Janet Urquhart: Profanity p—-s some people off
What the #%@& were we thinking?I’m always amazed at what sets people off. This week, for a few readers anyway, it was the use of the “F” word on the front page. Since I was the reporter covering a high-octane and profanity-peppered performance by The Offspring on the streets of Aspen Tuesday night, I caught a share of the heat for quoting a couple of band members whose limited vocabularies forced them to express themselves in a manner that tied a few folks’ undies in a knot.It’s weird. Usually, newspapers get blasted for failing to quote someone accurately, not the reverse.I received an e-mail from one individual who questioned the appropriateness of putting the “F” word (he spelled it out) on the front page. “Just wondering if there are any morals remaining in the media?” he wrote.I have to wonder if he e-mailed the band, the Aspen Skiing Co. (which produced the concert), Budweiser (a major sponsor) or city government, which allowed the event on city streets, to question their morality. More likely, people who found the article offensive just shot the messenger. It’s easier.For the record, I’d like to pass the buck big-time. I spelled out the “F” word in the story at the direction of two editors. It’s at times like these when I like to say, “Hey, I just work here.” I think the paper’s receptionist felt the same way Wednesday morning.One angry caller left a voice mail that concluded: “Aspen’s better than that. You guys s–k.”First of all, it seems to me Aspen is not better than that, or we’d have invited Donny and Marie instead of The Offspring. Secondly, I suspect some people would argue “s–k” carries offensive connotations. And finally, I’d be willing to bet my charm school diploma that this caller has used the “F” word in his lifetime, as though it’s OK to say it, so long as he doesn’t have to read about it later.Another offended caller wondered if the cuss words were somehow missed by the proofreader. Actually, a proofer’s job is making sure the “F” word is spelled correctly (it was).I might note, almost all of the complaints were made anonymously, while the offending band members, the newspaper and the writer of the article were all identified.Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any strong feelings about it one way or the other. We could just as easily have written “f–king” and everyone would have known what was said. But why would that be less objectionable than spelling it out?To avoid offense, we’d have had to eliminate the word entirely in effect, clean up the band’s act and provide a less telling account of the goings-on. Is that a service or disservice to readers?How the #%@& would I know? I just work here.[In that same issue of paper, a headline on the World & Nation page read: “Roadside bombings kill six U.S. soldiers.” Janet Urquhart wonders how many people were upset about that, or even read it. Her e-mail address is email@example.com]
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