As the September 24 start date of ABC's new superhero series Marvel's Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. looms, we are increasingly worried about our poor ring fingers. Meaning, do we have to type all those periods every time we write the title of this show?
We're inclined to say no, to be obstinate in the face of authority. We're looking forward to Joss Whedon's new series as much as any dweeb, and have dutifully, painstakingly used the extreme punctuation used in all the marketing materials. But increasingly, the thought of writing out that whole ungainly title, periods and all, every time this show is mentioned — which presumably will happen a lot in the coming months — is entirely exhausting.
We're not alone in addressing this issue. This afternoon, Time television critic James Poniewozik tweeted about a sad workplace defeat: He will be forced to use all the periods whenever he writes about the series.
Lost my battle with copydesk to keep periods out of Marvel's Agents of SHIELD in print. But they can't make me use them on Twitter! #rebel— James Poniewozik (@poniewozik) September 10, 2013
We applaud Poniewozik for his courage and find his copy editors' decision an outrage. A real outrage! Period. Haven't we already given Marvel enough? The studio puts out so much material, and it demands so much coverage, that it feels like something Marvel-related is written about every darn day. That is the world we live in, and we'd be foolish not to accept that fact. Marvel has taken over entertainment and there's little we can do about it. But, in the interest of common courtesy, nay decency, can't they cut us a small break on this heavy, clunky title? We're still including the all-important "Marvel's" part, aren't we? Is that not enough? Must our weary fingers be forced to type those extra periods every single time? No.
We're laying out our editorial style memo on this matter plainly, in the interest of transparency. We will not be using the periods when discussing Marvel's Agents of SHIELD from here on out, and we feel content, empowered even, in that decision. We invite other publications to join us. So far, alas, it looks as though we're mostly on our own. We reached out to several other outlets and asked them what they planned to do, would it be periods or no periods, and their answers were dispiriting.
First we had to reach out to the copy desk at our sister publication The Atlantic and consulted the style guide. SHIELD is an acronym that stands for the mouthful Strategic Hazard Intervention Espionage Logistics Directorate. Atlantic style in print is to run real-life acronyms like NASA and NATO in small caps (regular caps will do in a digital pinch). Notice, no periods. (Initialism — that is where you pronounce each letter like TSA or FBI — also do not get periods.) So if SHIELD existed in the real world, our copy desk advises us, we'd be dropping the periods no matter how they punctuated their own logo. There is often some deference given to book or movie titles, but Marvel has gone too far. We must draw the line somewhere.
Todd VanDerWerff, television editor of The A.V. Club (fine, we'll use their periods here; we're not monsters), told us that "unfortunately" they will be using periods. The rationale? "[W]e use the asterisks in M*A*S*H." Which we can understand. But how often is anyone writing about M*A*S*H these days? That's not much of an inconvenience. Rich Juzwiak at Gawker expressed similar reasoning: "Notorious B.I.G., not Notorious BIG." Meanwhile Daniel D'Addario, a culture writer at Salon, told us that he'll be using the periods because rules are rules. "It's how the show's title is styled, annoying though it may be," he told us. He added, "I'm enough of a rule-follower that I feel weird about leaving the Lee Daniels' off The Butler." A slave to authority, that one.
We reached out to writers at Vulture and The New Yorker, both of whom expressed ignorance as to the official policy and then passed the buck to their copy editors, saying it was ultimately their decision. It may ultimately be, but can't these writers take an initial stand? Do they not value their time, their efficiency, their sovereignty? (Dismayingly, Vulture's copy editors have expressed pro-period tendencies in the past.) Will no one else join us in our noble crusade?
The most measured and thorough response to our query came to us from Entertainment Weekly's Darren Franich, a dedicated chronicler of all things geek-related. Explaining his company's policy, he told us, "Currently, we use periods, although there's an only-for-online twist: In headlines, we go no-period for SEO purposes." Aha! A chink in the armor, perhaps. Might EW eventually break down and apply the headline policy to all mentions?
Helpfully, Franich clued us into an illuminating fact: There is precedent for periodlessness. "This period/no-period confusion actually runs throughout the history of SHIELD in the comic books," he told us. "The whole 'Agent of SHIELD' phraseology comes from the brilliant late-60s comic book 'Nick Fury, Agent of SHIELD,' which started off with periods." OK, so it started with these detestable periods, but they were eventually done away with, wisely we think. Franich pointed us to a comic that came just a year after the series' debut, with no periods visible at all. The pesky punctuation eventually came back, only to disappear again in the 1980s.
So we are not inventing something entirely new by not using the periods for this latest SHIELD iteration. It's been done before. And should be done again! The truth is, we're ultimately doing Marvel a favor. There's the SEO thing, sure, but also social media-ing to be considered. Franich speculates that "if the show is good/successful and people are talking about it in five months, everyone is just going to call it 'SHIELD' and write it 'SHIELD' because I can't imagine the average civilian writing 'S.H.I.E.L.D.' That's six [extra] characters in Twitter." He's entirely right, of course. Stylistic economy will eventually demand that we lose those pernicious periods. So why not start right now? Maximize your social reach from the get-go, Marvel!
Join us, the proud few, those blissfully unencumbered by unnecessary punctuation. Type it freely and with conviction: Marvel's Agents of SHIELD. Put your ring figures up and say no. Because if you don't, you're in for a long, annoying fall.