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Vincent Van Gogh died on July 29, 1890, at the age of 37.
July 29, 2017
There has been much talk of profanity this week, thanks largely to our charming new White House Press Secretary. The New York Times, for the first time in its august history, ran the phrase “suck his own c-ck,” a phrase so evocative and bewildering that I just censored it in my own newsletter without thinking about it. This has led us into the sort of “what profanities are worthy of public consumption?” discussion that we haven’t had since, well, Rahm Emanuel, I guess. (Apparently the Washington Post used to direct people who searched the word “fuck” to their Miss Manners page, amusingly.)
I rarely, if ever, curse in my writing. This is not out of some sort of “you don’t need that flim-flam-filth!” Cosby-ing superiority, a term whose definition sure has changed dramatically in the last few years. I appreciate the need for the power of a vulgarity from time to time; sometimes there’s simply no other fucking way to put it. But I try to resist it at every opportunity, and even when I do sneak it into a movie review or a sports column, I usually dash out one of the letters. In my New York magazine column, I quoted Conor McGregor’s use of the word “fag—t” and even though it was a direct quote, and was important to the piece, I’ve been feeling gross about it all week. I don’t curse much in my regular life either, even before I had kids. It just doesn’t come naturally to me. I don’t think think there’s anything wrong, or untoward, or even unworthy, about profanity. I’m not Mitt Romney. It’s just not my thing.
There are obvious exceptions for this, of course: Namely, sporting events, and traffic. The person I am when I am watching a sporting event I am emotionally invested in, and the person I am when I am driving a car, that person bears little resemblance to the Will Leitch I attempt to project to the world and believe myself deep down to be. If you were to catch me when stuck behind some idiot going under the speed limit who won’t get out of the left lane, or after Travis Ishikawa hit that home run to end the 2014 NLCS, you would think I were Anthony Scaramucci crossed with Artie Lange having a seizure. But those are extreme circumstances. I am usually under more control than that.
A lot of it depends on the word. “Shit” is a word so common that I essentially use it, in speech and in writing, as a placeholder. “I don’t know where the keys are, shit, they could be anywhere.” They don’t even care if you say “shit” on broadcast television anymore. I remember when Dr. Greene was dying on “ER” and he yelled, “Shit!” and it was the most shocking thing ever; they had to, shit, like run it by standards and practices months before to get a special dispensation. Now nobody cares. I’m fully expecting Super Grover to yell “shit!” the next time he crashes when trying to fly. Shit is no big deal.
But there are certain words that I, will under no circumstances, ever say or type. You could threaten me with torture, and you’re still not going to get me to say or type “c-nt.” But it’s not usually so cut and dried. Why will I hyphen out “c-ck” but not “dick” or even “fuck?” I might need a psychiatrist to answer that one.
There’s also the idea of context, as well as company. I’m more likely to curse in a private conversation — particularly with someone I’ve known for a long time, if just because they’re more likely to have known me when I was younger and cursed a lot more — than I am in any sort of public setting. No matter how angry I might be, I’d never, or at least I’d try to never, scream anything worse than “goddammit” at a game; there are kids nearby, kids who aren’t as used to me yelling at Mike Matheny as my own are. This might sound strange, but this goes for social media as well. I feel like there’s a difference between cursing in a piece I’ve written — in which you have opted into, in which I have the time and space to work my way up to it and justify it — and just tossing out “what is happening to this fucking country?” in a Tweet, where it’s basically wadded in a ball and thrown in your face whether you were looking for it or not. I’m not sure why social media is the place I try to have my best decorum, but it is.
I want to be clear here: There is absolutely nothing wrong with cursing. It’s more honest, more searing, more real than trying to disguise and couch your true feelings in socially acceptable language. I love to read creative vulgarity, even while personally eschewing it myself. That’s probably intellectually inconsistent, but whaddya gonna fuckin’ do?
Here is a numerical breakdown of all the things I wrote this week, in order of what I believe to be their quality. (This is an attempt to have an objective look at the value of my work in a way that I suspect will be difficult to sustain.)
1. Can Sports Sink Lower than Mayweather-McGregor? New York Magazine. Next year, I will have been a contributing editor at New York for 10 years. Ten years! It still awes me every single time I’m in the magazine, it honestly does.
2. Review: “Detroit,” Paste. This was a difficult movie to write about. It’s important but flawed, angry but lost, powerful but sometimes reeling. I tried to get it right.
3. With Rams Gone, St. Louis Is Stuck With an Empty Dome, Sports On Earth. You really can come up with good column ideas just by going for a run. Was jogging around the old TWA Dome in St. Louis and thought this would be a fun topic, and it turned out well, I thought.
4. Batman Movies, Ranked, Vulture. You’re going to see a lot of Grierson and me in Vulture in the coming weeks. Prepare thyselves!
5. The Royals’ Core Is Still In Tact. Can They Win It All? Sports On Earth. Deep down, I’ll confess: I do like writing about Midwestern things more. Also: It helps that they still haven’t lost since I wrote this on Monday.
6. Introducing the Jim Morris Club, Sports On Earth. Old guys unite.
7. Review: “Atomic Blonde,” Paste. Sort of weird that in the year 2017 our three best action stars are Keanu Reeves, Charlize Theron and a CGI ape, but there it is.
8. Remembering the Long Lost Baseball Hall of Fame Game, Sports On Earth. Totally insane that they used to do this.
9. USMNT Shows It’s Back on Track in Gold Cup Win, Sports On Earth. God I’m going to be so annoying when the World Cup comes around next year.
10. Dive Dive Dive, Sports On Earth. There used to be a restaurant in Los Angeles owned by Steven Spielberg called “Dive,” didn’t there? Did I imagine that?
As I say every week: If you are the sort to subscribe to a weekly newsletter, I would have to think it wouldn’t be too much of a hassle to subscribe to one of the three podcasts I do. You don’t even have to listen to them! Just download them. Here they are:
Grierson & Leitch, we talked about “Dunkirk” a LOT. Also, “Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets,” “Girls Trip” and “24 Hour Party People.”
The Will Leitch Experience, talking with Jay Jaffe about his great new book “The Cooperstown Casebook.”
Waitin’ Since Last Saturday, Season Three starts next week.
I’m off to watch some soccer this weekend. ATL! ATL!
Have a great weekend, all.