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New Republic won't run Ward Schumacker's illustration along with story about cussing 

Wednesday, Oct 10 2007
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Call us tasteless for affronting your notions of decorum and decency, dear SF Weekly readers, but we thought you were mature enough to handle the illustration axed from Monday's issue of The New Republic, to the befuddlement of its San Francisco creator.

The center-left-leaning political magazine's art director contacted freelance illustrator Ward Schumaker at his Potrero Hill home studio last month, requesting illustrations for a piece by Harvard psychology professor Steven Pinker on curse words. The piece — titled "What the F***?" — discusses the special ability of dirty words to trigger emotions, censorship, and outrage.

Schumaker and the art director, Joe Heroun, agreed that the illustration wouldn't depict racial slurs, just the excrement-related and sexual ones. They were both hesitant about using the loaded C-word, but New Republic editor Franklin Foer gave the art director the green light for that word, too, in the spirit of the piece that questions why certain combinations of letters are obscene.

The two aimed for irony with his composite illustration — using blocky, red, alarmist letters to spell out the tame words, and loopy calligraphy to spell out the offensive synonyms. The art director wrote that the result was "awesome."

Then last week, Schumaker received another e-mail: Foer had gotten cold feet. Schumaker says he was angry, since all but one of the words appeared in the article itself, and he was instructed to include the C-word.

"Why did they back off? They're just chicken, I think," Schumaker says. "What you're saying in the article is that you should be able to [curse], but they're saying we can't?"

The editor says he asked the opinion of colleagues before making his decision, and says the illustration was "too powerful, too pungent."

"It's a great illustration, and I'd hang it on my office wall," Foer told SF Weekly. "But it's so visceral that I was worried it would deflect too many people from entering into a wonderful piece about profanity. ... People can decide to read a piece if they want to, but the art was unavoidable."

The earthy 64-year-old illustrator says he's not used to controversy surrounding his usually "very safe, even sweet" artwork, including children's-book illustrations, the animal logo of the North Beach restaurant Moose's, and dancing hamburgers for a Japanese fast food chain.

"I'm not a very political person. I'm not the kind to cause trouble, and I've cut down on my swearing because I've just had a grandson," he swears.

Meanwhile, The New Republic's art director instead created a replacement for Schumaker's illustration: a full-page word-finder puzzle in which the words "fucking" and "brilliant" are circled.

Fucking brilliant indeed. What a cun- ... jerk. We mean what a jerk.

About The Author

Lauren Smiley

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