Media Self-Censorship

Whoa, it’s 2014 – guess it’s time to have another crack at blogging!

So, the media seems to be abuzz this morning with a story about Madonna, who, it is said, has apologized for using a racial slur in an Instagram post. But the details are remarkably hard to find…

Most outlets, such as this one, have published an AP-sourced story that says,

On Friday night, the singer posted a picture of her 13-year-old son, Rocco, boxing and included the comment, “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!” She then added a variation of the N-word.

Which made me wonder exactly what this ‘variation’ was and how and why it was used. It seems to me to be worth understanding exactly what these unwritten standards are that have been breached, especially given that (in my opinion) context and nuance are important in the way people communicate. Yet almost none of the many, many news sites reporting this story seem willing to actually say.

Fortunately, the Guardian has come to my rescue:

On Friday night the singer posted a picture of her 13-year-old son Rocco boxing, and included the comment: “No one messes with Dirty Soap! Mama said knock you out!” She then added “#disnigga”.

Notice the almost verbatim similarity to the previous quote – that’s because this is also the AP’s story, apparently the uncensored version. Was this a racial slur? I really have no idea. I don’t even know what the reference to “Dirty Soap” is intended to mean – but presumably a reference that some will appreciate.

I get that calling someone who is black a ‘nigger’ is generally offensive. But she is quoted as saying “It was used as a term of endearment toward my son who is white”. It looks to me like this is perhaps also some more specific cultural reference beyond my experience. It would be interesting to understand what was really in her mind when she wrote it and what led her to select that particular expression as a term of endearment. Unfortunately we’re unlikely to ever find that out, because most news organizations aren’t even willing for us to know what it was that she wrote.

Oh, in other news, news organizations are moving toward charging readers for their content.

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