Friday, March 18, 2005

A CENSORED ITEM ABOUT CENSORSHIP. Well, not really censorship; when a newspaper does it, it's called editing. But I do want to direct your attention to yesterday's Globe, in which - unbenownst to readers - the comic strip The Boondocks was edited to remove a reference to the N-word.

Here is the strip as it was apparently supposed to run. The offending phrase: "Yeah, it's like the n***a version of the Cuban missile crisis." I do not know whether artist Aaron McGruder added the asterisks himself, or if instead they were added by his syndicate.

But here's how the same sentence appeared in the Globe: "Yeah, it's the ghetto Cuban missile crisis."

Globe ombudsman Christine Chinlund has written about controversies over The Boondocks at least three times during her tenure, according to an exclusive computer search conducted this morning on behalf of Media Log. I would imagine that this coming Monday will make four.

The most recent occasion was last September 27, when the Globe refused to run the strip for almost exactly the same reason that it altered yesterday's. Chinlund wrote:

The Globe did not run the "Boondocks" comic strip that artist Aaron McGruder drew for last week because, as an editor's note explained Monday, the strip "did not meet the Globe's standards." A Boondocks rerun appeared in its place. Some readers who went online to see what they were missing said they disagreed with the Globe's call.

"I don't understand how you can censor a comic strip . . . ," said Gail Rothenberg. Said Steve Knapp, "Intelligent readers can understand and enjoy social satire when presented with it."

The satire in question involves the use an asterisked version of the N-word, and a plot built around job-seekers participating in a reality TV show titled: "Can a 'N***A' get a job?!"

Why did the Globe pull the strip?

"The use of a racial epithet is something we try to avoid," said Michael Larkin, deputy managing editor for news operations. Blanking out just the offending word would have obscured the satiric point, he said. "Beyond that, in dealing with a very complex issue the strips were relying on stereotypes that, in the editors' judgment, were likely to offend some readers."

For the record, I'm conflicted on this. On the one hand, it strikes me that McGruder has a sufficient reputation as a satirist of African-American life that he ought to be able to express himself in the language that many black people actually use.

On the other ... I mean, come on. It's the N-word, for crying out loud. You can't put that in a mainstream daily newspaper.

I do think that if the Globe editors genuinely believed it would be a mistake to run yesterday's strip, they should have killed it rather than changing it around.


Anonymous said...

I'm coming at this as a white guy who obviously will never be affected in the same way as a black person by the n-word, but I don't see this as a big deal. Haven't we reached the point that the n-word with an "a" at the end is more about hip-hop culture reclaiming an ugly word as its own? I saw the strip as using the word to refer to what Huey sees as the absurdity of hip-hop culture, sarcastically commenting on the media blowing the feud out of proportion.
Which is all to say - I don't see this use of the word as the same "n-word" that is (completely understandably) abhorred and disgusted.

Anonymous said...

I do think that if the Globe editors genuinely believed it would be a mistake to run yesterday's strip, they should have killed it rather than changing it around.

Which is why the Globe is losing circulation amongst those of us who grew up with print media. Frankly, this (and nonsense as old as their review of the Butthole Surfers in the '80s -- who they renamed the "B.H. Surfers") is why I won't ever subscribe again.

The Boston Globe doesn't meet *my* standards.

I hope McGruder has grounds for pulling his strip if they edited it without permission.

Anonymous said...

A tangential issue - it amazes me how much controversy and debate there is about the comics page. If it's not this editing/censoring issue, it's Mallard Filmore's conservative viewpoint.

I've never got it with the comics, they never seem remotely amusing to me (unlike some of the syndicated editorial-page cartoons). It's a page I never even think about reading, and it's puzzling to me how much sound and fury they generate.

Steve Turner

Anonymous said...

Like the recent contretemps at Harvard, this says much more about those having the conversation than the actual subject of said conversation. In their effort to be PC, the Globe agonizes over offending no one. They confuse what THEY find interesting with serving their readership. A little less self-absorption, please.

Anonymous said...

Years ago I remember Larry Glick[WBZr] being upset with the Globe because a strip [I forget which] he was edited out of. The artist had written Larry's name, on the side of a airplane in one of the four panels.
So the Globe has a history editing in the extreme. It was really a small thing to do.

Anonymous said...

"nigga" is about as PG-13 as "muthaphukka" or something similar. But if it will make 20 somethings subscribe to the newspaper, perhaps the Globe should have a Tupac-style $3kkshun.

Anonymous said...

The Globe. Ugh. They are so bad. Can't a black artist - in this case, a comic - be allowed to express himself without being "edited." Give a n***a a break! This is such foolishness.

Anonymous said...

Scott Kurtz draws the popular webcomic "PVP" ( enough that he makes his living off the comic; it's one of the heavyweights in the webcomic world. Not long ago he started an interesting crusade by offering his comic free to any paper who wants it. His theory is that it's crazy for comic syndicates to charge papers hundreds of thousands for comics when there's lots of webcomics (in a few cases with far bigger readerships) willing to give away the strips just to increase their visibility and thus earn more money off merchandising sales...which, by the way, is where the syndicates make their money. It's why the fight between Bill Watterson and his syndicate over the merchandising of "Calvin & Hobbes" was so interesting to industry watchers.

Anyways, Kurtz has mentioned in his blog that a handful of papers have taken him up on the offer, and also that he's been amazed by what the papers require him to change in the strip.

I find it amazing too, since PVP is a remarkably "clean" strip. There's never any cuss words or even risque words, really. "Boobs" is as bad as it usually gets. Yet he's reported that in one case, a character said "God, this sucks" and the paper made him change to "Man, this sucks".

I read about two dozen comics daily (I have it rigged in Firefox so I can read them all in about 10 minutes over morning coffee) and more than half are webcomics. With the exception of "Get Fuzzy", the webcomics almost always get the bigger laughs from me.

So in my book - webcomics get the "tasty, tasty biscuit". ;-)