The Age of (Bleep)ing Innocence

7 Dec

December 7, 2010

In an earlier blog about the Rex Morgan M.D. comic strip, I touched upon what can be considered appropriate or inappropriate in the Sunday newspaper comics section. This particular run of Rex Morgan was about the news of the mayor’s prostate health leaking onto the internet and I wondered who would want to read that between Beetle Bailey and Hagar the Horrible? While I didn’t find the strip particularly appropriate for the funnies page, I didn;t find it offensive in the least. “Inappropriate” does not automatically equal “offensive.”

The Sunday comics are perhaps one of the last remaining pieces of true Americana. For decades, newspapers in most American cities have come wrapped inside a full-color section of various comic strips. These are true family reading. Over the decades, some strips have left us, (Flash Gordon by Alex Raymond, Terry and the Pirates by Milt Caniff, Peanuts by Charles Schulz) while others, like Popeye, have remained under different creators, and newer strips, like Rhymes with Orange, have brought us into the new century. The Sunday comics section is an American institution. Millions of adults read the comics over breakfast, while millions of children’s first reading experiences have been inside those panels. This is the last place to expect to find anything offensive.

However, two of the most famous comic strips have been just that.

Blondie and Popeye.

In 1992, Popeye, written by the soon-to-be-fired Bobby London, did a run of strips in which Olive Oyl got an unwanted doll and was thinking about sending it back to the manufacturer. She was overheard by a religious figure who thought she was talking about a real baby and considering an abortion. BTW, the religious figures were not too positively written. (More information and scans can be found here.)

Once again, we’ve come up with the issue of appropriate. Was it? First, I’ll say that they were enjoyable and pretty well written. I wasn’t crazy about the art, but chalk that up to taste. As to appropriateness, well, while I really do think comics can tackle tough issues, much like Rex Morgan discussing prostate health over breakfast, I’m not sure this was the place to do it. Was it offensive? No, but if it had gone on much longer the religious characters may have become offensive. there is already a hint of it in the lines about them being out of a job without Satan.

On the other hand, that brings us to a humble single strip of Blondie, from May of 2004, concerning a Little League Baseball game. Here is that best copy I can find.

Did you catch it? Middle panel. I don’t care to repeat it.

In the context of the strip, was it appropriate? Well, while it may be heard all the time at ball games, that doesn’t mean you have to put it in a comic strip aimed at the whole family. In the larger context of the Sunday newspaper, was it appropriate? No. New York Post aside, papers do have better standards. (And as you’ll see, not every paper ran that word.) I am not a knee-jerk think of the children type of person, but this strip is aimed at children. If the woman using the vulgar word got a comeuppance, or was shown in a negative light, or suffered some consequence due to her language, there would be a valuable lesson there. In the strip above, she simply became more interesting to Herb and Dagwood. In fact, she gets to deliver the punchline of the strip.

Was it offensive? I may be in the minority, but I say yes. Without getting graphic, we all know what the term really refers to. I wonder how many kids asked their parents what it meant after reading that strip. I’d like to have heard that conversation. Of course, many of you may just chalk that up to my personal opinion, and after reading the following column, you may be right.

So according to the statistics above, about  75% of the respondents don’t seem to find it very offensive. I know that words change meaning over time, and what was offensive yesterday may not be offensive today, and what is not offensive today may be offensive tomorrow, but admit it- how many of you raised your eyebrows when you read that?

People don’t name their children Adolph anymore. The word “faggot” has a clean and inoffensive meaning in England. Language is wonderful in that it evolves and grows.

But I don’t want to see the word “scumbag” in my comics section.


6 Responses to “The Age of (Bleep)ing Innocence”

  1. Supermonge December 7, 2010 at 12:42 am #

    I Heard SB’s not really a Curse in England…It’s like the word Jerk here…But I really don’t know..That’s what I heard…Where IS Blondie made, Anyway?!!


    • bmj2k December 7, 2010 at 1:42 pm #

      It is an All-American strip. In the 1920’s, Blondie was a flapper and Dagwood was her goofy boyfriend.


      • JRD Skinner December 8, 2010 at 12:49 pm #

        Wow – it must be a bit of a regional thing, as scumbag really isn’t that big a deal here, so far as I know. After some googling I understand the definition you object to, but I’d never heard it as such before.


  2. bmj2k December 7, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

    Wordle: Untitled


  3. Marc Barnhill June 26, 2011 at 5:40 am #

    You know, blogs used to be a fun, inoffensive way to start my morning.


    • bmj2k June 26, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

      It is almost as bad as sitting down to the morning paper and finding Charlie Brown and Peppermint Patty having phone sex in Peanuts.


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