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Monday, November 14, 2005

On Fucking Bullshit

Posted by on November 14 at 9:10 AM

An item of note in today’s Seattle Times: the word “shit” appears on the op-ed pages. In her syndicated column, Molly Ivins condemns the use of torture by the United States…

“Sometimes you gotta play rough,” said Dick Cheney. No shit, Dick? Now why don’t you tell that John McCain?

For those of you who haven’t been paying attention to the torture debate: the U.S. is torturing prisoners in secret prisons, our own lil’ gulag archipelago. While supporters of torture - the Bush administration (particularly Dick Cheney), various conservative bloggers and media outlets (up to and including The Wall Street Journal) — like to point out that the folks who land in the gulags aren’t nice guys, Ivans points out that we didn’t torture members of the SS or the Gestapo during WWII, and they weren’t exactly nice people either.

But I don’t come to condemn torture. I’ll leave that Ivins and Andrew Sullivan and John McCain and Eli Sanders, who has a piece on one aspect of the torture debate in the upcoming issue of The Stranger. I came to praise The Seattle Times for printing the word “shit” in their op-ed pages.

Daily papers are losing readers by the thousands, and one of the reasons is their idiotic refusal to let go of the “family newspaper” anvil they insist on holding onto as they tread water. Shit, fuck, bullshit, asshole — these are words that adults actually use for emphasis when they discuss politics, sex, religion, sports, dinner, spouses, pop stars, Pop Tarts, Wal-Marts, etc. Daily papers, and daily paper websites, are for adults, and adults don’t like being condescended to or treated like children or protected from language they use every damn day.

So when the New York Times lists the best-selling essay/book On Bullshit as On Bull——, it alienates adult readers. When the Vice President tells a U.S. Senator on the floor of the Senate to “go fuck himself,” and daily papers don’t quote him, it alienates adult readers. When they substitute “barnyard epithet” for bullshit, it alienates adult readers.

I know, I know: The Stranger uses profanity constantly. Are we being juvenile? At times, yes. Certainly. But I challenge you to find curse words in The Stranger that you can’t also find in, say, The New Yorker. Or in mainstream films, or on successful cable programs. Or in the fuckin’ Financial Times, where I recently encountered the word “shitburgers,” a fresh piece of profanity that I intend to work into Savage Love at the earliest opportunity. We’re not being glib or attempting to shock when we — alt-weeklies, high-brow magazines, daily papers in the UK — use profanity. We’re being grown-ups.

When daily papers editors ask me what they can do to attract young readers—and they do, they do—I tell `em to put fuck in a headline. There’s no law against it, and doing so would signal to adult readers that they’re not going to be patronized or protected from adult speech if they pick up this paper. The word “fuck” in headline screams, “This is not a publication that is written and edited under the bizarre, erroneous, suicidal assumption that adults sit around reading daily papers aloud to their children at bedtime.”

Daily papers are for adults, and adults don’t trust papers that are timid and condescending. By design or by accident, today’s Seattle Times allowed Molly Ivins to speak to adults using the kind of language that adults use when discussing important subjects. As a fan of daily newspapers, I want them to survive. So I was pleased to see a daily paper let go of “family newspaper,” because it’s an anvil, not a floatation device.