AOL Journal-land’s resident cartoonist, Dan Wheeler, has left the building.
Apparently someone found his comic strip, “Bobo Puppyhead,” offensive enough to raise a red flag to AOL. His comic strip, if you have never seen it, consisted of dialog and themes that were of an adult nature…but as far as I ever saw, the kind of “adult nature” that would have warranted a PG-13 rating if he was making a motion picture in today’s society. I never saw any sign of nudity, even when sex was being depicted. The title of this entry, “Two Circles, a Square and a Triangle,” pretty much describes the way in which his characters were depicted. How offensive can that possibly get?
Apparently, offensive enough. Dan says that he received a letter from AOL’s Terms of Service people notifying him that this would be his one and only warning. AOL deleted the “offensive content” — which seems to have amounted to all of the strips — from his FTP space, effectively removing all graphics from his journal.
Here again, we come to the realization that AOL Journal-Land is desperately in need of a rating system for its journals. I stumble across journals on an almost daily basis that use the “f” word in every sentence. I saw a journal the other day that consisted of a handfull of entries and each one featured a nude picture!! But a comic strip apparently was “offensive” enough to get a journal throttled?
And what of the title of Dan’s journal? When I have linked him previously, there is a certain word in his title that I have never published here. I’ve never written the word in question nor have I ever spoken it. I never intend to. I wish the word in question didn’t exist. But I respect someone else’s right to use it when he feels that it is appropriate in context, even if I might have phrased things differently. In this context, the word is used to imply cynicism that I understand and appreciate…I get his point and I’m not offended. But it’s odd to me that if they thought any part of his journal needed to be “edited,” they’d pick on his graphics and not remove that word from the title while they were at it. It’s just more proof of how vague standards of decency can be.
I truly don’t mean to pick on AOL’s editors, though I’m sure others will. I do see both sides of this issue. I understand that AOL has its own set of problems. They are dealing with standards of decency that can’t be spelled out specifically because there is no such thing as a common standard of decency to start with: what is offensive to some is tame to others. What one person finds to be “crossing the line” is light fare to someone else. AOL is forced to respond to complaints (and I can only assume that someone complained about one of these strips) to satisfy its customers. They feel that the customer is best served when he cannot access content that might be offensive, yet they have virtually no way to spell out before the fact every possible action that could constitute “offensive content” until someone gets offended. They want to maintain a family-friendly atmosphere, yet what that means to some is radically different than what it means to others. To put it another way, they’re between a rock and a hard place.
Dan has since opened up a new journal over at Blogspot. I’m just sorry to see a well-written, honest, intelligent and humorous journal leave our community.
It seems to me there is a potential lesson here that I hope won’t be ignored.
AOL’s Journal Editors should consider adding a new option to its journaling software that will allow those journal writers who want to deal with adult topics to classify their journals as such, preventing those who sign on under children’s accounts from being able to access the journal and requiring an extra click of an “OK” for adult accounts to access, or a blanket acceptance that journals with a “mature” rating may contain objectionable content and the would-be reader accepts this fact. If you offer someone a chance to avoid a journal they might find offensive or the option to continue on to it with the understanding that it could contain such themes, I don’t see how they can complain at that point.
I don’t mean this rating as an excuse to show nudity or “X-rated” content. But I do think that adults should be able to have adult conversations with other adults in adult terms. The adjective “adult” must not always mean “dirty,” after all.
Good luck, Dan. We’ll miss you around these parts.
The frame from a Bobo Puppyhead strip is used by permission.