The Bully Rating Controversy and the Effect of the F-Word on Teenage Eardrums
The Weinstein Company’s announcement that Bully would be released without a rating left the controversial documentary’s future in limbo.
The controversy surrounding the film, which profiled bullied kids and the families of children who have committed suicide, has nothing to do with its merit: Most agree that the documentary explores a worthy topic. But Bully has been in the middle of a battle between the MPAA and the Weinstein Company over a handful of “F” words and an R rating. The two sides failed to reach an agreement. —Washington Post
The Effect of the Word “Fuck” on Teenage Eardrums
by C.N. Letsch, Medical Journalist/Retired MPAA Member
In a controlled study of fourteen adolescents, ranging in age from 13.5 to 16.75 years, noted online medical academy The Doctor’s Survey and Conservative Thesis Center found what can only be described as an extremely troubling correlation between exposure to the word “fuck” (and its derivatives) and ear drum explosion in its subjects. “We were shocked,” explained medical theorist and father Dr. Stan Tattlebum in an interview, “though our findings completely adhered to the age-old wisdom that the word has the ability to chemically alter the almost-but-not-totally developed brain in a way that often results in mass puppy homicide and an interest in graffiti, we never realized that every time a kid sneaks into an R-rated movie, they run the risk of actual ear drum explosion.”
Could these findings be accurate? I asked to see the file of one of the participants in the DSCTC study and was faxed a 45-page document outlining the exposure of a 15-year-old girl referred to only as “#5 from Dallas, Texas.”
#5’s mother, a homemaker, described #5 as being bright and sensible prior to exposure. #5 worked at an ice cream parlor from 04/17/2011 until 06/01/2011, enjoyed churning butter and holding hands with friends, and listened to instrumental music exclusively. Her hearing was 20/20 in her right ear, and 15/22 in her left (within normal range, slightly near-heared) before the study commenced. #5 was exposed to season two of the television program Deadwood, in its entirety, over the course of six days. On day five, the subject’s mother noted that #5 was behaving in an aggressive way, and once caught her sneaking whiskey from the cabinet while “jonesing” for access to season one “so that the plot would make some fucking sense.”
On the sixth day of exposure, #5’s mother observed that #5 was ignoring her when she asked #5 to perform her chores, such as making her bed or doing her churning (the mother did make a little asterisk with an explanation that this, actually, was not completely abnormal — however, it cannot be ignored). Later on the sixth day, around dinnertime, #5’s mother attempted to interrupt #5’s exposure session by stepping in front of the television five minutes before the season finale had ended. #5 erupted into a “violent rage” and has stopped speaking to her mother. We can only conclude that this is due to cochlear involapse, otherwise known as exploding ear drums.
Unconvinced, though I had already decided whose side I was on lest my article fall apart, I asked to review the file of another subject, #13, a 14-year-old boy from Great Barrington, Massachusetts.
#13’s father, a businessman, described the subject as being diligent and serious prior to exposure, though he suspected that #13 had heard the f-word in casual conversation at some point in the sixteen months before treatment commenced because #13 was having apparent difficulty hearing his father. When #13 was “talking on the phone for hours, I would interrupt to tell him it was time to go to bed, and he was obviously having trouble hearing me […] that’s when I realized that he must have experienced inner ear damage.” Though he still passed the nocturnal clanging-bell test on two consecutive nights, by day three of exposure (a screening of Goodfellas on day one, Runteldat on day two) he had begun using ear plugs when he slept to stanch the bleeding from his damaged ear canals and did not awaken. “I think he died,” noticed #13’s father in a note on day four, “because he’s been sleeping for sixteen hours.” #13 awoke on day five and drank “a whole carton of milk” and “seemed bored.”
By the final day of exposure, #13 “was hardly responsive and seemed agitated with the experiment, especially the nocturnal clanging-bell test. [#13] has taken to ignoring” his father “entirely, claiming that he is sick of having his hearing tested while he’s trying to sleep.” Subjects #13, #8, #1 and #4 all exhibited symptoms of frustration, usually directed at their caregivers, during the experiment; the conductors of this study have discovered that this behavior usually results from shame (at having exploded ear drums) and irritability (the first symptom of the comorbid psychological effects of the f-word, see puppy homicide dossier ca. 2006).
I asked Dr. Tattlebum if he had examined any of the subjects’ ear drums personally. “Of course not,” he replied. “Teenagers won’t let you look at them, much less inside their ears. But, sadly, we know that our findings are correct. Why else would the Motion Picture Association of America give films an R-rating, a completely fool- and hack-proof system that keeps the f— word out of our children’s ears and minds? What are they so worried about, if not the ear drums of the future that beat out the march of a vibrant and sheltered generation?” I was stumped. There was no arguing with his logic.
I asked Dr. Tattlebum if he thought that the effects of hearing this word became even more noticeable when paired with various visual assaults, such as nipples, pudenda and bowling. “Oh yes,” he replied. “In fact, we’re in the middle of a fascinating study in which we’re playing young people a GIF of Rooney Mara’s breasts in The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, over and over. #2, a young male, locked himself in his room for 10 minutes after exposure — presumably because he’d broken out in sores all over his body from disgust. It was tragic.”
But surely, I pressed on (in the name of devil’s advocacy), the subject had seen a nipple before, even if only when being breastfed. “No, #2 denies ever being breastfed. He said the thought made him want to vomit, actually, so we’re certain that he’s telling the truth. So, no, this was the first nipple he’d ever seen. He’s only 17 — where would he have seen a nipple? The Internet? They block those things out with the black block things.” I could not deny that this was also true, because I’ve never seen a nipple on the Internet myself. I only use it for writing medical journal entries. When a media with the offending word is viewed with a parent, however, Dr. Tattlebum points out, the ears and eyes of the subject barricade themselves against any scandalous audio and visual stimuli, in what is known in the medical journalism community as “pre-emptive embarrassment shut-down mode.”
It is the sincere hope of everyone at The Doctor’s Survey and Conservative Thesis Center, as well as mine, that parents take this study into account when considering whether or not to allow their children to see the film Bully: They may sleep through their alarms, dreaming of vaginas and Wild Bill Hickok, and they will be forever infected with the idea of “fucking.” Let them see just one important documentary and they’ll leave the theater with ear-parts in their Junior Mints. It simply isn’t worth the risk. Just drop them off at the mall cineplex, resting assured that they will be asked to provide their social security numbers and have their age checked by fingerprint at the door. When teenagers start thinking about fucking or swearing, I will retire from the online medical journalist’s committee and crawl into my bomb shelter to await the end of the world.
Filed Under: Harvey Weinstein