The world “baloney” is used in casual conversation by only two kinds of people: deli employees and the guys who edit movies for television. I caught “RoboCop” on late night cable for the umpteenth time last week, and quickly got lost in its dystopian future. The film’s setting is a dark, disturbing place. Crime is rampant. The police are run as a private army by a corrupt corporation. Red from “That ’70s Show” holds sway over the drug trade. Which makes it more than a little jarring when badass street thugs start screaming “Baloney!” at each other. Some of the other dubs don’t even make any sense; “Die you bastard!” became “Die you blaggard!” an archaic English slang for a scoundrel. Maybe these crooks spend their days off losing themselves in the pleasures of nineteenth century pirate fiction. Or something.
I guess the assumption is if you’re watching “RoboCop” at four in the morning you’re probably not doing it with enough attention to notice. But TV dubbing always has the opposite effect: it makes you more aware of the artifice of the film and sharpens your concentration on it, particularly because, like the blaggard example, it’s usually so strange.
The intended purpose of such dubbing is to sanitize the profane for a wider audience. But as Patton Oswalt correctly observes in this extremely NSFW clip from his “Werewolves and Lollipops” album, the contortions applied to “dirty words” often result in more, rather than less, perversity. Watch, for instance, this compilation of “Weird Science” TV edits.
Candlewax on their nipples is pretty raunchy, sure, but is candlewax on their pimples any better? If anything, that’s way more twisted (and definitely more painful).
There is at least one way in which bad TV dubbing is valuable: as an insight into what we as a culture find profane (or at least what the gatekeepers of that culture think we find profane). Watched in the way, these dubs can sometimes be informative, and even disturbing. Check out the TV edit highlights from “Pulp Fiction.”
Why is the g-word that rhymes with nuke left alone in Tim Roth’s speech at the beginning of the clip, but the n-word that rhymes with bigger edited out of Samuel L. Jackson’s story in the elevator later? They’re both horrible racial epithets; is one really any worse than the other? According to whoever approved the edit of “Pulp Fiction” for television, the answer is apparently yes.
Maybe whoever decided on that cut just wasn’t paying attention to the Tim Roth scene. That does happen (though in this case it would require a particularly ADD-addled editor since it’s the first scene of the movie, but whatever). How else to explain the TV edit of “The Big Lebowski” where a profane tirade from John Goodman is completely revised to the point of incomprehensibility — “This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass!” becomes the evocative and mysterious “This is what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps!” — while the rather blatant f-bomb dropped right at the end of the scene by another character is left completely alone?
Obviously this world of TV edits is not an exact science. It’s vague, it varies from channel to channel, movie to movie, and usually makes no sense whatsoever. In other words, it’s baloney.