Tuesday, January 16, 2007

The Use Of Obscenities In Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist

Doesn't that title sound like it belongs on a term paper? The kind of term paper you'll find embarrassing years after you write it?

Yesterday I went on record as liking Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist. And I do. But I couldn't help but notice a really impressive use of a particular word. One that begins with f and ends with k, and isn't folk.

Now, there are some legitimate reasons for authors using such language.

1. They want to shock their readers for some reason, perhaps even to create a humorous response due to the surpise of hearing a particular character use the word. I don't think that's the case in Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist because it appears three times on the first page, so by page 2 I wasn't shocked anymore. There was no shock value after that.

2. They want to use it to help define a character. However, a number of characters use the word in Nick and Norah (including somebody's dad), and the two main characters use it a lot. In fact, the chapters alternate between Nick and Norah's point of view, and at first having them both use the same colorful word so much made them seem too similar. They aren't. Nick is sweet and Norah is somewhat tightly wound. But it took a while to pick up on that because they sounded somewhat alike since they both used the same expression so often.

3. They are portraying reality, a real subculture. I think that may be the case here. I'm not particularly familiar with young rock fans. The young man I know who attended Ozzfest twice wisely watches his language in front of me. But the world of mosh pits and clubs probably isn't a middle class, church on Sunday kind of world. If what the authors of Nick and Norah's Infinite Playlist are portraying isn't a real world that teenage rock followers will recognize, their choice of language at least creates the impression of a different sort of place, something dangerous.

The language reminded me a bit of The Sopranos. In that show, use of obscenity suggests to us that we're getting a peek into a unique culture.

Of course, there's always the possibility that hit men and wiseguys are a whole lot more refined than they're portrayed in that program. We just want to think they spew obscenities with every breath.

We may want to think that about musicians and groupies, too.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I thought the use of the f-bomb was excessive, particularly having the character of Nick say it 26 times on one page — and one third of the page is blank. It does contribute to the edgy feel of the book, but maybe it could have still had that effect with just a little less, ahem, language.

gail said...

Oh, sure. And I did feel it made the two main characters sound too much alike at the beginning of the book. It might have been interesting to have only one of them use that kind of language.

If teenagers who live the way Nick and Nora live, clubbing, performing with a rock band, tend to use that language all the time, then it is probably appropriate to use the f-bomb as much as the authors did to create that real world. The problem comes about because so many of us (and probably a lot of teen readers, too) aren't familiar with that kind of world so we don't know whether or not this is the real deal that we're reading.