Thursday, September 6, 2007

The New F-Word

As a word person, I'm getting increasingly annoyed with people policing language in this country.

TV actor Isaiah Washington got in trouble for using the word "fag"; Don Imus caught hell for his "nappy-headed hos" remark; actor and comedian Eddie Griffin had the plug pulled on a standup routine because he repeatedly said "nigger." (FYI, Griffin is black.)

Now, Jerry Lewis is in hot water for using the word "fag" -- during his annual telethon. (You can read the full story here.)

Right off the bat, let me say this: OK, the telethon was most certainly not the place for such language.

But when the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation comes out swinging, it makes my blood boil.

Here's what GLAAD president Neil Giuliano said: "It also feeds a climate of hatred and intolerance that contributes to putting our community in harm's way."

That's ridiculous. And it ticks me off, because (a) I don't like the policing of language, and (b) because it's used as a crutch by whatever "community" is bent out of shape at the time.

On the first point -- this country is based on freedom of speech and expression. If Jerry Lewis wants to use the word "fag," he should be able to. Period. True, it's not a nice word. but it's just a word. If he called a specific person that word, then I could see that particular person getting angry because then it's an insult. But the simple use of the word should not necessitate apologies or punishment. What words are next? Fat? Ugly? Dummy?

On the second point -- To say that the use of a word "feeds a climate of hatred" is utterly moronic, and is a misguided view of why the "community" may feel they are persecuted or in danger.

Can we be realistic about this, please?

If someone has some hatred for a "community," then maybe it has less to do with a word in the dictionary and more to do with the behavior of the people in that community, or something in the psyche of the person with the hatred. But the simple use of a word does not automatically foster hatred. (Unless it follows other words, like "kill the ..." or "We should all hate ... .")

And, if you think the problem here is word choice, you're wrong. It's about squashing differing opinions, about forcing you to adhere to someone else's beliefs. Would Jerry Lewis -- or anyone, for that matter -- catch less heat if, instead of using the word "fag," had said "sexual deviant" or "person with abnormal sexual behavior"? I don't think so.

Here's a great example of how the word police work: I distinctly recall when the "gay community" and their advocates were up in arms over the word "queer." You couldn't use the term without the same kind of firestorm we now see with "fag." That is, until "Queer Eye for the Straight Guy" came out, and suddenly "queer" was acceptable again, because it was used on a show that made being gay hip.

Let me leave you with this: The GLAAD president used the word "intolerance" ... but in these cases of policing language, who is it that's really being intolerant?

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