Earlier this week, I fielded a call from an upset subscriber named Susan. She had read our John Tesar story (the entirety of which is now online), and she was appalled by the number of f-bombs in the story. Not only where there three of them in the lead, but there was also a p-bomb (which was modified by one of the f-bombs).
Now, it’s our policy to print the f-word (and other such vulgarities) sparingly, usually only if it is in a direct quote and then only if no fewer than three offensive letters are dashed out. Like this: f – - – . Or: s – - – . (You’ll notice that WordPress doesn’t know how to handle the dashes.) There have been exceptions, and, interestingly, all those exceptions, without exception, appear to have been made in 1996. That year, in January, Eric Celeste wrote a story about gang culture that included the following line: “Members of the FSU (Fuck Shit Up) gang, for example, took to wearing Florida State University (FSU) attire.” Glenna Whitley must have thought it looked fun because the very next month, she wrote a story that contained this line: “When the officers ask the man for the car’s license plate number and other information to make a report of the robbery, he gets nasty, telling the cops to ‘get fucked.’” In September, Skip Bayless came along and wrote: “Even after the Cowboys had improved to 10-2, matching Kansas City for the NFL’s best record, Aikman stunned me by losing bis temper and his usual cool, charging that my sources were ‘a fucking joke.’” Our search engine is good but not perfect. Perhaps we’ve printed the un-dashed f-word elsewhere. That’s all I could find.
Then came this month’s issue and the passage that so offended subscriber Susan — who, by the way, was a delight to talk to on the phone. She explained that had a 14-year-old son, and he reads the magazine. Susan said she didn’t pretend that her son had never heard the word before. It was just that they didn’t talk that way in their house, and she didn’t expect to the see the word in D Magazine. I apologized to Susan for f-bombing her house. But I explained that we’d had a discussion here at D world headquarters as the story was going through the editing process. I felt the words needed to be printed. If we avoided them altogether, the opening scene to the Tesar story would have been impossible to write. If we dashed them, it would have created a typographic nightmare (e.g., an unintelligible, Morse-code-looking “You’re a f – - – ing p – - – - , Nick. F – - – you.”). The staff agreed with me. Even Krista — and she doesn’t use swear words herself.
That’s why we did what we did, I told Susan. And then I made her a promise: no f-bombs in the next issue.
I’d be interested to hear what you, dear FrontBurnervians, think of the call we made. If you share, also tell us whether you’re a subscriber. Because my sense is that most of you here are not subscribers, that you’re younger than our subscribers, and that you’ll think it’s silly that we even for a minute considered not printing the f-word.