Saturday, March 26, 2011


Two recent responses to the increasing levels of rudery in our public discourse: the Daily Telegraph’s Neil Midgely informs us of the contextually justified “fuck”s that will pepper a forthcoming Radio 3 adaptation of Wuthering Heights, inevitably prompting (profanity-free) outrage across the breakfast tables of middle England; and in the New York Times, Jon Pareles notes that three songs in the Billboard Top 10 (by Cee-Lo Green, Enrique Iglesias and Pink) are similarly blessed, although the precise volume of soy latte being spat out in Manhattan is not recorded.

The problem in both cases is that the journalists in question find themselves unable to spell out the word that provoked the articles in the first place: presumably this is down to the policies of the papers that employ them. Midgely opts for the tedious “f-word”, and then resorts to “[blank]” when discussing Emily Brontë’s own self-censorship, although it’s not clear which words these blanks are replacing. Pareles is more eloquent, referring to “variations on a familiar, emphatic, percussive four-letter word.”

Of course, in writing around such unmentionables, both writers are faced with a paradox: readers who aren’t familiar with the word in question will be utterly baffled by the article; those who know it and aren’t bothered by it would have been relaxed if the veil of good taste had been lifted; and those who do know the word but don’t like it being used will have been reminded of its existence even if they haven’t read it. Pareles for one is aware of the ridiculousness of the situation:
Even if the original lyrics are off-limits to old media, it’s clear to everyone that the profane versions of the songs are going to be heard. The enforced innocence of broadcasting is no longer a cultural firewall; it’s barely an inconvenience. 
There’s a debate to be had about whether old media should give in to the barbarians, or instead maintain their decorum and thus demonstrate why in a multi-channel universe, the Times and the Telegraph and Top 40 radio are still special. As Pareles suggests, this is part of a wider question, of what newspapers and other mainstream providers are really for these days; does it still matter that they’re maintaining standards if nobody else gives a fuck? Not to address this is just f–––ing while Rome burns.


Dick Headley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Dick Headley said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

B*******!I really couldn't give a f**.

I do enjoy taking censoring a little step further, thereby rendering the hardly at all offensive, more contentious. It works with bleeping out parts of audio recordings too. Great fun, and makes it difficult for the po-faced victim to frame a complaint.

(Apologies to those who would have prepared to have read crap, balderdash and fig for themselves.)

Spinsterella said...

Yeah, but it's not the journalists' choice, is it? It'll be their idiot editors and their idiot interpretation of an idiot language policy.

I once worked with an irredeemable cunt who wouldn't let me even mention the Happy Mondays album Bummed.

Tim F said...

I think they did that on one of the 60s satire shows, BWT: censoring the Beatles to create "I Wanna Hold Your ----".

It's not the journalist's choice, Spin, but I think Pareles has fun with the restrictions that the NYT taste and decency police have inflicted on him.

Andy said...

It functions with bleeping out components of audio tracks recordings too.
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