Watch the #?&$% language!
When someone on television uses inappropriate language, it’s ‘bleeped-out‘. In the world of comics, the offending words are replaced with #%&*@ symbols. It’s a tradition that seems to have been around for about as long as cartoons have been appearing in newspapers… and I’m getting really tired of it.
Some cartoonists feel the need to have characters who swear. Since their comic strips appear in daily newspapers — a medium that tries to cater to everyone from young children to adults to seniors, without offending a single reader — they know they can’t use real profanity, so they resort to using those annoying symbols. It’s not even the newspapers doing the “censoring” — it’s the cartoonists! The idea that innocent young minds are being protected by this silly tradition of “bleeping” the naughty bits with cheesy euphemisms is just naive.
(Caution — possibly offensive language ahead…)
What’s the point of using pretend profanity? Some cartoonists seem to think it makes their work edgy, that they’re part of some kind of crusade to push the envelope. Really? I imagine some readers are titillated and feel very adult when they see %#&* in a comic: Ooh — look! That character said ‘fuck’. At least it probably said that. Well, I think that’s what it meant. Is that kind of readership worth it? Kinda sad.
Or another excuse: “It’s just mirroring the way people talk today”. Wonderful: let’s all do our part to keep dumbing-down America.
If a cartoonist wants characters that swear, then maybe that comic is in the wrong medium: maybe it should be in underground comix or adult magazines, instead of innocuous daily newspapers. Maybe the cartoonist should either have the courage to use the actual words, or else write material that’s appropriate to the medium. How is it edgy to have profanity in comic strips when it’s only pretend swearing? Oooh — really pushing the envelope, there…
Part of the joy of learning to read, when I was a kid, was realizing that those symbols in the comics meant something nasty; I knew about “swear words”, and I had an active imagination! So what, if the words I thought of weren’t the words the cartoonist meant — the effect was the same! Like it’s some kind of secret code that only adults can decipher. Riiight…
But what really annoys me is the inconsistency of the $#&*@# symbols! I’ll bet this has happened to you: you’re checking out the comics page, reading the word balloons, when suddenly, %@$# happens! You have to stop reading and try to figure out exactly which swear-word the character is using, for the dialog to make sense!
Just to further complicate things, some cartoonists use four symbols for a four-letter word, while others use five or six… or even three! And every cartoonist seems to have their own secret code to hide their swear-words! For instance, does the $ symbol mean S… or F… or maybe C? A CIA code-breaker would have trouble deciphering this stuff!
So, are you sure you guessed the word the cartoonist was suggesting ? By the time I’ve re-read the caption, trying out each swear-word I can think of in place of the hieroglyphics, I’ve lost interest in the whole strip! Kinda dulls the enjoyment of reading the comics page, doesn’t it?
You cartoonists who insist on using words that need to be bleeped — please, do us all a favor: get together and develop a standard symbol-code for profanity; one that’s consistent; one that you all agree to use. That — or just make the extra effort to write without having to resort to cheap tricks.
Since I’ve been guilty of resorting to those cheap tricks, myself, I can’t claim any moral superiority. But I do feel strongly about this, and I’m hoping to get some discussion going. So please — whether you agree or disagree with me — add your comments.