanour, unless Dennis Franz’s office has an extortionate swear jar system:

The clip also features the unvernacular use of joke for fuck:

Reporter: Colonel Stewart, can we have a few words, please?

Colonel Stewart: You can have two. Joke and you.

Expletive joke is totally fanciful, a flat meta-joke, but stuff for fuck in heated situations is more realistic (except when it’s Joe Pesci). I’ve heard Stuff it, Get stuffed and similar exclamations in real life; Stuff you, not once, but the Bravo edit of Casino uses it anyway. And don’t miss the comically underplayed ‘Freak you!’ outburst at 1:39:

Of the many euphemisms for the Oedipal polysyllable, as Jonathon Green calls it, melon farmer is among the more subculturally salient. I first encountered it as the name (in plural) of a clearing house cataloguing censorship by the BBFC. The Melon Farmers took their name from the cult film Repo Man: director Alex Cox, asked to dub it for television, used the phrase to stand in for motherfucker:

The Melon Farmers’ websites, once you ignore all the advertising, remain a useful resource for ‘watching the censors watch what we watch’. The origin of melon farmer as a euphemism is uncertain, but Repo Man undoubtedly brought it to a wider audience. It has since popped up in other sanitised broadcasts, such as Die Hard With a Vengeance:

Here’s the transcript, with the original dialogue struck through:

Zeus: Damn, McClane, you know I was just starting to like you.

McClane: Yeah, well don’t, I’m an asshole a liar.

Zeus: What are you talking about now?

McClane: I lied to you, Zeus.

Zeus: About what?

McClane: You remember, I said Weiss found that bomb up in Harlem?

Zeus: Yeah.

McClane: They found it down in Chinatown.

Zeus: Oh. Oh, now that’s low, even for a white motherfucker melon farmer like you, that’s low.

McClane: I told you I was an asshole a liar.

Some TV versions of the original Die Hard apparently swopped the swear in John McClane’s famous ‘Yippie-ki-yay, motherfucker!’ with ‘melon farmer’, while another used ‘my friend’. (The Yippie-ki-yay bit originates in a song from the 1930s.) A dodge I’m more familiar with, from a Die Hard 2 dub, is the slightly more cinematic, if mysterious, ‘Mister Falcon’:

A ‘Yippie-ki-yay, monkey fighter!’ variant would complete the circle nicely, but I haven’t found it yet. There are so many of these bizarre muggerfugging dubs, I hardly know where to stop. TV Tropes has an amazing list of examples, and I haven’t even mentioned dubs in other languages. But that will do for now.

Update:

Somehow I’d forgotten Harry Enfield and Paul Whitehouse’s comedy skit ‘Badfellas’, which perfectly satirises TV dubs of salty language (h/t Helen Stevens):

7 thoughts on “Freak those monkey-fightin’ melon farmers!

  1. mrjprice3 October 5, 2015 / 3:46 am

    In “All About the Benjamins,” some tv edits substitute with the word “motorscooter.” It made for some monkey-fighting hilarious moments.

    Like

    • Stan Carey October 5, 2015 / 8:07 am

      That’s a good one. Euphemistic motor scooter has a decent vintage: Jess Sheidlower’s The F-Word dates it to a pop song from 1960 (‘A mean motor scooter and a bad go-getter’ in Dallas Frazier’s ‘Alley Oop’). Motorcycle is a couple of decades older again.

      Like

    • Stan Carey October 5, 2015 / 8:09 am

      Thanks! A lot of these amusing dubs seem to appear on Bravo, too.

      Like

  2. Jackula November 11, 2015 / 7:17 pm

    As an addendum to your update, please see the season 4 opener of MTV’s the State – it featured the “Tenement” sketch which is a showcase for these kinds of euphemisms:
    “I’m not taking any more of your fudging bull-pucky, you cock-eyed fellow;” “Come on. Let’s get milk-faced and hum like rabbits;” and “fudge-eating nickel pinchers.”

    Like

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