The Profanity Defense
MY MOTHER WASN’T A LONGSHOREMAN. My father wasn’t a mob boss. They weren’t church choir directors either, but they certainly didn’t raise me to drop the F-bomb in conversation as liberally as you might sprinkle salt on french fries. Despite their best efforts, I have what can charitably be described as a potty mouth in private, which the good people I work with know only too well. The younger ones, who’ve grown up at a time when society’s collective sensibility is a bit indelicate, are nonplussed (or at least pretend to be). Around my older colleagues, the ones who carry the flag for the past generation, I make a point of being more careful. One in particular, our beloved art coordinator of 33 years, Hope Rodriguez, is a living, breathing radar detector of sorts for my less-noble tendencies. Whenever I see her, I begin apologizing in advance of some inappropriate thing flying out of my mouth, lest she involuntarily begin beeping and wailing and alerting the authorities.
Our readership—median age: 48—is more in sync, loose language-wise, with Hope than the cool kids, so our intention has always been to keep Texas Monthly PG-13, if not PG. My longtime predecessor, Greg Curtis, ever decent and dignified, was loath to publish a cussword unless absolutely necessary, and even then I can’t remember his allowing the worst of the words to be spelled out in type; the artful use of dashes, as in “f—,” did the trick, and the assumption that no one thought that that meant “farm” went unspoken. In the past seven years, I’ve been willing to allow profanity into our pages when appropriate—a subjective judgment, I’ll grant you—as a nod to the relaxing of standards for such things on TV and radio and in other publications. But this is still a family magazine. I’m not saying we’re Nick Jr., but if you left our current issue on your coffee table and your kid happened upon it and got curious about, I don’t know, Tom Craddick, nothing inside other than the latest Paul Burka column would be particularly shocking or offensive.
I mention all this because two stories you’re hopefully about to read—my interview with Ted Nugent and executive editor Skip Hollandsworth’s encounter with the Bandidos (“The Gang’s All Here,”)—are, at least in parts, more R-rated than our usual fare. But they need to be, because the people we’re writing about talk a certain way, and that way defines who and what they are as much as anything possibly can. You cannot profile the legends of rough-and-tumble biker culture without quoting them fully and accurately, just as you cannot convey the unique flavor of a sit-down with the Nuge, who was deemed ready enough for prime time to perform at Rick Perry’s inauguration in January, unless his unique passion is on display. We would not be doing them or you justice if we sugarcoated or papered over the reality.
So consider this a heads-up. There are two “motherf—ers,” five “f—ings,” two “f—s,” two “bullshits,” one “shit,” two “badasses,” one “ass,” and one “goddammit” in the Bandidos story and two “motherf—ers,” four “f—ings,” three “f—s,” three “shits,” and one “ass” in the Nugent interview. And that’s after judicious editing! Trust me when I tell you that it could have been worse. Trust me, too, that we’ll always do our best to cut out as much foul language as we can without adversely affecting our journalistic mission and ambition. After all, I’ve got my parents to think about.
Astronauts in lust, John Spong in Iraq, Mary Alice Cisneros, an immigration story with a happy ending, and why Abraham Verghese hates vitamins.