Raunch Reviews is a series about profanity. Not real profanity, but speculative swearing. Authors often try to incorporate original, innovative forms of profanity into our own fantastical works as a way to expand the worlds we build. Sometimes we’re successful. Often we’re not. In this series, I examine the faux-profanity from various works of sci-fi and fantasy, judge their effectiveness, and rate them on an unscientific and purely subjective scale. This is Raunch Reviews, welcome.
The Author: Neill Blomkamp & Terri Tatchell
Work in Question: District 9
The Profanity: “Prawn”
Often when standard words are used as faux-profanity, they tend to rate poorly. But, today we’ll see where those common words can become an exception.
In the world of Neill Blomkamp’s District 9, alien refugees arrived on earth above Johannesburg, South Africa circa 1982. Thirty years later, the aliens live in an enormous slum outside of the city. The lessons in the story are immediately apparent; this is a movie about xenophobia, bigotry, classism, and segregation. Even the title, District 9, is a not-so-subtle reference to the notorious District Six that existed in Cape Town during South Africa’s apartheid. These themes are an undercurrent to the plot. It’s evident in the way aliens are treated, and we see it in the language surrounding them. The word “prawn” is used as a slur to refer to the bug-like aliens— “prawn” also happens to be the name for a large African cricket. One that’s considered a pest. The symbolism is easy to see.
Racist slurs and bigoted epithets are designed to dehumanize. The moment one can think of someone else as an “other” is the moment you no longer have to care about their well being. It removes empathy. It dissuades guilt. The victim ceases to be a person. We see that at work here. This is why the use of “prawn” in this context is so pernicious. By calling the aliens “prawns,” the humans in the story don’t have to see them as people. They’re just big bugs. Why do they deserve respect? Why do they deserve a voice? After all, they’re just a bunch of stupid criminals draining the resources of the state—they’re only pests.
One of the jobs of fiction is to shine a mirror on society, to force us to reflect on our successes and ponder our failures. Faux-profanity can do that as well, building a world and giving it a bite, and in the case of District 9, it does so with aplomb.
🤬 Previous Raunch Reviews
- “By the Firsts” from K. M. Alexander’s Bell Forging Cycle
- “Smurf” from Raja Gosnell & Jordan Kerner’s The Smurfs (2011)
- “Dren” from Rockne S. O’Bannon’s Farscape
- “Quiznak” from J. Dos Santos & L. Montgomery’s Voltron: Legendary Defender
- “Smeg” from Rob Grant and Doug Naylor’s Red Dwarf
- “Burn Me” from Robert Jordan’s The Wheel of Time
- “Slitch” from Robert A. Heinlein’s Friday
- “Yarbles” from Anthony Burgess’ A Clockwork Orange
- “Cuss” from Wes Anderson’s Fantastic Mr. Fox
- “Feth” from Dan Abnett’s Gaunt’s Ghosts from Warhammer 40k
- “Shazbot” from Garry Marshall’s Mork & Mindy and Dynamix’s Starsiege: Tribes
- “Seven Hells” from George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice & Fire/Game of Thrones
- “Mudblood” from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series
- “Frak” from Glen A. Larson’s, Ronald D. Moore’s, & David Eick’s Battlestar Galactica
- “Jabber” from China Miéville’s Bas-Lag series
- “Storm it”/”Storms”/”Storming” from Brandon Sanderson’s The Stormlight Archives
Have a suggestion for Raunch Reviews? It can be any made-up slang word from a book, television show, or movie. You can email me directly with your recommendation or leave a comment below. I’ll need to spend time with the property before I’ll feel confident reviewing it, so give me a little time. I have a lot of books to read.