Gordon Ramsay has claimed ownership of the F word. How, in a time where it’s all but lost its cojones through excessive use? Well, by even more excessive use! Excessive for TV, that is.
I know a couple of women who make Ramsay look quite proper. Ah yes, I do like a woman who swears. But it has to be a certain type of swearing that issues from a certain type of woman. Rough, coarse cussing coming from someone who knows no better is just – well, rough and coarse. Crass. And a turnoff. But a woman who is capable of bunging on a polite act in public, who knows something of sophistication but rejects it – or even better, retains it against the odds as she lets fly with mouthfuls of Chaucer’s best – that’s a potent and wondrous proposition.
Then there’s me. I have swearing “issues”. Not quite in Tourette’s ballpark, but I live just across the road. As a kid, I was so drawn to the dark, forbidden power of “those words” that I used to walk the long way home from school swearing continuously to myself, trying on multiple inflections, projecting my grown-up potty-mouth panache on to all manner of fantasy situations.
As a young adult, swearing became a kind of bohemian badge for me, a raised finger to middleclass values, I fondly imagined – before realizing with slow-dawning horror that I was as middleclass as it gets. Nonetheless, I persisted. You can’t help your background, after all. Shame it’s all become so passé. Do you know how it feels to have your subversion subverted by the mainstream? FUCKED! That’s how.
But the greatest F word specialist I have ever encountered was a truckie at Peter’s Icecream. I worked as a driver’s offsider at Peter’s during a couple of summer holiday breaks in my last years of high school. This bloke – let’s call him Gaz – was a revelation.
Not only did he fuckn swear every fuckn second fuckn word or fuckn so, he spoke at a fuckn manic fuckn pace and with deadly fuckn rhythm, rattling out expletives with the flawless fuckn rapid-fire delivery of an auctio-fuckn-neer, and he was the first fucker I ever fuckn met who fuckn broke the fuckn lexi-fuckn-con up into fuckn sylla-fuckn-bles just to fuckn jam another fuckn “fuckn” in there. Now that’s become de rigeur. But Gaz was there first, a pio-fuckn-neer. He even started sentences with “fuckn”. (“Fuckn, I was just fuckn sayin’ to fuckn Bob the other fuckn day, ‘Fark! I says…’). The man was an artist.
Ramsay’s not. He’s tedious. And he’s a money slut. However spontaneous his swearing might once have been, for a long time now he has calculatedly used the F word as a branding device – and spectacularly successful it’s been.
Get this (source: Denton’s Enough Rope Ramsay interview earlier this week). Two cops buttonholed Ramsay for autographs during his promo visit to Sydney. He obliged, then one of the cops asked if he would mind if they videoed him telling them to fuck off!
That’s funny. But I didn’t find much humour in the rest of the Denton interview. In fact, Ramsay established himself as a bona fide dickhead with an outsized chip on his shoulder, full of insecurity, boorish, inarticulate, precious, mysogynistic.
Yes, I’ll cop the pointed index fingers from you dear, vast hordes of Boomtown Rap readers. I confess. This is an about turn. I have twice sung Ramsay’s praises in previous posts, but I was so much older then…I’m younger than that now.
I think my partiality for Ramsay was a sort of possessiveness. Let me explain.
I fluked an early introduction to Ramsay. Leaden-lidded late-night channel surfing landed me at the first episode of his earliest foray into “reality television”, curiously titled Ramsay’s Boiling Point, back in about 2002 as I recall. This was real cult stuff. The bloke was a monster, ranting and raving in language so unrelentingly foul and aggressive it was revolutionary for TV at the time!
My partner and I snapped awake and watched on in open-mouthed horror, fascination and – sad to say – mostly streaming-eyed hilarity, as the rampaging Scot tore strips off his staff, dashed their flawed plates of produce to the tiles and shouted profanities in their hapless faces. He reduced one poor apprentice to tears. Then publicly chided him for blubbering and when he pouted by way of protest, booted his sorry arse out into a back alley, bawling “and don’t fuckn come back you useless fuckn prick” (or words to that effect) as the wretched figure picked himself out of the gutter and stumbled off into the rain. What odds would I have given that this Hitler of the hotplates was a juggernaut gathering momentum on a trajectory of world domination? Zilch!
I alerted friends to my find, implored them to watch the next week. They did, but only one shared my enthusiasm. The others were disgusted! Naturally, that set the hook for me.
Boiling Point came and went, and it was a year or so before the next Ramsay show appeared. It had been toned down. Worse, the F words were bleeped out (which left the dialogue pretty spare!). I began to lose interest. Then came another series (the English Kitchen Nightmares, I think), uncensored, Ramsay as piggish and punknacious as ever…and I was sold again.
To this point, I perceived him as an uncouth, obnoxious, tyrannical prima donna who had unaccountably ended up on late-night TV as a sort of culinary real-life Basil Fawlty. Fringe appeal only. A ticking time bomb bound for TV oblivion.
American Kitchen Nightmares arrived. Uh-oh. The ticking stopped. His appeal began to pall as the suspicion grew that he was bunging on an act. Could this bloke be more poseur than punk, more shrewd than tood?
In the wake of the Ramsay blitz of the last couple of years, the question is rhetorical. My late-night TV cult hero of 5 years ago is now a primetime superstar at the head of a multi-million dollar empire. And he’s reduced the F word to a commodity! Where does that leave me, as one who harbours a smug conviction that he has taste, and as a major investor in the F word and all it once stood for?!
Lenny Bruce, I salute you. The recently departed George Carlin, too (truly, a kindred spirit). Gaz, take a low bow. And to those gloriously foul-mouthed women – you know who you are – I am forever grateful. All of you enhanced the F word, uttered it with class, respected its power, preserved its mystique.
Ramsay, you have demeaned the sacred, stomped on the heads of saints, de-tantalised the special secret thrill of dirty words unloaded with truckie expertise by perfume-shrouded women of poise and wit. As current keeper of the flame of public profanity, you are unworthy of those who came before – a pig among princes.
I may turn vegan just to spite you.