Ask any gay man which derogatory words cause him to bristle and "fag" often tops the list. Despite inroads made in recent years to promote diversity and raise awareness of offensive words and phrases, it's still common to hear this f-bomb dropped all-too-frequently in school yards and other venues oozing with testosterone.
Details magazine, however, has plumbed new depths in objectionable rhetoric by creating a list of behaviors it associates with a certain type of gay man, whom the magazine calls a "douchefag." The list appears in the fashion publication's December issue -- although whether the offending word ever appeared in the online headline is in dispute. (It of course still appears in printed versions of the story.)
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Gay Men Are Mag's Biggest Fans
Putting aside for the moment the issue of whether the phrase ever appeared in the online version of the article, the question of whether Details can get away with calling someone a "Douchefag" is one that Queerty, a gay-themed blog, has raised.
To give a sense of what separates a mere "gay" from a "douchefag" by Details definition, Queerty cites this example: "A guy is only gay if he 'bleaches teeth,' but he's a gay douchebag if he 'bleaches anus'; or gay if he 'saves up for calfskin briefcase,' but a gay douchebag if he 'saves up for calf implants...'" and so on.
In taking Details to task, Queerty noted that as with many male fashion and fitness magazines, Details fails to acknowledge the obvious -- that a good chunk of its readership are gay men who yet aren't represented in its mainstream articles. But ignoring is rather different from insulting, which is why a backlash began when Brooklyn-based DJ Brad Walsh objected to Details throwing the word "fag" around.
Walsh, along with his his boyfriend Project Runway designer Christian Siriano, appeared in a photo alongside the "Douchefag" headlined article. "When a major (albeit dying) magazine for straight men refers to me in part as a 'fag,' that's homophobia. and hate," Walsh said via Twitter.
Article Intended As Homage To Gays?
Reached by phone, Details, published by Condé Nast Publications, declined to comment for this article, except to say that the "douchefag" labeled article never appeared online.
Walsh has every right to be upset, says Bob Witeck, CEO of Witeck-Combs Communications, a Washington, D.C.-based public-relations firm that specializes in gay-consumer marketing.
"Fag" takes on negative connotations when used by outsiders to describe gay people, Witeck says. That in particular raises a problem for a magazine perceived as run by straight people. It comes off as dismissive and degrading, he says. "Publications that choose to do it have to remember that it's not acceptable when certain people use it."
Gay New York City-based party promoter Daniel Nardicio isn't quite so offended. In fact, he believes the "douchefag" article was written perhaps as an homage to gay readers. "Most straight people aren't going to get a lot of those references," says Nardicio, who is also a marketing consultant for Playgirl.com. "I thought it was really clever (and) funny," Nardicio says. "I thought it was well done for the most part and spot on to some degree."
Offending Word No Longer On Website
Until recently, Playgirl suffered from the same myopia that afflicts Details and other men's fashion magazines, Nardicio says. Primarily run by women, the 36-year-old adult magazine was aware of its gay following but not comfortable in acknowledging them. Last year, Nardicio agreed to help Playgirl with its gay outreach, provided it removed its long-standing "Entertainment for Women" moniker from the magazine and its website, which Nardicio says was "insulting" to gay people.
"At the end of the day, it's (for) people who like to look at naked guys," Nardicio says. "It doesn't matter if you're male or female."
Beyond embracing its readership and questionable use of pejoratives, also in dispute is whether Details removed and replaced the online version of the offending article, an action that Queerty Editorial Director David Hauslaib wasn't able to confirm but was told did exist. "It's my understanding, based on information provided by Brad Walsh, that Details did use 'douchefag' in the online version," Hauslaib said in an email message.
Providing different content online and printed versions of an article is routine in journalism today, says Jan Leach, assistant professor of journalism at Kent State University in Ohio. "Mainstream media that have websites do this all the time," says Leach, who teaches copy editing and headline writing.
Does Details Have Explaining To Do?
To a point, it's not uncommon for the same article to have a different headline for print and online versions, she says. "They are different and should be different." Moreover, Leach says, it's not uncommon for news organizations to change content as breaking news develops or more information is gained about a story.
Still, it isn't clear whether Details removed the original online version of the story in response to viewer criticism, as is alleged on Queerty and denied by Details. Further, it begs the question whether Details (or any publication) owes readers an explanation when online content is changed for any reason.
That depends on how transparent Details want to be, Leach says. "It is a great question to raise, and it's one that I think we are going to be debating for a long, long time."
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