Message Board Post Makes New York Times Magazine in Full, Minus "Fuck" and "Shit"
On Sunday, new editor Hugo Lindgren's anticipated redesign of the New York Times Magazine made its debut, with a different Ethicist, a column about the internet and the title shifted to the left, grown 20 percent. But just like the old version of the magazine, the very last thing in the book is a short, personal essay. Only the note at the bottom of "The Tire Iron and the Tamale" made it different. "This essay was adapted from a message-board posting on reddit.com," said the very last line of text, italicized, in the magazine. And all they did was clean up his language!
As anyone familiar with the Gray Lady knows, the Times values its respectability and thus will not print words like "fuck," "shit," "piss," "bitch," etc. The policy borders on ridiculous, like when "---- My Dad Says" makes the best-sellers list, but it is what it is. (It's "Shit.")
Justin Horner learned this lesson, pointed out by the blog NYT Picker, even as he went from a message board poster known as "rhoner," to being published in the glossy part of the New York Times.
For example, in the magazine, his prose about car trouble looked like this:
I started taking the wheel off, and then, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones, and I wasn't careful, and I snapped the head clean off. Damn.
But in the original version, "damn" didn't cut it:
I start taking the wheel off and, if you can believe it, I broke his tire iron. It was one of those collapsible ones and I wasn't careful and I snapped the head I needed clean off. Fuck.
Later, the author eats "the best fucking tamale I have ever had," in the Reddit version, whereas in the Times, it's merely "the best tamale."
This is what is known as the editing process. It makes sense to polish a post that was never meant for mainstream consumption, and in fact, it's somewhat revolutionary that Horner's story was selected at all. (If you have any info on how it was found, email me!) But there's something in the neutering of the language that dulls the edge of an otherwise sharp move by editors doubtlessly chasing younger readers. Though if they would've left his text a little rawer, the essay wouldn't just be awesome, it would be fucking awesome.