One of the central problems of teaching American students is that they have been brainwashed into believing that the only way of being that has a right to exist is their own. Whenever they encounter evidence that people from other cultures hold other values, believe different things, or simply act differently, the students experience a state of profound shock. As over a century of the US foreign politics has demonstrated, this rejection of other people's right to live differently eventually leads to military invasions of countries who dare to avoid following the American vision of what's right.
Since I live in the Bible Belt right now, one huge challenge for my teaching of the Hispanic culture to students with an extremely puritanical upbringing has been finding Spanish-language movies that wouldn't hurt any of the fundamentalist sensibilities of the students. This means that I need to find movies where there is no sex, kissing, homosexuality,discussions of sex, or even discussions of adultery. As you can imagine, such castrated films are hard to find. Film-makers in Spanish-speaking countries create their movies without giving a whole lot of thought to how much their art might hurt the perennially anti-sex Americans.
Finally, I discovered a movie that touches upon none of these topics. Nine Queens is a beautifully made, super funny film from Argentina. Honestly, I believe that if you don't enjoy this movie, you must be either completely bereft of a sense of humor or dead. I have watched it maybe a dozen times already and I enjoy it anew with every viewing. So it was a shock when last semester my students found something to wound their puritanical souls in this impossibly innocuous movie as well.
What upset some students about an innocent movie like Nine Queens is that people swear too much. It is true, of course, that the Argentinean people have a particularly juicy, expressive, and strong way of talking to each other. The swear-word vocabulary of an Argentinean is virtually endless. People strive always to come up with more convoluted and complex swear phrases. Hearing an Argentinean person speak is a rare joy because of the sheer linguistic creativity people exhibit in the process.
When my students started complaining about Nine Queens, I tried explaining to them that the Argentinean people who are living peacefully in their own countries and creating movies have a perfect right to do so. They have a right to speak any way they want and create any kind of art they want. I tried to explain that I cannot find any artistic manifestations from other cultures that would be in perfect compliance with the US expectations. Still, the very idea of cultural difference is so alien to my students that any glimpse of otherness unsettles them profoundly. The parents, the ministers, and the politicians who have been brainwashing these kids from the day they were born know that exposure to other cultures is likely to destroy the conservative, puritanical ideology they try to instill in these unlucky youngsters. This is why the first thing they teach these kids is to resist any approximation to other cultures.
P.S. If anybody has a practical solution to this very real problem, I welcome any suggestions. If you have seen any completely sanitized recent Spanish-speaking films that would satisfy an average American prude, please leave the titles of the movies in the comment section. I'm in the process of creating the syllabi for next semester and I seriously have no idea which films to show in class.