I have separate feed pages set up to follow media and language blogs, and was amused to see The New York Times pissing off both camps earlier this week.
The cause was a review by Kelefa Sanneh of a show by the Toronto band “Fucked Up,” which the Times decided to print as “********”.
Language Log, Languagehat and mediabistro were all full of sturm und drang over the asterisks, for reasons that didn’t make sense to me. Language Log seems to think the Times is being inconsistent, because they once printed the word “shit” when quoting a verbal attack on Eliot Spitzer’s dad. But a dispute involving public figures should be treated differently than punk music reviews. I think both punks and politicians would agree on that. Mediabistro, too, harps on “glaring inconsistencies.” Languagehat calls it “absurd censorship,” without giving a reason. With all due respect to Lenny Bruce, it’s been a while since you were striking a blow against censorship by saying the word “fuck.” While the Languagehat post is terse and unenlightening, the comments on it are far more thoughtful, and worth reading.
I love that The Gray Lady is doing such great things with digital media, and that they seem to be shedding their fear of the future. But the Times should always retain an element of old fashioned propriety, for nostalgia purposes if no other. It should always have a slight Man Men air about it, and holding itself to outdated standards of propriety is a fine way to accomplish that.
And it’s hardly an impediment to good journalism. In fact, the Times writers must love this shit–a little modesty is the perfect setup for fey wordplay and a wink at the reader. Language Log’s own Geoff Nunberg must have thoroughly enjoyed referring to the documentary film Fuck as “the film that dare not speak its name.” Who are we to take this away from him, or the Times writers?
The only criticism that made any sense to me is that it should have been rendered F****D Up, or at least ****** **. In the interests of clarity.