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A Few Bad Kids

I was just watching the end of A Few Good Men on TBS. There was a line in one of the last scenes, delivered by Colonel Jessup (Jack Nicholson) to Dan Kaffee (Tom Cruise), which goes: "I'm gonna rip the eyes out of your head and puke into your dead skull!"

Now, I've seen this movie many, many times, so I happen to know without checking that in the theatrical release, the line reads: "I'm gonna rip the eyes out of your head and piss into your dead skull!" When the TV edit of the film was being assembled, years and years ago, they apparently decided to replace the word "piss" with the word "puke".

Everyone is familiar with movies shown on TV, and how they'll replace swear words with less offensive ones.  For instance, the words "Fuck you" will often be substituted with something like "Fling you", "Forget you", or even something as lame as "Fie on you". There are rules for the sort of language you can use on TV, and "piss" is one of those words you can't say (or at least couldn't at the time the TV version of A Few Good Men was put together -- or taken apart, depending how you look at it). This is all in an effort to protect our children from questionable language, because we don't want our kids suddenly declaring "I have to go take a piss" after they've spent an afternoon watching A Few Good Men, now, do we?  We want our kids to instead say, "Why have I just spent an afternoon watching A Few Good Men?  I'm a kid, for fling's sake!"

I'm not against editing out bad words in televised movies, but really, are our kids being fully protected in this particular case?  Have the editors made the right decision, here?  Yes, the objectionable word "piss" has been replaced by the slightly less objectionable word "puke", but honestly, in context, is the thought of puking into the bloody, gaping eyesockets of the freshly murdered body of Tom Cruise really a lot better than the thought of pissing into them?

It's certainly more logical. I mean, if you or your child had just clawed the eyeballs out of Tom Cruise's face, and watched him die, thrashing, in extreme agony, you'd probably feel more inclined to vomit than urinate. After you witnessed Cruise staggering around, shrieking and bleeding and pleading for God to please help him, and after he'd finally collapsed to the ground in a puddle of gore, your first impulse probably wouldn't be, "Well, I'd better take a leak," even if you'd just had a Big Gulp of Mountain Dew.

In fact, I'm not sure that vomiting into a warm, dead actor's skull is actually better than pissing into it. Being pissed on and being vomited on are both nasty, but if it came down to it, which would you prefer? Urine is more or less sterile, and if you closed your eyes and held your breath, it would probably just feel like warm water. With vomit, though, it'd be tough to pretend it was anything else but steaming, half-digested food being propelled from the inside of someone's stomach, in this case, Jack Nicholson's.

So, if we can agree that barfing into a freshly gouged hole in someone's dead body is somewhat worse than simply urinating into it, why not change the word "piss" without altering the act the line alludes to? Well, for one thing, while there are words that mean the same thing as "piss", few of them hold enough weight to seem appropriate coming from the grizzled Marine colonel played by Nicholson. The line "I'm gonna rip the eyes out of your head and tinkle into your dead skull!" doesn't really convey a whole lot of menace. Likewise substituting words like "pee", "wee", "winkie", and "whizz" wind up taking some of the oomph out of the threat.  Even the word "urinate" doesn't work, because it's too clinical in nature.  It'd be like someone threatening to kick your ass by saying "I'm going to swing my hands, the fingers of which I've clenched together, with great velocity into parts of your body, which will result in you experiencing pain from the impact of the collisions."

Even assuming that the editors got it right, and that when it comes to filling a pair of bloody head cavities with some bodily emission, puking is somehow more acceptable than pissing, there's something else to consider: while we've carefully prevented our children from hearing about an act of urination, we've overlooked the much more serious behavior of violently ripping the eyeballs out of Tom Cruise's head.

Personally, I'd rather my child piss and puke on someone than have them tear the eyes out of someone's head, Academy Award Nominee or not.  Which call from your child's principal would you rather receive?  One where the principal informs you that your child deliberately urinated on one of his classmates, one where your child deliberately vomited on one of his classmates, or one where your child deliberately ripped the eyeballs out of the head of one of his classmates?  And if it was the latter, would your first question really be, "Okay, but he didn't, like, piss in the kid's eyesockets afterwards or do anything objectionable like that, did he?"

So, why not alter the line to protect our kids from all the offenses, instead of simply the language? Wouldn't the line "I'm going to leave the eyes just as they are in your head and not befoul your skull, which is still living and intact due to my not tampering with or removing the eyes, in any manner whatsoever!" be called for?  Sure, it loses a little of the drama, but we're talking about our children, here.