Surviving a Hyde Park screening of 42.
Kid A and Kid B, both nine, are obsessed with swear words. The topic is a constant in our dinnertime discussions. Which words are stronger than others? Which words are offensive in British English but not American English? How do you swear in other languages? (Kid A actually looked up Russian expletives on the Internet; Kid B then taught them to the rest of the fourth graders, who gleefully use them in the presence of their unwitting teachers.) One day Kid B mentioned that someone was shocked to see Moby-Dick in the school library. “He said dick was a swear word,” said Kid B. “So I said, ‛No, it isn’t.’ And I yelled, ‘Dick dick dick dick dick!’” I explained. Kid B was mortified. Then a few weeks ago, I received an e-mail from the PTO at their school, Murray Language Academy. We were all invited to a private screening of 42, the new Jackie Robinson biopic, at Harper Theater. The event included a meet and greet with Dusan Williams, a former Murray student who had a small role in the film. Kid A is even more obsessed with baseball than swearing, so of course I bought tickets. I didn’t even think to check the rating. The 130-seat theater was sold out. Everyone cheered when Williams, who plays a young Ed Charles, made his first appearance on-screen. Ed and his mother watch Robinson, then playing for the Montreal Royals, rattle the pitcher in order to steal bases. After Robinson makes it home, Ed explains to his mother what just happened: “He discombobulated the man.” Kid A explains sports to me often; he looked over and smirked. Kid B was smirking a lot too. The swear words kept coming, and they both kept glancing over at me, asking wordlessly, well, what are you going to do about it? Then it was April 1947 and Robinson was signed to the Brooklyn Dodgers. It’s one thing to sit through a PG-13 movie with your kids while they hear words they hear all the time at school anyway. It’s another thing to sit there with your kids and listen to an onslaught of racial abuse. Thankfully, I didn’t know enough about baseball history to know what was coming when the Dodgers played the Phillies. The scene where Phillies manager Ben Chapman heckled Robinson at the plate just went on. And on. And on. He used racial slurs I had almost forgotten I knew. Made sexual innuendoes I hoped my kids did not catch. I have no idea if they were still glancing over at me or not. I was too busy hiding behind my hand. The end of the movie was triumphant, of course. The Dodgers won the pennant and Robinson was named Rookie of the Year. Ed Charles grew up to become a professional baseball player. Chapman was fired and never managed baseball again. After the movie, we had to have yet another conversation about bad language. Kid B had counted: there were eight different curse words in the movie, not including racial epithets. He decided a racial slur was twice as bad as a swear word. Kid A thought that factor was too low. In a bald attempt to change the subject, I asked them what their favorite part of the movie was. Kid A, predictably, chose Jackie Robinson’s first home run. Kid B said he liked the swear words.