Belgium, man, Belgium

by Henry on June 19, 2005

Matt Yglesias notes that “MPAA rules for avoiding an R-Rating … allow you up to two uses of “fuck” as long as the word appears in a non-sexual context.” A bit reminiscent of the “Rory” Award, featured in Douglas Adams’ Life, the Universe and Everything, which was granted for the Most Gratuitous Use of the Word “Fuck” in a Serious Screenplay. In the US edition of LTUAE, this was changed to the Most Gratuitous Use of the Word “Belgium” in a Serious Screenplay, neatly proving Matt’s point about the unique censoriousness of American media.

{ 31 comments }

1

nnyhav 06.19.05 at 7:05 pm

What the Burger you on about?

2

Billings 06.19.05 at 7:06 pm

“The unique censoriousness of American media.”

It goes with American exceptionalism, I guess.

3

jonathan 06.19.05 at 7:18 pm

that’s what you get when you tell some people they “need” to follow that dream. ;)

4

Joshua W. Burton 06.19.05 at 8:17 pm

I heard that there was a plan at one point to put out two UK editions for collectors, appropriately labeled on the jackets as
“Fuck Edition” and “B—— Edition”.

5

Greg 06.19.05 at 10:13 pm

And the candidates for the Rory are:

http://www.listology.com/content_show.cfm/content_id.18502

which causes me to wonder; was Four Weddings and a Funeral really rated R in the US? Oh… IMDB says yes. That is fucking crazy.

6

Philip Brooks 06.19.05 at 10:34 pm

Whose idea was Belgium?

I was raised on the American version of the novels, and had no idea it was different from the British one (unless, perhaps, the spellings were changed).

7

Tom Parmenter 06.19.05 at 10:37 pm

The words “naughty bits” were censored out of the first broadcasts of Monty Python’s Flying Circus on the ABC network, before their run on educational tv.

8

Anderson 06.19.05 at 11:00 pm

I did not know that about fuck/Belgium, but as a profane-mouthed American I think “Belgium” is the funnier word in that sentence. A rare example of censorship’s improving a work?

But maybe it’s just me; I hooted at “Nietzsche was not Belgian!” in A Fish Called Wanda.

9

Christopher M 06.19.05 at 11:56 pm

Anderson has a good point. Is it uniquely American to find references to the nation of Belgium uniquely funny? It’s hardly even a real country, you know.

10

chris y 06.20.05 at 1:15 am

Not at all. There was a Monty Python sketch, since Tom P raised the topic, about “finding a rude name for the Belgians”. I even saw a mildly racist Belgian joke, attributed to the French and printed in an Irish paper.

11

joel turnipseed 06.20.05 at 1:37 am

Ah… and lest we forget Goldmember. Poor Belgians.

My fondest memory of “F-word” censorialism was a reading I gave at which a woman came up to me afterward and said, “How dare you talk like that! My cousin Kenny is a Marine and he would never say such things!”

Ha ha ha ha ha…. what to say to such people?

12

red@ctor 06.20.05 at 3:16 am

Who actually changed the word in the US edition? Presumably it was done by Adams, following advice from his US publisher, in which case the variant does still have some ‘authority’ (as textual critics would say) – so Anderson’s laughter need not be tinged with guilt… There’s a wonderfully surreal account by Richard Curtis of the changes he had to make to the swearwords Four Weddings and a Funeral for US network TV (see appendix 4 of the 1994 published screenplay). Also, changes to US editions of books aren’t just confined to swearwords – every US edition of Harry Potter contains dozens of different readings. (Drones on for hours…)

13

wouter r 06.20.05 at 4:17 am

Without a doubt it’s due to the excessive use of the “B-word” as profanity that the Hitchhiker’s Guide movie isn’t being released in theaters over here (in Belgium, that is) before August… that’s like, half a year behind on the rest of the civilized world?

Still, it’s an ugly word. And the fact that most Belgians aren’t particularly fond of the nation of Belgium as a unity, doesn’t really help – I guess.

14

Erik 06.20.05 at 9:58 am

I recall a movie, whose title and the rest of the content I have forgotten, in which one character informs the other of this fact using the word “fuck” once, and the other character responds using the word “fuck” once, and the exchange ends shortly afterwards. For the life of me, I can’t remember what movie it was.

15

BigMacAttack 06.20.05 at 10:19 am

WTF!

This cannot be true! Belgium is funnier. I mean what about the bit when Authur keeps going on about Belgium? Is that bit not in the F edition? I always thought that was a funny bit.

You really need to get the forbidden US version.

(Wow. Looks like it really is true.)

16

otto 06.20.05 at 10:19 am

There’s got to be some joke about the EU somewhere in this thread …

17

Anderson 06.20.05 at 11:32 am

The Harry Potter link is fascinating … some of the changes are purely stylistic (“next moment” v. “a moment later”). I wonder if any are Rowling’s?

I hadn’t realized this was still going on; the most recent book has “flat” for “apartment” and other Britishisms, so I’d thought they had quit censoring.

Thank god no American children will have the opportunity to learn the word “whilst” in the course of reading HP. We’ll wait until sophomore English in college, when their minds are more flexible and open to learning.

18

Richard 06.20.05 at 1:56 pm

Amusingly, thanks to the hyper-sensitive web filters at work, this post prevented me from reading CT today until now…

Actually, not amusingly, what’s the other thing? Infuriatingly.

19

Jake 06.20.05 at 4:21 pm

My mother told me that when she and my stepfather were leaving the theater after seeing _Henry and June_, there were two little old ladies creaking along in front of them. My mother overheard one of them say to the other, “The problem with that movie was too much fucking!”

I still find that extremely amusing. Perhaps it’s an American thing.

20

Slocum 06.20.05 at 4:37 pm

I think the whole thesis here is kind of goofy. There are limited areas of American media affected by this–namely network TV and PG-13 rated theatrical releases. But R, NC-17, cable-TV, and DVDs have no such restrictions and these channels of distribution are much larger overall.

Go rent the “Team America” DVD (with the full, uncensored puppet sex scene ;) and then see if you agree with the idea of the “unique censoriousness of American media”.

21

nick 06.20.05 at 4:38 pm

Who actually changed the word in the US edition?

Adams, and he spun a fairly good extended joke out of it. Although Dirk Maggs elided the original for the recent R4 adaptation of LTU&E. This has been mentioned before on CT, I believe: the ‘Belgium’ reference goes back to the very first set of radio episodes, where it’s used (without context) as an expletive by Zaphod.

22

nick 06.20.05 at 4:45 pm

American television seems to have no problem with ‘crap’, ‘piss’ and ‘wanker’ in primetime. And the South Park movie demonstrates how the ‘R’ rating is actually much more permissive than its UK equivalents: adults can take young children into ‘R’ films, but not ’15’ or ’18’ rated ones. Now, the line between ‘R’ and ‘NC-17’ or ‘Unrated’ is much more important, since an NC-17 will keep a film out of multiplexes and Blockbuster.

On adaptations: the Bridget Jones novels were very sloppily Americanised (or should that be Americanized?) — directly converting stones to pounds made no sense, since no American woman has an target weight of 126lbs.

(And I just pre-ordered the UK version of Harry Potter for my wife here in the US.)

23

Uncle Kvetch 06.20.05 at 5:04 pm

Go rent the “Team America” DVD (with the full, uncensored puppet sex scene ;) and then see if you agree with the idea of the “unique censoriousness of American media”.

If the media weren’t censorious, wouldn’t a “full, uncensored” scene be kind of pointless?

24

engels 06.20.05 at 5:17 pm

Go rent the uncensored version, then you’ll see that censorship doesn’t exist.

Whaa?

25

Kieran Healy 06.20.05 at 5:34 pm

‘Belgium’ reference goes back to the very first set of radio episodes, where it’s used (without context) as an expletive by Zaphod.

No, the guide in the radio series gives a whole explanation of it.

26

Slocum 06.20.05 at 5:55 pm

Go rent the uncensored version, then you’ll see that censorship doesn’t exist.

Whaa?

The point is that most people see movies on DVD and the ‘unrated’ version is just sitting there on the shelf at the video store. Doesn’t exactly compare to the days when ‘Lady Chatterly’s Lover’ was illegal, does it?

The point is that this form of censorship only applies to the limited domains (network TV, PG-13 movies) which domains account for an ever shrinking portion of the American media market.

Pick whatever time you think was the golden age of American media freedom? And then try to imagine the typical South Park episode being broadcast at that time. It’s inconceivable.

27

engels 06.20.05 at 6:09 pm

The point is that this form of censorship only applies to the limited domains (network TV, PG-13 movies) which domains account for an ever shrinking portion of the American media market.

NC-17 is also fairly strict though, isn’t it? And failing to get an NC-17 is de facto censorship…

28

engels 06.20.05 at 6:27 pm

Sorry… getting an NC-17 is de facto censorship…

29

Nick 06.21.05 at 7:37 am

Remember: Belgium was invented so that Germany could invade it giving the rest of Europe time to prepare for war . . .

30

Nick 06.21.05 at 7:39 am

Oh, and I don’t know if it ever screened in the US, but the early 80s Australian movie The Wrong Side Of The Road contains this sublimely poetical line from someone taking a dodgy used car back to the dealer who sold it to him –
“Fuck me, mate – this fucking fucker’s fucking well fucked!”

31

John Bragg 06.21.05 at 10:52 am

The bit about Belgium being an offensive swear word elsewhere in the galaxy, the offense that this gave to the cosmopolitans whom Arthur told that his planet named an entire small country Belgium, and the contrast with the small, inoffensive and faintly ridiculous country we think we know was one of the most memorable bits of Life, the Unieverse and Everything.

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