You can find it in the works of Chaucer, Burns, Shakespeare and Beckett. Joyce and Mailer weren’t averse to it, DH Lawrence positively loved it and there’s even a few in Samuel Pepys’ Diary. Yes, you were much more likely to happen-upon a ‘cunt’ in an English Lit class than you ever were on TV or radio during the 70s, 80s and for the lion’s share of the 90s, unless the cuss was issued in an X or 18 rated film, or by a radical free thinker head to toe in corduroy – and usually within three feet of a nodding Melvyn Bragg. It was a bad, bad word that Germaine Greer labeled “the worst name anyone can be called”.
For fans of the profane, December 6th 2010 marked something of a pyrrhic victory. Yes, Radio 4 issued two ‘cunts’ in a day – tee hee – yet, the somewhat disinterested and faintly giggly apologies Radio 4 issued over James Naughtie’s c-bomb – calling Culture Secretary Jeremy Hunt ‘Jeremy Cunt’, followed up by a repeat blunder by Andrew Marr the very same day – were both amusing and yet disappointingly sad. It seemed that one of the last great taboos – the ‘n’ word aside – had finally been absorbed by the establishment. ‘Cunt’ had been exposed to a high and possible fatal level of approval
Radio 4’s c-bomb however was only the final nail in ‘cunt’s’ coffin. The groundwork had been laid in the late 90s when HBO’s depth charge into hi-spec TV grit, aligned the small screen alongside the big. The politically correct 80s were but a distant memory as the odd ‘C U Next Tuesday’ was slipped into Sopranos, Six Feet Under and even Sex & The City, which slipped one in, in a drastic bid to halt a ratings decline in 1999. The odd scripted cunt – used sparingly – heightened this new dramatic realism as TV finally caught up with what was happening outside, both matching and later overtaking cinema as a trailblazer.
However, if the late 90s were the first tentative steps of pushing ‘cunt’ into the mainstream, then the early noughties represented ‘open season’ with numerous ‘cunts’ in The Wire, Deadwood, Dexter, Weeds and Californication. When the Al Murray-fronted ‘Fact Hunt’ quiz appeared on British TV in 2005, cunt was in serious danger of finally replacing the quite frankly ubiquitous ‘brilliant white emulsion’ that ‘fuck’ had now become. In a phrase beloved of Junior Soprano, the word was but a ‘cunt’s hair’ from overexposure.
The writing was on the wall last year when Kick-Ass featured an 11-year-old girl branding a roomful of adults ‘cunts’; critics were surprised by the lack of furor from film classifiers and the public alike. Prior to Radio 4’s outburst, one of Kick-Ass’s chief financiers Jonathan Ross repeatedly ‘cunted’ during a charity dinner speech for Great Ormond St in April last year, shortly after the film’s release. The public’s reaction? Nada. All that was left was for Radio 4 to pat down the final spadeful of soil onto the walnut lid.
Cunt has certainly travelled a long way since old-worldy slang, to extreme anti-feminine venom, before finally resting into the warm slippers of acceptance. Felix Dennis first dropped a ‘c-bomb’ on British TV during a live David Frost show in 1970 and the first scripted cunt followed in 1979 in ITV Playhouse’s No Mama No. Now, however, even the BBC’s profanity-laden tourette’s documentary John’s Not Mad (1989), now seems but a relic of a bygone age.
So, if cunt is dead, then long live what…? What’s next? Are there any shocking words still taboo, yet faintly acceptable for everyone, to say? Answers on a postcard to ‘Dear Cunts in charge of Sabotage Times’…
TOP TEN CLASSIC CUNT MOMENTS
John Lithgow is a revelation playing against type as the massively unsettling Arthur Mitchell (AKA the Trinity Killer) who is often found to drop a c-bomb when he loses his cool, whether it’s aimed at himself or another. The classic Trinity outburst can be seen in the episode ‘Thanksgiving’ when he goes completely nut roast at the dinner table when his son refuses to express his ‘thankfulness’ to him. “But I am thankful for you Arthur,” says his wife in a futile gesture of placation. To which Arthur – slicing the turkey – matter-of-factly responds: ‘Shut up cunt’. It’s the lack of a pro-noun that gives it this an extra edge.
2. QED: John's Not Mad
Not so remembered for a single utterance of cunt – the word was more or less lost in this Woodstock of swearing – the BBC’s John’s Not Mad (1989) tried to rise above the cussing to chronicle the plight of a young tourette’s sufferer. It did next to nothing to help the public empathise with victims of tourette’s, however, but it did fill more blank VHS tapes than the Royal Wedding. Available on Amazon.
3. One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest
McMurphy (Jack Nicholson) and his fellow patients are discussing their planned day trip out of the hospital when the ring leader can’t help but make a slight at the domineering head nurse who constantly tries to thwart their fun. This is a fine, downplayed casual sideswipe. The offensiveness offset by cheek.
McMurphy: “Well, I don’t wanna break up a meeting or nothin’, but she’s something of a cunt, ain’t she Doc?”
4. Sex & The City
Not a classic in essence, yet more of an homage to the word’s power, this marks one of the first occasions that a water cooler show contrived to gain headlines with the c-word. However, the girl-on-girl application of the word is the least controversial of its forms.
SAMANTHA: “Chemo might even have kicked me into early menopause.”
MIRANDA: “Task accomplished.”
SAMANTHA: “You would not believe the hot flashes! I can barely keep my clothes on!”
CARRIE: “Really? What was your excuse before the chemo?”
SAMANTHA: “Oh I’m going to miss you, you cunt!”
5. Hot Fuzz
A pub scene in Shaun Of The Dead had got things rolling with a nice, blasé, “Which one of you cunts wants a drink,” but Fuzz moved things on with an under-played, virtually under-the-radar, release. When Nicholas Angel (Simon Pegg) is emotively describing the debt he owes his Uncle Derek for introducing him to police life, he wraps things up by saying that his hero eventually got busted for selling drugs to kids. “What a cunt,” says Danny Butterman (Nick Frost) almost absentmindedly in a beautifully unexpected drop.
6. Jane Fonda
US breakfast TV (The Today Show) in 2008, and Jane Fonda is explaining why she initially turned down a role in the Vagina Monologues. Cue Alpen dropping into lap. Fonda’s deliberate utterance with not a shred of concern is glorious. Almost middle class punk.
(Host) MEREDITH VIEIRA: “… Jane. You at first were not a big fan of the play. So, what turned you around?”
JANE FONDA: “I hadn’t seen the play. I live in Georgia, OK? I was asked to do a monologue called ‘Cunt’ and I said ‘I don’t think so. I got enough problems."
7. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David’s funereal spelling error in his newspaper obituary for ‘aunt’ was funny – ‘Devoted sister, beloved cunt’ but the finest Curb ‘c-scene’ appeared in the Grand Opening. Described by David – who also equates cunt’s offensiveness with ‘prick’ in a separate episode – as the product of a largely improvised scene, this particular utterance incorporates the use of novel qualifier. Restaurant owner Larry has just fired a chef and has appointed a tourette’s sufferer as a last-minute replacement. And desperate to gloss over his new chef’s foul-mouthed outbursts Larry initiates a collective swear-off with fellow co-owners and diners, as a hilarious smoke screen. Wait for the moment when agent Jeff Green’s wife Susie inexplicably screeches to Cheryl David: ‘Fuck you, you car-wash cunt!’
8. Derek and Clive
The pair never shied away from using the c-word, in fact, you’re hard pushed to avoid it on any of their long players. Track one on Derek And Clive Come Again is simply ‘You Stupid Cunt’. Over their three albums, the pair explored just about every possible facet of the word, with its most fantastically physical application in the “Joan Crawford” skit (on Come Again) in which Clive (Peter Cook) describes his latest job as a window cleaner working within the Hollywood actress’s vagina. Derek And Clive virtually obscure the word’s potency here with such a ludicrous premise that replaces offense with complete bafflement.
CLIVE: “Up Joan Crawford's cunt there are fucking fleets of ships, light aircraft…”
DEREK: (laughs) “Hamburger stands?”
CLIVE: “Hamburger stands. But no fucking hamburgers…”
Fans of super agent Ari Gold will have the following scene scorched onto their grey matter. The motormouth’s wife is awoken by a 5.30am call from Vinnie Chase’s manager (Eric) – but Ari is already up and awake, rigorously working out on a fitness machine as his wife stirs. More odd, than crass.
ERIC: “Looks like I woke you up this time, Ari.”
ARI: “No, but you did wake my wife and kids, dickhead! Vinnie better be sitting in prison with a DUI or something. Is he?”
ARI: “Then what the fuck do you want, cunt muscle!”
The pair finish up…
ARI’S WIFE: “Cunt muscle?”
10. The Exorcist
Regan is possessed by an ancient demon trying its darnest to upset the child’s mother. Watching your child using a bloodied crucifix as a dildo is one thing, but the devil’s taunts are a whole new ball game. In a gravelly sneer, the beast croaks: “Do you know what she did, your cunting daughter?” Used as a unsettling adjective this quote possibly represents the peak of the word’s offence.
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