Does ‘Guardians Of The Galaxy’ Use ‘Safe’ Bad Words?

Drax from “Guardians of the Galaxy” calls his friends names. Why do we like him anyway?
on May 4, 2017 · 10 comments

Drax from Guardians of the Galaxy accidentally teaches us a surprise about bad words.

Christians who want more “realistic” language in books may benefit from this lesson.

In one of my favorite scenes, this newly famous, metaphor-challenged muscle-alien Drax comes to a realization. He’s been blinded by his own vengeance quest. But he’s become cared for by his new friends: Peter “Star-Lord” Quill, Gamora, Groot, and Rocket Raccoon.

While invading the enemy base, Drax clearly confesses his realization. However, his confession includes at least one bad word, which I will utter here:

Drax: I just wanted to tell you how grateful I am that you’ve accepted me despite my blunders. It is good to once again be among friends. You, Quill, are my friend.

Peter Quill: Thanks.

Drax: This dumb tree is also my friend.

Groot: (grunts)

Drax: And this green whore is also—

Gamora: Oh, you must stop!

Back up if you missed it: Drax calls Gamora a “whore.” Similarly, he calls Groot a “dumb tree.” Earlier he calls Rocket a “creepy little beast” and “vermin.” (The last name genuinely upsets a drunken Rocket, who dissolves into tears because of his past wounds).

But “whore” is most egregious of all. No woman should be called this name. (For the noble and true Gamora, it doesn’t even fit: she doesn’t once engage in promiscuous behavior.)

So why haven’t we seen any social-media outrage against Drax, Guardians of the Galaxy, Marvel, or Guardians director James Gunn? For progressivists, didn’t Drax use a trigger word? For evangelicals, wasn’t Drax’s term one of many bad words in the movie?1

There are several reasons, starting when the Guardians’ enemy Nebula arrives on scene:

Nebula: Gamora! You’ve always been weak! You stupid, traitorous—

(Drax blasts Nebula)

Drax (deadly serious): No one talks to my friends like that.

Why aren’t we mad at Drax? Why not call him a gaslighter or a hypocrite?

The answers teach us about two things: well-made story characters, and the reasons why Christians will or won’t appreciate other fictional sins, including folks who use Bad Words.

Naturally, ‘ware spoilers.

1. Drax is a strong but tragic person.

We meet Drax in prison, where he quickly joins with the other captured folks: Peter, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot. Drax easily qualifies as the “muscleman with heart” trope. He’s built huge, thanks to wrestler-turned-actor Dave Bautista. But he also carries a genuinely tragic backstory: galactic enemy Ronan has killed his wife and child. Which leads to …

2. Drax is utterly sincere.

Drax is very direct about his ambition: to avenge his family’s death. To that end, he has no ulterior motives. Only once does he appear to hide his action (secretly summoning Ronan in an attempt to fight him). Otherwise, he doesn’t subvert or deceive. Which also means …

3. Drax is literally metaphor-challenged.

“His people are completely literal,” Rocket says of Drax. “Metaphors go over his head.”

Drax objects. “Nothing goes over my head. My reflexes are too fast. I would catch it.”

This particular aspect makes Drax even more endearing. First, he’s comically “weak” in one area. Second, this is yet another indicator of his sincerity. He’s so literal and above-board that he is not even capable of hiding definitions or meanings in the words he uses.2

4. Drax is humble.

Groot rescues Drax from his loss to Ronan. Instead of showing arrogance or stubbornness, Drax is overtly broken. This leads to Drax’s overtly humble confession to his new friends.

5. Drax truly seeks joy and friendship, not vengeance.

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opens in the United States Friday, May 5.

Unlike other “antiheroes,” Drax hasn’t lost sight of truth and beauty in his vengeance quest. His eyes widen with curiosity or wonder. He throws himself into new experiences. (“Let us put more of this liquid into our bodies!”) When a thrilling spaceship ride ends in a crash, I love Drax’s belly laugh and thrown-back head and exclamation of “Yes! Yes!

Drax defends Gamora’s honor. His actions speak louder than his use of a bad word.

Later, Drax also kindly comforts Rocket upon the (temporary) death of Groot.

Once Inigo Montoya had his vengeance, he didn’t know what to do with the rest of his life. But you get the idea that post-vengeance, Drax will be quite content to move on with his life.

6. For all these reasons, we implicitly trust Drax.

Drax calls other characters bad to worse names: “imbecile” against Peter, “vermin” against Rocket, “dumb tree” against Groot, and “whore” against Gamora. Why don’t we hate him?

Because we rightly assume that Drax doesn’t mean any special ill will toward them.

He’s strong but tragic. He doesn’t press secret agendas against them. He is simply being literal: Groot is mostly “dumb,” as in he can’t speak; Rocket is literally vermin; and Drax (wrongly) concludes Gamora is a literal prostitute. And we see him confess other sins and pursue joy in gifts outside himself. We “allow” Drax this because we feel we can trust him.

Application: if we trust people and fiction, we’ll ‘allow’ their sins

None of this justifies sins the Bible condemns. For real people, no matter their tragic backstory, likability, or positive aspects, you shouldn’t slander people or swear in anger.

But what about fictional characters using bad words? There’s a time-honored debate.

By now, it seems the issue is not so much that Christians feel certain words are always bad.

Instead, the issue is about trust. Apparently, more Christians trust secular superhero/space fantasy movies. So we “allow” their trusted characters to swear. But fewer Christians trust Christian fiction. So we don’t “allow” their characters to swear.

So what is the solution?

I suggest that advocates of more-realistic fiction need to follow Drax’s example. This may involve creating trusted characters. But more likely, this solution involves becoming those types of people—strong but humble people, who try to live openly and joyously, sincerely, likely keeping our metaphors but avoiding any hint of hidden agendas.

Toward that end, we ought to be first to condemn real, actual sin, either in ourselves or endorsed by other stories. We ought to be first to give the Gospel in nonfiction contexts, and warn against very real and dangerous heresy. We ought to win trust, to exalt God.

Only then may we feel freer to recommend stories in which good but flawed characters can realistically swear. Only then can critical Christians accept us, despite our blunders.

  1. Bonus argument for swear words in Christian fiction: Christians ought not be like “the world,” right? But now it’s “the world” that legalistically fears certain words more than Christians.
  2. At least one young Guardians fan on the autism spectrum identified with Drax.
E. Stephen Burnett explores fantastical stories for God’s glory as publisher of and its weekly Fantastical Truth podcast. He coauthored The Pop Culture Parent and creates other resources for fans and families, serving with his wife, Lacy, in their central Texas church. Stephen's first novel, a science-fiction adventure, launches in 2025 from Enclave Publishing.
  1. notleia says:

    Slightly OT: Not sure if you actually understand how gaslighting works, or if you’re just trying to use “gaslighter” unconventionally and it fell flat. We need to work on your SJW vocab, Burnett.

    But context is everything. This is why you can call your friend a bitch but not some random stranger (unless they don’t actually like it and then you’re a bad friend). [Coincidentally this is why black people can use the n-word when white people can’t. I mention it because there seems to be some confusion about this among white people.]

    Me and my dude were chatting with a plumber once who asked if we have stupid nicknames for each other like a lot of couples do (his wife did and he didn’t like it). We channel all that into our cats rather than each other: fishbreath, buttbag, fuzzface, dorkbutt. It’s probably a good thing we don’t have kids because a kid could have a hard time expressing that they don’t like a nickname even if we don’t mean it like that.

    • If I thought “gaslighting” was an exclusively SJW term, I would not have used it here.

      Agreed about the N-word. I actually thought of including this example above. The fact is that most people think it’s okay to use “bad words” (swear words and otherwise) on each other, in real life, if their relationship is based on pre-existing mutual trust.

      • Julie D says:

        It comes down to the relationship. I call my dog ‘stupid’ all the time, but I only half-mean it, because I care about him. Insults of caring, as it were.

      • notleia says:

        Huh, I learned about gaslighting (and trigger words) in SJW-ish spaces (Captain Awkward;; Love, Joy, Feminism), so I feel like I learned them from the horse’s mouth, more or less. I suppose if you didn’t learn them in SJW contexts, you wouldn’t consider them SJW-ish, but I’m not sure where they would be talked about if not in SJW spaces.

        • I first read the concept of gaslighting (though perhaps not the word itself) from a mid-2000s politically conservative book called “Bias” by former CBS News contributor Bernard Goldberg.

          • notleia says:

            Huh. Well, I ended up looking up stuff and learning, which is a good thing. Apparently gaslighting as been a concept since the 60’s, I guess it just took a couple decades to trickle out into public consciousness, which seems per usual.

            But I’m still not convinced that insulting Gamora then punishing someone else for insulting her falls in the Venn diagram for gaslighting, because gaslighting is about manipulating the narrative to manipulate the person, and there’s not really a narrative. It could be built upon to make a narrative, but it’s not there yet.
            There is totes that sort of person who insults someone as a “joke” that isn’t really a joke because they don’t stop when the target feels bad, but I think it only turns into gaslighting when they start using a narrative like the target is “too sensitive” or “humorless bitch” or “real friends/family can violate boundaries.” My older brother did a bit of the “too sensitive” game, but his usual stuff was garden-variety verbal abuse so I don’t really consider him a gaslighter, just a regular asshole. And that is my thesis on the distinction between generic abuse and gaslighting in particular.

            And I do remember this is entirely academic because Drax wasn’t being abusive in the first place. This is about word usage, and word usage is important because it’s what makes us different from savage animals that poop in the woods.

            • Autumn Grayson says:

              Especially since gaslighting tends to be used to make the target feel crazy. In a lot of ways it tends to be somewhat specific and so much more malevolent than average manipulation.

          • Agreed again. Which is why I wouldn’t at all classify Drax as “gaslighting.” I have seen the term misused to refer to someone who simply believes in a different reality, or sees things differently, and naturally speaks and acts based on these conclusions. But Drax, like other people, can’t help seeing the world how he sees it. This is worth considering before we accuse anyone (even certain disagreeable political figures) of “gaslighting.”

  2. kaci says:

    I’ve yet to see GotG 2, fair warning. I think Drax’s comment worked because (1) he tends to do it consistently, and (2) when he says it about his friends, it’s almost as if he means the opposite, which could be why they chose that particular one. I don’t particularly respond well to even jesting about someone being a hooker or a whore, but since I have heard it used in a jesting manner, I guess I can at least acknowledge how it was intended.

    Nevermind I still want to punch people for it, and refuse to change that mindset on any insult I find worthy of being punched over. 0=)

  3. Saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 last night. Mild spoilers:

    • Drax still steals the show. But so do Rocket and Yondu.
    • Baby Groot isn’t as cute as people claim. Works better in “small” doses.
    • Baby Groot < Adult Groot
    • The metaphor jokes are gone. What the heck, Guardians?!

What do you think?