Discover more from Contents and Containers
It was just one typo.
Written as an exercise for a program that assesses high school literary skills; story takes place in spring of 2003.
It was just one typo. Mistakes happen, and when I say mistakes, I don't mean ignoring intelligence information that leads to a quagmire war that a cowboy president started. I'm talking about seemingly more minor mistakes that still have bigger consequences, and ultimately crush your spirits like the Shock & Awe campaign did to the aforementioned region.
It was just one typo. Actually, a series of them, that led to some semblance of doom in terms of my own self-esteem as an amateur journalist, but moreover, one that burdened my high school and my peers.
I was certainly proud of the fact that I was the editor of my high school newspaper's feature section. That's not to say that I think "soft news," or human interest is really something that is noteworthy —rather it is, in a perfectly Foucauldian sense, the power that I acquired through the position that gave it value to me. So, it didn't matter that the article I was writing and interviewing for on that particular day was simply a profile of our public broadcasting channel. The truth is that the story itself was boring, but what ultimately came of it, though certainly not favorable, was at least more exciting.
Without my knowledge, and likely due in part to my less-than-large attention span, I left the article, placed within the layout of the paper on a computer screen with a blinking cursor. Seems harmless, right? What could possibly go wrong? In hindsight, I may have said that I trusted my peers. But, in reality, I just didn't think twice about it. It was an exercise in carelessness, not in trust relationships. Nevertheless, what else would an almost prepubescent freshman do to a feature that had the word "public broadcasting" all over it? Remove a letter from the first word. Truly hilarious, and I smile even as I recall the story.
But simply having that word all over the article is not acceptable. It's hardly printable. So, though it wasn't my fault, my editor and I met with our slightly tyrannical principal over the issue. His high school's newspaper had a misprint that would make the good Evangelicals in the county quiver as if I assaulted their myopic politics. And I didn't (at least not in this article). Nevertheless, due process was had, and the conniving freshman who modified the article right before we sent the paper to print, served his punishment.
Certainly I was plagued by a sense of guilt. I'm not willing to say it was my fault, in fact it wasn't I that vandalized the newspaper. But, it certainly isn't beyond my capacity to do the same thing to my own work or to someone else's. I've always being a man who hides behind his humor and wit in order to distance himself from his peers, but I also make sure that my assaults come from a well-defended stronghold. So, this type of activity is common place for me. I truly relate to that prepubescent freshman. In fact, in another life, I might have been that freshman. So, the punishment that this nameless freshman served—a minor suspension, if that—is something that I could have easily served. That is not to say that I deserved that punishment. I did not. But maybe I wanted it. Not just because I felt guilty, but because of my own self-loathing (or even self-admiration—in fact, what's the difference?). I've developed a fine line between my own self-hate and my narcissism. So much so that my own self-deprecation, though it might be some form of obscured humility or at least interpreted as such by a simpler kind of person, is truly nothing more than megalomania and egotism.
Beyond the emotional and psychological ramifications of this problem, there is more. What about the ideological ones? What of the freshman? What of justice? I could walk away from this problem feeling more self-aware, aware of myself as a writer, aware of the mistakes I've made as a result of carelessness. But could I not have learned this otherwise? Did the freshman need to be punished? Furthermore, I may have very well walked away from this incident having learned nothing. Scoffing at the criminal, never showing him empathy, always trusting my good will and intuition. Surely, you wouldn't punish anyone this self-aware? Someone this well-spoken? No, my class in this society prevents me from this kind of treatment. The system in which we operate favors me, and disfavors the freshman. He was guilty before he committed the crime. The system intends on punishing the likes of him. And it does so very clearly so and primarily, and my Foucauldian bias will yet again be mentioned, to perpetuate itself and its hegemonical paradigm. But to say that in the end I learned about the Marxist utilities that exist in the smallest systems of power is simply to obscure the issue. Just like a materialist, postmodern individual might do, we can make this conversation, which is all based on a single typographical error, a great social statement.
It was just one typo.
But we're talking about less than that. And so much more. In the end, I clearly learned more than simply to trust the system that had found the poor freshman guilty of a joke and little else. Sure, he was wrong. But I may have been, too. I was at most, manipulative and self-centered, and at the very least, careless. The lesson learned, therefore, is not something that is grandiose or all-encompassing despite the ideological and conveniently distracting perspective I've demonstrated. That is simply far too revisionist. The point of the story for me is the value of demographic awareness as it correlates to copy editing. Three rules:
1. Proofread as if you were working for Bureau of Prohobition shutting down a watering hole, if your audience is living as if schools weren't desegrated or women weren't granted the right to vote. 2. Proofread less and blame postmodernism or praise the freedom of artistic expression if your audience lives in Portland. 3. Otherwise, learn simply to check again or potentially face pubic humiliation.