Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Is bad pun racist? Or just stupid?

I have to confess – the latest journalistic outrage went right past me on Sunday – I didn’t even notice it.

By that, I’m referring to the Chicago Sun-Times, which in their (not-quite-so) thick Sunday editions used their front-page to make a big deal of the Asiana Flight 214 crash that killed some and injured dozens.

UNDER THE BOLD headline FRIGHT 214, we got a subhead offering what were then the current numbers of 2 dead and 181 injured, and a large photograph of the airplane wreckage – particularly the top of the plane ripped right off.

Nobody is complaining about a graphic display of a San Francisco airport crash in a Chicago newspaper – it was a big-enough story that newspapers, broadcasts, Internet sites and other forums everywhere all were making a big deal out of it.

But to the Asian American Journalists Association, the problem lies within that headline. They see it as some sort of mocking parody of the way someone of an Asian ethnic background might speak English.

They see it as a mocking of the people who were on board that jet – did they think they were on Fright 214 to San Flancisco? (And yes, that would be racist, if not for the fact that I wrote it only to mock those idiots who actually think people talk like that).

THE OUTRAGE IS intense enough that Jim Kirk of the Chicago Sun-Times got to issue his first apology as publisher – saying there was no intent to mock or offend anyone. “We were trying to convey the obviously frightening situation of that landing,” Kirk said, in a statement made public by the association.

I’m inclined to give the newspaper the benefit of the doubt solely because, like I conceded up front, I didn’t even notice it.

When I saw the newspaper front page on Sunday, I glanced at the headline and actually read it as “Flight 214.” I didn’t notice it as a pun. I quickly turned to the inside pages to get actual details.

It wasn’t until early on Monday when I noticed a couple of threads on Facebook that I learned there was anything resembling a controversy. It was only then that I went back to the newspaper, read the headline, and realized I had mis-read it.

IF IT REALLY was an attempt to mock someone’s accent, then yes, it would be offensive.

Yet I can’t help but think that this is more a matter some something stupid, rather than racist!

It’s a silly headline; and one that exposes the potential danger that lies within any attempt at puns – there are bound to be people who mis-read them. Of course, there always are those who mis-read something, regardless of how precisely it is worded.

Some people just don’t comprehend well under any circumstance. While others, like me, might race through it a little too quickly. I missed the attempt at a pun, and just took it for an unimaginative headline.

SO I’M NOT all that offended by the Sun-Times on Sunday. I’m more of the sentiment that the paper that day was unimaginative – and perhaps not worth the $1.75 ($3, if you live outside the Chicago-area) that was paid for a copy.

If there’s anything that offends me, it is the new layout structure that turns Page 3 (which ought to be a prime page for display of significant news) into a full-page advertisement.

I doubt the American Mattress ad brought in enough money to compensate for the fact that it now feels like all the news is buried back in the depths of the newspaper.

That is something every newspaper ought to be extremely concerned about. Because that’s exactly the kind of thing that makes potential readers think they’d be better off reading something else.


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