“Lincoln” Watch: Film to be Rated PG-13, and the Ribald Humor of Honest Abe?

“Lincoln” Watch is how we are going to keep tabs on anything and everything related to the upcoming film, as we wind down to its November 9 World Premiere, and November 16 wide release. How excited are you?

As expected, the MPAA handed down a PG-13 rating for Steven Spielberg’s Lincoln. To me, this is a very important part of the film’s potential success, because it would have affected the size of the possible viewing audience, and whether or not that film would be available in schools for use as a teaching tool after it gets released to DVD. The actual description of the rating reads as: “For an intense scene of war violence, some images of carnage and brief strong language”. So it appears that people are going to see a bit more war than they originally thought, and a realistic depiction at that. I also want to make mention that people on message boards seem to have been thrown into a tizzy at the fact that part of the rating is due to strong language. While most people are having fun with it (“Hey, maybe Mr. Lincoln drops the F-bomb!”), some are raising some serious points as to what the language could be. PG-13 movies are allowed one usage of the F-word to still retain their rating, but I highly, highly doubt that word will be used here. Someone else brought up the possibility of the N-word being used, which could fit in with the intense scenes of debating about the slavery issue. Still, I do not think I have seen a movie made after the late 1970’s that used that word and was not rated-R. Why are the tiny particulars of this so important? Well, to be honest, they’re really not, but it does give us something to talk about, like maybe whether or not some of Abraham Lincoln’s bawdy jokes will make it into the film.

Lincoln was famous for his tongue-in-cheek sense of humor, and his ability to hold an audience, no matter what the topic. People would gather in the White House to hear him read poetry, but Lincoln also liked to tell jokes, some of which had a tad bit of spicy wording. Thanks to a couple of posters on IMDB who presented these two snippets, I would like to share them with you, as I personally found them hilarious:

One of Lincoln’s favorite jokes: “A certain founding father was invited to England years after the Revolutionary War. To give him grief and razz him a bit, some English politicians placed a picture of George Washington inside an outhouse. So, subsequently, this founder did his business in the outhouse, and when he came out, the English politicians expected him to be angry and indignant about the disrespectful placement of the picture, but he wasn’t angry. They asked him why, to which he said that the picture’s placement was appropriate, because, ‘What better way to get an Englishman to shit than the sight of George Washington’.”

Another situation where Lincoln is noted to having cursed comes in an even funnier context. From The Wit and Wisdom of Abraham Lincoln: A Book of Quotations, we have this enlivening little remark: “In [1862], President Lincoln, frustrated by the indecision of General McClellan, went to see him at his tent headquarters. As Lincoln made his way through the encampment at the Army of the Potomac, he was recognized by a couple of carpenters putting up some kind of shed. One of them called out, ‘Mr. President, we’re making an outhouse for General McClellan!’  Then the other workman yelled, ‘Should we make it a one-holer or two-holer?’ ‘Better make it one hole,’ Lincoln said with a chuckle. ‘Why, McClellan would dither so much deciding which to use – he’d shit in his pants’.”

Personally, I would love to have seen this second quote in the film, but it does not encompass the early years of the war or the character of George B. McClellan. In any event, we do not know how exactly the strong language will be used, or if Lincoln even uses it himself. Still, I think it is pretty cool and very humanistic to have seen that Lincoln had such a risque sense of humor, by the standards of the time. I think people see him as a very stoic and serious man, which he was, but sometimes, he liked to have some fun. Those are the little things that bring history alive!

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6 thoughts on ““Lincoln” Watch: Film to be Rated PG-13, and the Ribald Humor of Honest Abe?

  1. Actually, the film “Armageddon” got away with two f-bombs and still maintain a PG-13 rating in 1998. There’s the obvious one that Billy Bob Thornton uses. But earlier in the film, when Bruce Willis is chasing Ben Affleck with the shotgun, Affleck’s character lets one out (turn the subtitles on the DVD to see the proof).

    1. For what ever reason my comment didn’t show up the first time, at least my computer didn’t show it. So I just typed it again and I guess changed my sentence a little. As for the difference….the world will never know.

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