Thursday, February 16, 2006

On unintentionally naughty language

Okay, so I looked at my calendar today, as I tend to do, and I realized that I'm scheduled to drop dead tomorrow. How disappointing.

Obviously, I'm not actually making any suicide arrangements; it's just a reminder that tomorrow is the absolute last day to file materials for our March issue. But it got me thinking about the things we say in everyday life that, to an outsider, might seem just the slightest bit questionable, the conversations that maybe we shouldn't have in airports or in front of armed federal agents. F'rinstance, recently:

My editor in New York: We're running really short this month. I think we're going to have to kill Ben Sherman.
Me: Oh, that sucks. I really like Ben Sherman. What's our kill fee?
Her: I'll have to check on that. I think it's $200.
Me: Good to know.
Her: While I've got you on the phone, I wanted to ask: did you guys shoot Sue Wong?
Me: You'd have to ask Jennifer, but I think we did, yeah.
Her: Was that for me?
Me: No, I think that was for Holly. We shoot Dallas, too, sometimes.

Luckily, for poor Ben, he's not getting killed after all; he's just going to be held until March - without food or water.

It's not just journalists, either. Everyone does it. Imagine two producers talking about a movie they've just released:

Guy: How was New York?
Other Guy: Oh, God, we killed in New York. Knocked 'em dead. I've never seen anything like it.
Guy: When are you going to Los Angeles?
Other Guy: Tomorrow morning. I'm kind of worried about it.
Guy: Yeah?
Other Guy: Well, the west coast can be tricky. I have a feeling we might end up bombing in L.A.

Now just imagine if every conversation like that gets red-flagged, recorded, and parsed by government agents to make sure it doesn't have coded terroristic threats. Is it any wonder that Osama bin Laden and his Number Twos are still wandering around [insert Middle Eastern country here] and making home movies? They're probably calling back and forth about how the guests are in place and the wedding will go as planned and they registered at Target, so I got them the toaster, while the NSA is poring over a conversation between two record execs about how a concert in Toronto "brought down the house."

Government sources say that as many as 5,000 Americans have had their phone calls recorded and/or their e-mails read in the past year, and that fewer than ten of those have delivered enough probable cause to get a warrant for domestic wiretapping. Far be it from me to present myself as an intelligence expert, but it seems to me that there has to be a more efficient use of government resources than the warranntless surveillance of 4,990 surprise birthday parties - "I'm taking him out. Am I ever taking him out. He won't know what hit him."

NB: If blogging is light for the next couple of days, it'll be because the NSA has taken me into custody and is questioning me about my plot against Los Angeles and Ben Sherman. Call my lawyer, call my parents, and call a masseuse. That extraordinary rendition can be hell on the lower back.

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