Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Controversy Over "Offensive" Language in the Grapevine

The recent edition of the Homeless Grapevine (Issue 73) currently on the streets has a poem that some readers have found offensive. The poem is by a homeless person and is called (divert your eyes if easily offended) "Fuck the World." The poem is certainly not going to rival Allen Ginsberg, but it is not a bad poem. We have received two complaints so far about this poem. It is prominently displayed on page 3 in bold type, and certainly catches the eye. One of the callers claimed to be a fruit vendor at the West Side Market where most of our papers are sold, and he was very angry. The caller threatened to tattle on us with the other media and start a petition to prevent our vendors from selling at the Market.

We do not understand the fear of a few words. They do not harm anyone. They are not a weapon of mass destruction; words are not violent or hostile. Words do not cause crime or war or send jobs to China. Profane words do not undermine democracy or cause homelessness. Words do not increase inflation or lead to unsightly yellowing of the teeth. Why are so many afraid of some words in the English language?

There is the fear over children seeing the words, which I also do not understand. It is the ultimate in naivete' to think that kids do not hear these words on a regular basis, but what is the harm? As long as the kids don't start using the words in polite company what is the problem? Besides, the paper has a monetary value of $1. How many kids are saving up their bucks to read a couple of swear words contained in the most depressing newspaper in the state?

Finally, the free papers that are easily available in the front and back of the Market feature a pile of adult advertisements with extremely adult concepts like S and M, cross gendered relations, and "escorts" that do more then escort. These are availalbe for free to any kid that walks by the box. Is seems to me that it easier to explain a poem by an angry homeless guy or a 1-976 number for Gay or Straight Escort Services specializing in "Mature" relationships or perverted activities?

The bottom line is that poem was well written and was by a homeless individual. It is our mission to amplify the voice of homeless people. We do not censor our constituency in a paper that was started by homeless people. It might be rough, but it is the language of the streets. It is real, and honest. We are a newspaper and have an obligation to be honest to the readers. We cherish our freedom of speech, and ask that our readers please do not be afraid of words.

Brian Davis


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