CSotD: Rated PG-13 – Parental Caution Urged

Someone emailed me to complain about Thursday’s Barney & Clyde (Counterpoint), not particularly saying it should be forbidden so much as decrying the lack of taste and wondering how it got past the editors.

I’ve linked to the specific piece, rather than to the comic’s overall page, in case you’d like to see the comments, which were a combination of people who didn’t get it and other people explaining that the gag is that the fellow’s name sounds like he has a small penis.

Presumably having the fellow around would make Duane feel more confident, though he’s lucky Ms. Foxy didn’t report him to HR. I suppose she doesn’t want everyone to have to attend a sexual harassment training and so let his remark pass.

A few people in the comments recalled the vulgar T-shirts that made crude puns based on “Johnson” as a term for a penis. The shirts gave many schools a problem balancing good taste with students’ First Amendment rights, although I knew one school where a teacher complained that the T-shirts created a hostile working environment, and that was the end of that.

In this case, I suppose the saving grace is that a parent reading the funnies to a child can simply shrug it off and say, “I don’t get it, either.” A case of “if you get it, you’re old enough to see it.”

Still, it seems to represent another line crossed. But maybe the comics page isn’t G or PG anymore. Consider this

Juxtaposition of the Day

Rabbits Against Magic — AMS

Off the Mark — AMS

Two gags this week about flipping the bird, and while not everyone is familiar with the use of Johnson to mean penis, I think most folks know the gesture and that it’s vulgar.

Going back to history, I fell out of my chair when someone on “Happy Days” said, “Sit on it!” because that was a traditional remark to go with that particular gesture. But it retains some element of plausible deniability, just as “Welcome Back Kotter”‘s “Up your nose with a rubber hose” never mentioned a broken glass.

There’s some amusement to be had in sneaking this stuff in, and I’d note that all three strips are often praised here. I’m not Mrs. Grundy, who was around for about 150 years before she became a character in Archie comics.

As a kid reading the funnies, I never understood what was going on in Pogo either.

But subtlety and wit are a different sort of “adult content.”

And wotthehell, I’ve run this 1929 Peter Arno classic here and had full-fledged adults miss the gag.

You’d think they’d at least remember Terry the Toad’s missing car in “American Graffiti,” but apparently the deniability doesn’t even have to be that plausible.

Elsewhere in the publishing industry

Lalo Alcaraz offers a “Last one out turn off the lights” gag in today’s La Cucaracha (AMS), which also suggests the old saying, “It hurts too much to laugh and I’m too old to cry.”

The timing is excellent, coming by happenstance on the heels of the Baltimore Sun being purchased by a billionaire who doesn’t read newspapers. We already discussed Kal Kallaugher’s indirect comment on that development, and Joshua Benton has a hard-hitting column about it which begins:

I worked for the Denver Post as it became an Alden paper and watched it go from a doorstop to a pamphlet. I worked remotely, so visited twice a year, at first to a downtown place with several floors of busy workers, then to a production plant with a newsroom added on, finally to that same newsroom when you could fire a cannon through it and not harm a soul.

So Alcaraz got more of a resigned nod than a hearty laugh from me, the good news being that Denver has set up a non-profit alternative to their Alden paper and Baltimore also has a non-profit in their city.

We can hope that, like the downtrodden in a Faulkner novel, they will endure.

Next on the chopping block, Jeffrey Koterba points out, is Sports Illustrated, which has fired its entire writing staff preparatory to ending publication. The magazine would have turned 70 in August but apparently won’t last that long.

The story is a bit confusing, since the magazine has been passed around to other owners and licensed for publication by someone else and then went through a crisis earlier last year where it turned out they were running features written by AI under bogus bylines.

It’s easy enough, as this fellow does, to treat the death of SI as fitting proof that people would rather get half a story from ESPN than read a more detailed take in print. But it does come across as celebrating the degradation of the human spirit.

Yeah, it’s only sports. Just as it’s only hand-drawn art, it’s only ballet, it’s only food served on china plates instead of wrapped in paper.

And the introduction of the swimsuit issue was an early indicator of desperation and mission drift, though it was always fun to see librarians and Mrs. Grundy fall apart at the end of every January when the same thing happened again but they only finally noticed it now.

But my father-in-law had a subscription to SI and he passed each issue along to my boys, which got them reading grown-up journalism at a young age. That mattered.

I learned a lesson about life in the Big Leagues from SI, too, and I don’t mean sports. When the US Olympic Committee met in Colorado Springs in January, 1980, to debate boycotting the Moscow Olympics, I got the job of picking up the writer’s story and faxing it to New York to make the next issue.

I went to the Broadmoor and got the manuscript from a disheveled writer who had obviously pulled an all-nighter. Fax machines were rare and slow then, and each page took several minutes to process, so I had plenty of time to read it.

When I saw the edited story in the Feb 4 issue, I barely recognized it. A good lesson in how magazines impose rigid every-story-sounds-the-same style, an excellent reason to stick to writing for newspapers.

Which had the good grace to last until I was ready to retire anyway.

7 thoughts on “CSotD: Rated PG-13 – Parental Caution Urged

  1. Les Johnson has MANY connotations. Yes, the slang for male sex organ. Les can mean ‘less’ referring to many things. Les Johnson in the political arena might refer to negating the influence of the speaker of the house, etc. And, the author doesn’t give a clue to what the ‘Les’ is a nickname of. Leslie is a gender ambiguous name. I don’t want to see censorship of comics (or books or speech), even those I don’t like. However, the multiplicity of possible inferences leads so many of the comments being so limited to a narrow perspective. Sometimes inferences can be so vague or linked to a limited societal meme that they are missed by many of us. After all, ‘we have met the enemy, and he is us’.
    I’m no intellectual giant. But, I, too, am amazed at the disgusting ongoing implosion of journalism caused by an unquenchable thirst for money. We live in a world that seems to be ever more shallow and ever more anti-intellectual; embracing ignorance and panem-et-circenses.

  2. I remember the bumper sticker that read, ‘horn broken, watch for finger’.

    Mike always brings us ideas that ‘if they weren’t so funny they’d be serious. And, if they weren’t so serious, they’d be funny’.

    Thanks, Mike, for stimulating our minds. (can I say ‘stimulate’ without being censored?) So, i says to myself, ‘That’s enough, now shut up and let someone else comment’.

  3. Arno is always worth another revisit.

    When I was a teenager, my grandfather got my sister and me a subscription to Sports Illustrated. Seemed like a waste of money at first, since our interest and knowledge of sports was passing at best, but I think it was the first time I realized a good writer could make anything interesting. There were some SI writers I sought out no matter what their subject because I knew they’d deliver a good story. I’ve since looked for writers with that quality wherever I find them. Some cartoonists are like that for me, too.

    Everyone’s entitled to their opinion, Unca $crooge, but I think Jonathan Lemon is a very good and smart cartoonist. Also a nice guy and good friend.

    I also think the number of minors who read Barney & Clyde could be counted on one four-fingered hand. It’s fine. I smiled, more for the reaction from the “ethics expert” than the crass gag.

  4. One of the commenters on the Barney & Clyde strip suggested the joke was meant to mean “less” “Johnson & Johnson”, a competitor of Pillsbury Pharmaceuticals. That makes more sense to me than hiring him to assuage some males’ insecurities.

  5. Dilbert also ran a series of strips featuring a character named “Les”

    Though the gag there is that he was very short

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