Monday, August 30, 2010

Ah...not this shit again!

The other night I was hanging out with some friends, having a beer after work. I was asked by one of my friends “how was work?” To which I responded “gay.” I then looked at the third friend in the group (a pretty no nonsense lesbian of the most foul mouthed and awesome variety) and said something to the effect of “we’re still calling things gay, right?” and her response was essentially “no, but we can let it slide this time.”
And there we were, at the linguistic, PC vs mongoloid, hawks vs. doves, right vs. wrong, red vs. blue, Dr. Laura vs. black folks debate that kind of seems like it will never die. Ugh.

The other day, Dr. Laura gleefully chanted “Nigger” over and over again to an African American caller who was concerned about the language of her white husband’s friends (and specifically the use of the old N bomb.) We all saw that whole thing unfold, right? Dr. Laura spewed some completely misguided nonsense about how black comedians say ‘nigger’ all the time and so she should be allowed to as well (which she is, by the way. She was not arrested, questioned nor detained after “niggergate”, though she still claims to have suffered and lost her first amendment rights for some strange reason), people got angry, Dr. Laura decided to quit her show and a bunch of morons like Sarah Palin jumped to her defense and branded her as some kind of new age patriot, which I guess if you consider the completely racist history of this country and its founding fathers, sure…she’s a total patriot, but the whole thing brings up this issue of saying loaded words, this debate that rears its ugly head about once a year whenever some bonehead says something dumb, and it really vexes me. Here’s why:

I do NOT believe that people should go through all these crazy games to avoid words. Now, let me state unequivocally that hateful slurs are lame and the linguistic tools of dummies but I don’t like the idea of saying “the N word” either. It seems to me very similar to all those crazy inventions in Israel that they’ve got applied to everything so they can get around technically not being allowed to do any work on the Sabbath. Sure, the letter of the law is upheld, but the spirit of it is totally bankrupt. And more to the point, it’s just semantics and it’s just a construction that allows people to feel like they’re keeping their hands clean when they’re essentially doing whatever the fuck they were gonna do before. Now, the ‘N word’ construction is not quite this simple (unless you actually go around calling people ‘n word’ as in “Hey you N word! We don’t serve your kind here” or whatever the fuck racists say when they’re out there just bumming everyone out) but the notion that there’s a word that’s so off limits to say, that we need to invent a construction around it…it seems like an awful lot of work to go through for a dumb word bandied about by bigots and idiots.

The ‘conservative talk radio’ party line on this is something like “I feel like it gives the word too much power” which I agree with, but it brings me to the real problem with this side of this argument: namely everyone who espouses it seems to be a total asshole.

I mean, yes, yes, yes, yes: if you’re in polite company and you know that a certain word is going to genuinely offend someone, it’s only common decency not to say it. That’s just how it is. That’s why I don’t say ‘buttfucker’ or ‘cumbucket’ in front of my mother in law (and, honestly neither of those have really ever come up in conversation, but if they did, I’d definitely circumnavigate very carefully) but at the same time there’s something about language that’s really amazingly specific and important, and (to get back to the original situation) calling a shift at work ‘gay’ is different than calling it ‘lame’ simply because they’re different words and therefore have different gradations of connotation. BUT, should I say it just because I can? Especially if it’s offensive to someone?
This is tricky. Sarah Silverman once said that she felt that if she ever altered her act based on who’s in the crowd (like if she left out some black jokes because there were black guys sitting in the front row) then that would make her jokes racist, because they’d be part of an “us vs. them” sort of situation where she’s telling jokes about black guys to white guys behind closed doors. I can fully back that, but it’s more complicated than that.
If her jokes are funny, are they racist? I would say no, because as I’ve said before here racism isn’t funny, so if what you’re doing is genuinely funny, it’s not racism. Now, that doesn’t mean it can’t be offensive. My friend was certainly not offended by me saying ‘gay’ in the traditional sense. She didn’t suddenly think I was homophobic and lumping the gays in with the lames, she just thought I was being a typical lazy white straight male who decided to use a hot button word to kind of be a little funny in my pretend ignorance, ignoring the fact that being gay is not easy, especially as a teen or in a small town and that EVERY single thing that works against that, no matter how trivial, is hugely detrimental and ultimately super, super gay. Insensitivity isn’t even really the issue anymore. It’s more of just not being an asshole, and I get that, but there’s another side too:

There are two kinds of American Totalitarianism: the California and the Texas and I really hate them both. The Texas is the retard executing, hard ass, you know…texasy thing that we’re all too familiar with from shows like “texas justice”. It’s conservative and no bullshit and a little crazy and it’ll tell you what to do in no uncertain terms. The same thing exists in California but it’s all done under the banner of tolerance, community and coexistence but it’s just as fucking insidious and just as hard line and even more fucked up because they pay lip service to a completely free society but they’re just as arch and authoritarian as the Texans, it’s just about different things. I hate both of these ideologies, and therefore I hate saying something is ‘gay’ as much as I hate the raised eyebrows if I do. It’s different anti authoritarian strains fighting in my head for superiority and the end result is a stupid argument with myself that only tangentially concerns me in the first place.

Anyway…
Saying something is ‘gay’ is way different than saying “n word” or “N bomb” because there’s a different endgame. With saying ‘gay’ (as in, “that shirt is mad gay” [assuming it’s not like, a leather shirt that says ‘daddy’ or something, you know, actually gay]) you’re conveying something about yourself, either that you’re an ignorant dipshit or that you fancy yourself such a cosmopolitan friend of equality that you no longer feel the need to bow to your gay dad’s ideas of casually offensive language, and that everyone should recognize that because, check you out, you’re fully calling things ‘gay’ in mixed company like it ain’t no thang.
Saying “the N word” is saying ‘nigger’ for cowards. That’s pretty much all there is to it. It’s an ugly, hateful word and saying it is no fun, but that shouldn’t get you out of having to do it if you feel so strongly that it’s what you need to say. I don’t find myself ever EVER saying ‘nigger’ or “the N word” because that shit just doesn’t come up unless I’m talking about this specific topic. Why don’t you just pick another word if you’ve got such a problem with that one? Eh?

I don’t know. Like I said, people on the ‘anti n word’ side of this argument tend to be total assholes and I’m not gonna figure it all out today, but shit….I guess I’m gonna stop saying gay?
Probably.
Except when I mean gay…
Kay, I’m going to the gym. It’s mad gay in the locker room, yo.

6 comments:

david said...

Very eloquent!

Johno said...

There was a DJ here on Radio One (the BBC's "cool young person music" radio station - one of the biggest in the UK) a little while back that called something "gay" and meant "lame" rather than "homosexual".

He was investigated by the complaints commission and they found him innocent because apparently his target audience use the word gay in that context, the way that they have since they were kids, rather than to mean homosexual.

dustyfloors said...

I was at The Spot last night. Three was karaoke and someone, sure as shit, sang that Toto song. All I could her was "I got the AIDS down in Africa."

I couldn't help but laugh to myself.

Donnie said...

not everyone in Texas sucks.....

Drunken Acorn said...

You're so right about the texas/california thing BK.

james bliss said...

The issue with racial slurs, especially (in America) anti-Black slurs, isn't so much the 'meaning' of the words (i.e., their dictionary entries), as much as the function of the words.

Uhhhh, more to the point, it isn't that the words have offensive meanings, but that they reflect and reinforce a power structure. When I say "n****r" I'm not just describing a person in a mean-spirited way, I'm identifying myself as a member of the dominant group. It's a reminder to the Black listener that for the past 500 years I could turn them into a corpse with impunity.

This goes back to Californian totalitarianism: it's all about reinforcing a power structure (straight white male domination) while erasing any discussion of power through a bogus embrace of tolerance. When I (ironic straight white male) use 'n****r,' I'm reminding everyone that I'm still totally empowered, but I'm acting like there is no longer any power structure.

The only 'dumb' thing about bigots using those words--the difference between California and Texas--is that the Texan isn't making the second move of pretending there isn't a power structure in place anymore.


Also, I hope nobody calls me a 'faggot' for writing this.