Visual Swears 2: Electric Fuckaloo

Back in 2015 I wrote about visual swears in film, where profanity appears on the screen rather than on the soundtrack. The films featured in that post were The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Blade II, Shoot ’Em Up, Runaway Train, and Sorry to Bother You. Since then I’ve gathered a fuckload more.

Visual swears can have all sorts of motivations for filmmakers: humour, attitude, character type or mood, place detail, meta-commentary, and so on. After all, they’re deliberately built into a film’s production design – unless it’s a documentary, in which case they’re still selected in the framing and editing.

The first film below happens to be a documentary, and a great one: Dark Days (2000), which explores the lives of people living in a disused New York subway tunnel. One of them labels a makeshift toilet SHIT SPOT, perhaps for both informational and comedic reasons:

Front view of a makeshift toilet, with open seat balanced on some poles over a bucket. The inside lid has text that says, in all capitals, 'Shit spot' and an arrow pointing down.

Side view of the makeshift toilet, with a young bare-chested male figure bending forward towards it. Text can be read on the toilet seat's inside lid: 'Shit spot'.

Shit is coyly asterisked along with nob, bastard, and fuck on the swear box in Hot Fuzz (2007). Cunt remains humorously uncensored – though its taboo may be waning slightly in parts of North America, the word remains far more offensive there than in the UK: it’s even a pronoun in Scotland, FFS.

Two pieces of text on lined paper, handwritten in block capitals. The bottom part reads, 'Swear box. All proceeds to the restoration of the church roof'. The top part is a list of swears and their costs: 'Nob - £0.10p. Bastard - £0.20p. Shit - £0.50p. Fuck - £1.00p. Cunt - £2.00p.' Nob, bastard, shit, and fuck all have a letter or two replaced with a non-alphabetical symbol.

My earlier post featured a T-shirt with the message EAT SHIT. The same phrase appears, helpfully lit up, on a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it street sign in the underrated Matrix Resurrections (2021):

The camera points up obliquely at a figure sliding down a tall building at night, lights and sparks flying out around him. A neon sign below him reads, 'For those who love to eat shit', with the last two words lit up in green.

A handwritten FUCK OFF keeps unwelcome visitors away from Bill Duke’s caravan home in Mandy (2018). Nicolas Cage is of course exempt:

Nicolas Cage, in a beard, sunglasses, and long-sleeved T-shirt, knocks on a dirty caravan with 'Fuck off' written on the door.

A typewritten fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck, meanwhile, shows James Caan’s intense frustration in Misery (1990). The shot of the page may be an allusion to the ‘All work and no play’ scene in The Shining, or it may be just fortuitous convergence, since so many of Stephen King’s protagonists are writers anyway:

James Caan sits at a large old Royal 10 typewriter. He wears a glum expression and one arm in a sling.

A close-up of the page he has been typing shows the text, 'fuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuckfuck'.

Raw (2016) features a poster emblazoned with What the Fuck, possibly an underground music event or college art show. The film and characters are French, but the phrase still carries the same charge of rebellious expression:

Two young women sit on a bed, in a lull in conversation. The one on the right has a large cut on her cheek. On the wall behind them are several posters, including a small black one with white text that says, 'What the Fuck'.

Sheet music in Whiplash (2014) has a clear instruction on how it should be played: MOTHERFUCKING LOUD!! More to the point, it tells viewers something about the character who wrote it:

Close-up of sheet music shows a few bars of notes and a handwritten note in all caps, 'motherfucking loud!!'

The related noun – another ‘Oedipal polysyllable’ – shows up, to the same end, paired with an emphatic badass, on Harley Quinn’s business cards in Birds of Prey (2020):

A man's left hand holds a business card, white with black border and text, that reads, in block capitals, 'Harley Quinn & Associate. Badass motherfuckers'.

Hopping from DC to Marvel, we enter a bar in Deadpool 2 (2018) whose drinks code dictates precisely what kind of clients are unlikely to feel at home there:

The comic character Deadpool, in full costume and holding a sword, is centre screen in a busy bar. Behind him are a crowd of cheering revellers and a sign lit up reading 'Shots' and 'No fucking wine' with the 'c' missing.

It also has some sweary fun in the credits:

In the credits for Deadpool 2, a caricature of Deadpool holds a ghettoblaster. Above him is handwritten text saying: 'Music supervisor: John Houlihan'. Beside him is more text, apparently being spoken by Deadpool: 'What's my mother fuckin' name!'

Graffiti at multiple locations in Chappie (2015) uses swears and nonstandard spelling, sometimes in combination, to lend the places and their occupants an outlaw flavour:

Three human figures and a robot stand outside, two of the humans talking. On the wall behind them is graffiti of a large round face and the text 'Fuk da world'.

Scene from a derelict city area shows three characters hurrying up from underground steps, one of them visibly injured. The high wall to the left is filled with crude graffiti of cartoonish stick-aliens and some text, including 'Fuck off'.

A heavily-tattooed man, naked to the waist, lights a cigarette. Behind him is a blackboard filled with white all-caps text, including 'Not scared of shit', 'Fuck wif my girl', and 'All my bitches'.

Z Nation (2014–18) – a TV series rather than a film, but a fun one to finish on – has a bar punningly named Fu-Bar to comment wryly on the state of the (zombie-infested) world. Fubar, for the uninitiated, is military slang, apparently originating in WWII, short for fucked up beyond all recognition. You might find a use for it.

On a wooden wall is a dingy old wooden sign with hand-painted text that read, 'Welcome to the Fu-Bar. No zombies allowed!'

4 thoughts on “Visual Swears 2: Electric Fuckaloo

  1. Yuval April 13, 2022 / 5:04 am

    A toast to Gilbert Gottfried, folks?


  2. Liam Grant December 23, 2022 / 4:27 am

    For those in the computer science realm, 70s and 80s textbooks (and probably later) bowdlerized FUBAR to foobar. The similar SNAFU seems to have lost its edge and missed academia.


    • Stan Carey December 23, 2022 / 9:04 am

      It might be interesting to trace those two words’ spread from military slang, see where they ended up (and didn’t).


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