Putin’s ban: let’s hear it for swearing!
The Russian president wants to censor bad language in plays, films and books. Irvine Welsh and others tell Alison Flood why this is a dreadful idea.
Irvine Welsh isn’t pleased. The author – who has three instances of “cunt”, one of “fuck” and one of “fucking” on the first page of his novel Trainspotting – has just learned about Russia‘s planned clampdown on “foul language”. According to CNN, Vladimir Putin signed a law this week that will not only implement a ban on, and fines for, explicit language in plays and films, but will require books that contain swearing to be sold in sealed packages with explicit-language warnings.
According to The Moscow Times, “the law has been met with both criticism and shock, as swearing has been a vital component of Russian art, with some of the nation’s best poets and playwrights using curse words prolifically, from classical Alexander Pushkin to contemporary post-modernist Vladimir Sorokin.” Russian philosopher Vadim Rudnev told the paper that the attempts to regulate language made the government increasingly resemble a criminal gang. “They want to designate their territory – this can be said and this cannot,” he said. “In reality it is a common practice to swear among the intelligentsia.”
The moves are “just the thin end of a really nasty wedge”, says Welsh, whose latest novel, The Sex Lives of Siamese Twins has one “bullshit”, one “pussy” and one “fucking” on its opening page. “It seems to be an attempt to erase and/or marginalise certain cultures, ie the working class, the ghetto, and so on. Language is a living, organic thing. If you start to try to control that and prescribe what people say, the next thing is prescribing what people think.”
Trainspotting, says Welsh, “wouldn’t have worked without swearing – nor would James Kelman’s Booker prize-winning How Late It Was, How Late, or John King’s Football Factory.”
It’s worth remembering that Tolstoy himself wasn’t averse to a bit of blue language. As Ivan Bunin’s biography of the writer reveals, “even when, as a very old man, he would tell an anecdote in the presence of ladies, he could let loose words that were not normally said aloud.”