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Fasten your seat belts, it’s gonna be a bumpy post. The premiere episode of FX’s Feud: Bette and Joan, which chronicles the making of the 1962 camp classic Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, featured, among things, Stanley Tucci (as studio head Jack Warner) spitting out the word “cunt” to describe Bette Davis (Susan Sarandon) in a casting meeting with Baby Jane director Robert Aldrich (Alfred Molina).
That’s a word you don’t hear everyday, if at all, on television. Granted, FX is technically cable, which operates outside of the FCC’s strict broadcast rules against airing obscenity between the hours of 6 am and 10 pm. Basic cable has a looser set of mostly self-imposed rules regarding profanity—you’ll hear “shit” and “dick” said pretty freely these days, though I seem to remember “fuck” being bleeped on Breaking Bad when it aired on AMC (with uncensored versions of the episodes being made available online later). “Fuck” in all of its varieties is still rare, though The People v. O.J. Simpson (courtesy of Ryan Murphy, as is Feud), featured a “motherfucker.” And the Feud scene excerpted above began with Tucci’s character asking Molina’s repeatedly if he’d fuck Crawford or Davis.
But “cunt,” an understandably loathed word for the multi-pronged misogyny it carries, has largely been taboo. Until now. To The Hollywood Reporter, Feud showrunner Tim Minear spoke about the fictionalized exchange in the premiere episode, which was written by Jaffe Cohen, Michael Zam, and Ryan Murphy:
We felt that it wasn’t gratuitous. It was gratuitous coming from the mouth of the character but it wasn’t gratuitous in terms of the story that we’re telling. One well-placed epithet like that is like a bracing, toss of cold water in the audience’s face and it says something. Not if you’re dropping it every five seconds. So that’s why it’s there; it’s there because that’s the ugly soul that we’re exposing a little bit.
The Parents Television Council, which hates sin and naughtiness, weighed in on the cunt-bomb. Said FTC president Tim Winter:
That FX would use such severe dialogue demonstrates that the network has no standards…. If one FX employee used the ‘c-word’ term to describe a female co-worker, that employee would be summarily fired. It is indeed ironic that one division of News Corp. would employ such vile dialogue about a woman as “entertainment” while another division of News Corp. [Fox News] is mired in disgraceful controversy because of allegations of wanton sexual harassment. It could increase potential liability for News Corp. should female employees allege a hostile work environment.