Profanity flap overshadows helmet shock

I’m still in shock about B.D., the Doonesbury character. Notthat he lost a leg fighting in Iraq and cussed when it happened.It’s that we saw him without his helmet.

B.D. is one of Garry Trudeau’s original characters inDoonesbury, a strip Trudeau began as a Yale undergrad in 1968 andhas syndicated since 1970. We had never seen B.D.-a character basedon former Yale and NFL quarterback Brian Dowling-without a helmetuntil April 21.

He has worn a Yale helmet, a Los Angeles Rams helmet, a LosAngeles Police Department helmet. Now, his head is unsheathed.

I thought he looked pretty good. Graying at the temples with ahip-middle-age-guy haircut.

And if it’s weird to talk about a comics character’s looks,well, sue me for thinking Blondie is a babe.

Yet almost nobody seems to have noticed. There has been a furorover B.D. using profanity when he yelled S.O.B., after awakeningfrom surgery to find his leg was amputated. Some newspapers refusedto carry the strip because of the phrase. Others warned readers inan editorial column.

Hey, the story is B.D. lost his helmet. A character we haveknown for 35 years has been altered. No greater shock can come to acomics fan until Beetle Bailey takes off his hat.

But instead, we’re all caught up on a cussword, mainly becauseparents worry it will harm their children. Kids harmed by thecomics? Pshaw. I don’t think kids read the comics as much as olderfolks think they do. An Internet search turned up no statistics onthe matter: We get so used to polls for everything but apparentlysurveying 9-year-olds is an untapped market.

Yet kids and comics seem a marriage of the past, when the printmedium (newspapers, books, magazines) was the chief culturalentertainment form and little of it besides comics engagedchildren.

Today, kids get their entertainment from a vast array oftelevision, Internet, music, etc. I wager precious few of themsprawl out on living room floor to read the morning comics.

But even children who do almost surely read as children havealways read the comics: They look at the funny drawings and laughat the jokes they understand. The rest of it they ignore.

Darn few kids are reading Doonesbury, Mallard Fillmore, Dilbertor other political/satire strips. Those who stray across suchsophisticated fare are either old enough to know what the wordsmean or too young to care.

Children don’t pick up cusswords from comics page. They don’tread a cussword and say “I think I’ll work that into conversationtoday.” They don’t read a cussword and run to ask a parent what itmeans.

Kids pick up cusswords from each other. They may hear them adozen times from adults. But it’s not until a peer uses them insome sort of context (anger, put-down, etc.) that a child repeatsit.

There is an argument to be made about newspapers resisting thecoarsening of everyday language. Although the epithet is among themilder ones-and if I woke up to find a leg missing, I’d be moved tocuss.

A newspaper’s chief duty has to be conveying truth and reality.Newspapers who carried the Doonesbury strip did that; those whodidn’t embraced a hollow righteousness.

They also missed the point: We saw B.D. without his helmet.

And that is heavy stuff.

Gerald Ensley is a columnist for the Tallahassee Democrat.
Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.