In response to Stephan Pastis using the term “Bite Me” in his December 2nd Pearls Before Swine, Amy Lago, comics editor at Washington Post Writers Group, has posted her comments on the quirkiness of using off-color language on the comics page.
How DO newspapers compete with other forms of entertainment that are attracting the very audience they want — younger readers — while using least-common-denominator, older-than-the-hills, uninspired language? Well, most of the time, they don’t compete. They are stuck in a time warp, and the only way out seems to be to slip speech under the radar of the “old” folks — when Aaron McGruder used a slang spelling of “bitch,” apparently nobody batted an eyelash. Those who would be offended had no idea what he was saying. Both Aaron and Candorville cartoonist Darrin Bell have used the n-word, to both complaints AND praise. Go figure that one.
Here’s the thing, though: The cleverest cartoonists (sorry, Stephan) are adept at what I call a “language feint.” A number of years ago, Scott Adams replaced the word “crap” with “carp.” “Oh, carp” never caught on, but it was brilliant. Everybody understood what Adams meant, but those who would choose to be offended — “If my child reads that word in the newspaper, he’s going to think it’s OK to say, and it’s not!” — couldn’t be, because Adams hadn’t used it.