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Washington Post readers looking forward to a new installment of Stephan Pastis’ Pearls Before Swine in Sunday’s newspaper instead found a rerun after editors pulled the latest strip over objections to the use of the word “midget.”
In the strip, which did appear on the Post’s website, Goat and Rat are discussing how the acceptability of some terms changes over time, with “flight attendant” replacing “stewardess,” “housekeeper” succeeding “maid” and, yes, “little person” becoming preferable to “midget.” It’s a setup for the duo’s meeting with Willy the Word Decider, who’s tasked with determining which terms are acceptable.
But as the newspaper’s comics producer Donna Peremes told Comic Riffs, “‘Midget’ just carried a lot more of a charge — seemed more of a slur — than ‘stewardess’ or ‘secretary,’” so the strip was spiked. She explained in the comments section that the comic ran online because “we edit the print comics much more rigorously, for a variety of reasons, including the proximity of KidsPost.”
Peremes’ replies to readers in the comments are candid and refreshing — “[T]the funnies would look a lot different if I could pick and choose what I thought was best” — in an industry where most editors would rather publish ancient reruns or hold contests to allow readers to select which strips should remain rather than risk making a comics-page decision that might trigger angry phone calls and letters to the editor.
Still, the irony of the editors’ decision wasn’t lost on Pastis, who said he hadn’t heard of any other newspapers objecting to the strip.
“The oddity is that the strip is about these word decisions and how they’re enforced like gospel,” he told Comic Riffs. “And here, they got enforced on the strip that was trying to have that very discussion.”