We Are What We Are Letters

The Wingertsman Correspondence, from May & July 2001

No bodily functions, please

Editor: I am and have been for quite some time now a subscriber to Stereophile. I have a question for you. Would you please provide me with the justification that you have for permitting your publishing of foul language in your magazine?

Given the subject matter of Stereophile, I am at a loss to understand such poor choices when it comes to the selection of certain words and phrases on the part of your writers to describe reactions, facts, or fiction in their articles. In the past, the use of foul language was not an issue in your publication. What has changed to now permit such words to be printed in your magazine?

I find myself feeling sorry for your writing staff when they choose such words to appear in writing under their names. Just so you will know what I am referring to, I consider the use of the common word to describe human excrement to be foul and inappropriate language.

I look forward to reading your explanation as to why you permit such noise to be published in Stereophile. Have you considered hiring writers who are not infatuated with bodily functions?—John Wingertsman, Rochester, MN, wingerts@us.ibm.com

Thank you for writing, Mr. Wingertsman. As far as I am aware, my policy has not changed. Yes, while there has always been the occasional scatological reference, I discourage my own writers from using both obscenities and profanities. However, I do regard it as my duty to faithfully preserve the choice of language used by readers in their letters—witness some of this month's correspondents—and by interview subjects. Thus, as Warren Zevon saw fit to litter his interview in the July 2000 Stereophile with the word "fuck," my responsibility was to present his word choice to the magazine's readers. I do not see it part of my role as an editor either to alter his word choice, or to bowdlerize the offensive words by substituting "f**k," for example.John Atkinson

Cancel my subscription, sir

Editor: Thank you, Mr. Atkinson, for responding to my inquiry regarding your printing of foul language in Stereophile. I was quite dismayed to read your reply and your choice of words to include in your response. I support freedom of speech and people's right to say and write what they feel is required of them. In this case, I find that you, sir, have stepped over the line by including such foul language in your correspondence with me.

You, sir, have offended my personal sensibilities with your conscious decision to use profanity in your correspondence well beyond what I find to be acceptable.

Your correspondence with me has had the following effect on me, one of your loyal subscribers. Please cancel my subscription to Stereophile effective immediately and return to me the balance of my subscription fee.—John Wingertsman, Rochester, MN, wingerts@us.ibm.com

Preserving our dignity?

Editor: While I enjoy the writings of Balzac and Rabelais, I must agree with the letters in May that admonished the editors of Stereophile to preserve their dignity by finding better ways to express disgust than to take recourse to slang names for ordure.

However, I do approve of the practice of publishing the verbatim transcripts of interviews with personages, usually from the popular music industry, who bore us with trite slang references to evacuation and scrobiculation. When a popular music star threatens to caponize some readers—his exact words were "I'll cut your balls [slang for testicles, for the benefit of some readers with Ph.D. degrees] off"—we know by his trailer-park language what class of people he has chosen to emulate. By printing exactly what he said, we, the readers, know that we cannot respect him as we do someone from the realm of classical music, where, because of more advanced intelligence and culture, people demonstrate a better command of language.

There was something more offensive than the greasy language for which so many of your readers chided you in the May 2001 issue. It was the interview with Steve Hoffman, whose discourse was confabulated into such teenage baby-talk as to subject us to such fashionable verbal carbuncles as "I sit in the sweet spot and I'm like..." and "These guys, they knew what they wanted..." Mr. Hoffman may be a competent recording engineer, but his authority is diminished when he expresses himself in such slovenly language.—Dr. Barney Vincelette, Houston, DE

Where do you get off, Stereophile?

Editor: For God's sake John Wingertsman (May, pp.11-12), pull it in a notch! I think we can all be thankful that Mr. Wingertsman is open-minded and for free speech; if he weren't, he'd probably be writing tight-assed letters to the editor of Stereophile.

And to you guys at Stereophile: How dare you produce a magazine that offers a broad range of reviews and testing procedures and takes on the new developments in the industry with a logical and reasoning approach? How dare you sell advertising space in your magazine to manufacturers of equipment so that you can turn a profit like any other business? Where do you get off writing reviews that contain negative remarks and then openly publishing manufacturers' responses so that everyone with half a brain can see that you're not selling out? If this continues, you will force me to renew my subscription every year. And don't kid yourself—I will continue to renew until this behavior stops.—Madeleine Graham Abbott, mga@telus.net

The role of the editor?

Editor: I was quite surprised and disappointed with your response to Mr. Wingertsman's letter in May 2001. You stated, "I do not see it part of my role as an editor either to alter [a correspondent's] word choice, or to bowdlerize the offensive words..."

On the one hand, you acknowledge the offensiveness of some of the language carried in your magazine and acknowledge your role as the editor. However, it seems you have lost your way and "watered down" your job, along with its responsibilities.

As I understand it, an editor edits. To "edit" is defined in Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary as follows:

"1a: to prepare (as literary material) for publication or public presentation...
c: to alter, adapt, or refine esp. to bring about conformity to a standard or to suit a particular purpose.
2: to direct the publication of..."

I read this definition to mean that you, as the editor, not only have the option but the responsibility to "shepherd" the processing and content of your publication. Of course, you always have the opportunity to simply not carry the offensive correspondence, rather than wipe it across our faces.

I have been a longtime reader of and subscriber to Stereophile and still periodically (no pun intended) get a lot of satisfaction from reading your publication. However, I feel that we are bombarded from so many angles with objectionable language and situations throughout all forms of media. Have we really come to the point where you are just throwing up your hands and indicating that it's not your job to direct the standards of this once venerable publication? Wow!—Carol Baugh, csbaugh@swbell.net

Freedom of speech?

Editor: Please forgive me for taking valuable space and time to talk about something that is unrelated to the purpose of your magazine. In a letter published in May, a Stereophile reader asked you to cancel his subscription. Either his reason for canceling doesn't make any sense or I am totally confused.

He was concerned about the use of certain four-letter words in your and your readers' writings. He said that he supports freedom of speech and people's right to say and write what they feel. But then he went on to say that you have stepped over the line by publishing foul language. You offended his personal sensibilities by using profanity beyond what he finds to be acceptable.

So it seems to me (and logic seems to be on my side) that 1) he doesn't really believe in freedom of speech, or 2) he believes that only he and some others—but not all others, including yourself—should have freedom of speech. Now, if you were to ask him if he believes in freedom of speech, he would most likely say "yes." If you asked him if he believes that only some people should have freedom of speech, he would likely say "no." Yet he obviously wants to have control over the speech of others; and if you, for one, are not willing to concede to him, he doesn't want to read your magazine.

This type of thinking is far more dangerous to the well-being of the vast majority of individuals than are four-letter words written in a magazine intended for adults. In a world in which what are essentially criminal gangs have been legitimized—albeit in a legal but not moral or ethical sense—he would steal your freedom of speech, as governments around the world have stolen freedom of speech (as well as many other things of value) from their citizens.

That having been said, let the music play on. And while it is playing, will you join me in my continuing dream that someday we will be able to experience what true freedom brings. Good night, Mr. von Mises and Mr. Hayek, wherever you are.—Michael Saliba, New Orleans, LA, Saliba@loyno.edu