I’m sure you’ve heard, but Beto O’Rourke has been cursing more lately, as he refocuses his campaign on guns, climate change, and immigration. “This is fucked up,” he’s said of gun violence. “Members of the press, what the fuck?” he’s asked, as many sometimes do.
The situation has produced recent headlines like, “Will the F-bomb save Beto O’Rourke?” and “Beto and the Profanity Gap” (linguist John McWhorter, who argues that “fuck” is becoming like “hell” or “damn”).
Here’s what odd, however: The B-t- -’R--rk- campaign’s insistence on st*rr*ng out the c-rs- w-rds. (And to be clear, this isn’t a big deal.)
Currently, the campaign is selling gun control T-shirts, whose proceeds go toward gun control groups. These T-shirts read:
THIS IS F*CKED UPTHIS IS F*CKED UPTHIS IS F*CKED UPTHIS IS F*CKED UPTHIS IS F*CKED UPTHIS IS F*CKED UPEnd gun violence now.
On Friday morning, the campaign sent a fundraising email:
With all of this going on, how can you not be outraged? How can you not turn on the news, see all of this, and think “what the *!#^?” But we know that outrage alone doesn’t fix things. That’s why, while Beto will always call out wrongdoing, he’ll also always match it with a positive vision for making things right.
It’s a familiar feeling: You turn on the news and turn into Popeye the sailor.
The media and book publishers also love this kind of use-without-usage approach. You’ll see headlines with “f---ing” and self-help books with “f*cked” in the title. The emphasis here is usually on the word itself (theoretical edginess conferred by the edgy word), rather than context, timing, or creativity (the general art of cursing).
The d----ing approach ends up suggesting that we, the voters and readers, are secure enough in ourselves to hear Beto O’Rourke say our state of affairs is fucked up, but simultaneously just dainty enough to be uncomfortable seeing the word spelled out in full.
Who is this for, though? If you don’t like cursing like this, it’s hard to imagine one asterisk resolves the issue for you, like placing a paper napkin over a hole in the wall. Even if you like the cursing O’Rourke, dashing out words on T-shirts would seem to push him right into “corporate attempts at edginess.” (It’s the *!#^ weekend; come on down to Buffalo Wild Wings.)
Why even use the word if you’re going to star or dash out the letters?
But this is the problem with transitioning something that’s presumably inspired by the moment into branding.