November 2, 2008

Wh@! T#^ F*#@?

This week's adventures in self-censorship comes from The New York Times, which manages to run a think piece persuasively arguing that the word fuck does not inherently have an indecent sexually connotation, while nonetheless scrupulously avoiding printing the word. The case against censorship is made by the ubiquitous Jesse Sheidlower, who notes that the Times devised (or at least first printed) the euphemism "the F-word" in 1973.

But this article is not why the Times wins the week's avoidance-of-vulgarity race. The clincher came a few days ago, in an article about senator-felon Ted Stevens' return to Alaska. Money quote:

Even before the verdict on Monday, a Stevens supporter printed a new campaign couplet on black T-shirts. The first line proposes doing something unprintable to “the Feds.” The second rhymes cleanly, “Vote for Ted!”

I've often said that one problem with such delicacy is that it is often misleading. To read the New York Times, you would think that Stevens' supporters were wearing shirts that said "Fuck the Feds." They weren't. In fact, the shirts said "F*#@ the Feds." I know this because I saw the shirt clearly visible in the photo that ran alongside the Times article. Not for the first time, the paper linguistically pixilated a phrase while allowing an uncensored image of the same phrase to appear next to it (e.g., the simultaneously "innocent and vulgar" Final Fantasy album "He Poos Clouds").

(That's the shirt on the left. In the print edition it was larger and completely legible.)

That some Times writers and/or editors now consider a pictogram that was created to obscure vulgarity to be itself vulgar only confirms the ridiculousness of such obfuscation. As Times reader Charles J. Smith pointed out "if you have a word in mind and display some symbols to your audience so that the audience realizes what you meant to write, then you have communicated the word to them."

As for why the Times report is misleading and why it may matter, the paper has led people to believe that supporters of Ted Stevens are proudly wearing shirts displaying a vulgarity, despite the fact that they went out of their way to avoid vulgarity, using the same trope as many mainstream periodicals. It is as if I were to say The New York Times this week printed a large photograph of a T-shirt with an unprintable word. It's not true, and Times editors would surely object.

For that matter, if the word is "unprintable," how did they get it to show up on a shirt?

Posted by Daniel Radosh


if the word is "unprintable," how did they get it to show up on a shirt?


The Times has always been the last bastion against ... reality. (And wtf is a bastion anyway?)

F*@# Censorship!

In addition to the preceding errors, the second line does not "rhyme cleanly." For it to do so it would have had to be "F*@# the Fed" or "Vote for Teds." I don't get why the writer felt the need to use the word "cleanly" at all, unless there's some distinction I'm missing between a "clean" rhyme and an "obscene" rhyme.

Perhaps I'm too literal, but based on the article, mightn't the T-shirt have read, "doing something unprintable to 'the feds'… Vote for Ted"?
More interesting to me, however, is the propensity for the voter to cast a ballot for someone already convicted of corruption. To the extent that his perfectly acceptable but somewhat morally questionable success of obtaining vast sums of money for pork barrel projects have been a local hit in Alaska, it seems people are forgiving of damn near anything. Make that anything at all.
This self centered selfishness of the individual over broader issues of national common good, or personal morality, makes for an interesting psychological treatise on human behavior. For as we indict Ted, so do we indict ourselves for continuing to support his candidacy.
As a species, we really do suck in so many ways.
I must say, however, that in as much as we’re about to elect a black man (half, anyway) to the presidency, perhaps we’re more open minded than I might have thought possible. Perhaps I am, dare I say it, optimistic.

i'd like to parse the thinking behind someone who believes that re-electing Ted Stevens is somehow a repudiation of the "Feds" (the Federal Government? the FBI? the Federal Court System?). "those fatcats in Washington just don't get it. we need to re-elect this fatcat who has been a part of the system for 40+ years and who has just been convicted of corruption to set them straight."

i'll let Birch Barlow take it from here: "My-my-my friends, isn't this just typical? Another intelligent conservative here, railroaded by our liberal justice system. Just like...Colonel Oliver North, Officer Stacey Koon, and cartoon 'smokesperson' Joe Camel. Well, I've had it!"

Hey, those heart signs are giving me an idea . . .

Brack says "f---ing"

From the Times this morning:

“The world that the networks are asking you to adopt here today, where the networks are free to use expletives,” said Gregory G. Garre, the solicitor general, may include “the extreme example of Big Bird dropping the F-bomb on ‘Sesame Street.’ ”

How fucking likely is that?

From the NY Times Magazine today:

“We created the prepaid RushCard,” [Russell] Simmons says in the spot, “so everyone will have access to the American dream.” That sounds a little bland for someone with Simmons’s brand-building panache, but recently, in The Economist, Simmons gave his pitch a bit more zing by suggesting (in terms that can only be paraphrased here) that the card has aphrodisiac properties.

Found the original quote on The Economist's site:

... Mr Simmons says he does not want it to imply that black people are the only poor people in America, or, indeed, that the user is poor at all. “This card is meant to get people laid, get them feeling dignity,” he says.

God, you can't even say "feeling dignity" in the Times??

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