How do we decide what is acceptable? That’s not a rhetorical question. I’d like to know the answer because some of the things we should see are censored and some that we perhaps shouldn’t aren’t. There are things that we see as harmful and things that we see as harmless. But for whom? There’s only one effective method: we consider the audience.
I’m a fan of Grimsby Town, one of the many former league clubs languishing in the Football Conference, or the Vanarama Conference as it is this season. Re-naming and rebranding is a thing at least as common outside the league as it is within. Since we’ve been down here, the fateful year was 2010, there have been three names/brands: Blue Square Bet Premier, Skrill Premier and now Vanarama Conference. I rather like the latest; it has a straightforward name that harks back to the League Cup’s simpler monikers, such as the Milk Cup or the Rumbelows Cup. Names that try to sell but at least I know what I’m being sold.
Blue Square is a gambling company and is part of the Rank group , which also covers Grosvenor Casinos and Mecca Bingo. The latter two are more profitable for Rank and the company is currently assessing whether or not Blue Square is worth hanging on to as it only managed £15.3m of profit in the six months to the end of 2012, just four months before the end of its sponsorship of the Football Conference. This is a knock to Rank’s profits. £15.3m is a knock. I suppose that this is not surprising when Grosvenor Casinos pulled in £25.4m and Mecca Bingo £22.5m.
Skrill is a money service business – a mode of financial shenanigans that sound something akin to Father Ted’s “That money was just resting in my account” – and quit its three year sponsorship within a year of starting. So, a money service business with a slightly dubious history – more than 50 complaints of fraudulent behaviour, poor customer service and deceptive selling practices – but nevertheless a large status in the finance industry. It was bought by CVC Capital Partners for 600 million Euros and is the only sanctioned digital wallet for the New Jersey Division of Gaming Enforcement. Back to gambling again.
But have the Football Conference considered their audience? Of course they have. Young, male, less likely to see the problems in gambling. Have they taken any responsibility on behalf of their audience?
Outside of football, the decisions are just as odd. The app Clean Reader has caused quite a storm recently as some clean reading types decided to make it possible for readers to choose to censor their ebook purchases so that they wouldn’t be exposed to all manner of gratuities in an otherwise good read. I’m not sure just how much the word fuck can upset someone but it is something I consider when writing. In my first blog I remembered being told to ‘pull your finger out.’ I considered using the phrase ‘pull your fucking finger out.’ For a long time it was in the Word document, sitting there smugly not underlined in red (I honestly don’t know if Word already accepts the expletive or if I added it to dictionary long ago). My eye kept flicking back to the word and at first I appreciated the alliteration and added emphasis and determined to keep it. But before the post was finished I had deleted it. I felt that the gain simply wasn’t worth the loss.
I do agree that gratuitous swearing will detract from a piece of writing and, most of the time, I can’t help but think that if a writer has resorted to swearing then they simply couldn’t think of a better way of saying it. At least for non-fiction. But fiction doesn’t work like that.
There are lots of examples already of columnists exchanging famous passages of sweary bits for the new Clean Read versions, so I’m not adding my own words to that well-beaten path. My own characters have been known to have a bit of a swear, either casually or aggressively. Eddie Fiss in ‘Suspended’ reminds himself of his former relationship with the main character by referring to him as ‘Jimmy-fucking-Wynn’. This was deliberate and meant to emphasise the ironic choice of surname and the casual nature of Eddie’s swearing. Some readers have commented that the character swears a lot. When I disagree they are incredulous, but I invite them to count. No one ever has, but, I promise, it is very few. By making the character swear at opportune moments, either for comedy, tension or aggression, it makes the word stand out and seem so much more, heightening the moment and increasing the reader’s engagement. My favourite compliment for ‘Suspended’ has been from one reader who told me that he didn’t like that kind of book but he did like the characters and dialogue and that kept him going. Eddie’s swearing and the reaction I have had to it has meant box ticked and self-congratulatory pat on the back.
Swear words compared to gambling. Swear words compared to money transitions. I take my boys to watch Grimsby Town and they want to know what Blue Square and Skrill are. One I can sort of explain and another I’m struggling but both want to take your money with the ‘promise’ that they will make it more. My boys are young, male and less likely to see the problems with gambling. To them an easy £20 is a very attractive proposition when all they want is an Xbox game. Money is important and my kids are not properly aware of that yet, disposable as their income is. The idea of easy money is not realistic yet gambling makes it seem exciting and easy. And when their name is associated with their own football team, how can they help but look up to brands that only want to increase their awareness throughout childhood and into adulthood. Added to friendly professional cockney Ray Winston, comedy Camara moments in the shower, semi-naked poker playing ladies and David Ginola’s bookie-sponsored bid for the FIFA presidency, why wouldn’t everyone assume it was all so innocent?
Footballers are called upon to be positive role models and censor their behaviour. It’s time football considered its audience more responsibly and sorted out what it should censor.
(By the way, ‘Suspended’ has more than 95,000 words and contains just 66 fucks, 47 shits and four wankers. I reckon I can claim that that’s not gratuitous. But I suppose it might be in this post.)