So, I was reading MightyGodKing’s post on the Tucson Shooting (because he is a much better blogger than I am) and happened to look down at the comments. In it was someone pleading that we not call Loughner a nutjob anymore because they work with mental patients.
Really? He seems like a nutjob. He backs up his crazy, violent acts with crazy, impenetrable rhetoric. Nutjob.
Now, I know that it’s a derisive term and no one wants see a member of their little ingroup receive a hard, dehumanizing epithet, but here’s the deal: Loughner is not an unfortunate, mentally ill person. Oh, sure, he may be mentally ill and not have been in full control of his actions, but he still acted violently and is a nutjob. He is crazy in the worst way and it doesn’t dehumanize other mentally ill people to call Loughner what he is.
Yes, that’s assuming the speaker is making that distinction, and certainly I don’t feel as if it's one the common man is willing to bother making. However, as someone who likes to write I don’t believe that you can simply take words off of the table. Fight how they’re used and even who can use them, but don’t take them out of the mix. If anything, the harder you try, the more people will use it to spite your sensitivity.
Now, I’m not saying the Limbaugh/Palin kerfluffle over ‘retard’ is an example of this, but damn it’s related and it is awesome. Nothing shows so well the hypocrisy of sensitivity in politics—both left and right—quite like this one. The story goes like this, Obama’s Chief of Staff is taped, behind closed doors, referring to some guys as retards. As I recall, they weren’t mentally handicapped, but they were actual idiots of the scale to warrant being called retards. The public reaction of those who gave a crap was generally being offended. Then Rush Limbaugh, of all people, entered the fray to assert people's right to say that retarded people were, in fact, retarded. Palin, who has a mentally challenged groin-spawn, publicly denounced this guy and everyone else who would use a word that was ‘heartbreaking’ and ‘insensitive.’ True to the courageous and uncompromising character of the Palin campaign, they later released a statement that said her words weren’t about Rush Limbaugh; when she mentioned denouncing everyone who used that word, she didn’t mean Rush Limbaugh, who had used that word.
One of the watchwords of the loudest fragment of conservatives is ‘sensitivity.’ To the extreme right, sensitivity is weakness and just for crappy liberals who try to never offend anyone and vaguely fascist leftist leaders who think that “Harrison Bergeron” is a template for a model nation. Which is all the more amusing when an issue hits close enough to home that they are legitimately offended, only to find that their fellow ideologues won’t quite follow them into Camp Publicly Pussyhurt.
Returning to the main topic, the subtext of the conversation is that somehow, a word can’t be said. It would be different if was like the N-Word, which only some people can use (like ‘Nerfherders,’ when speaking to other Nerfherders, or racists when speaking to either other racists or uncomfortable family members). The word isn’t out of the lexicon, nor should it be. While the ignorance and irrational hate that characterize it may represent for some people a pain that should be buried and forgotten, I’d prefer that words be taken and reclaimed. To lock a word away is to forget about it; but to reclaim from something vile and bring it back into the language (in whatever limited format), encourages us to talk about it and to remember what it once stood for.
South Park also has a fascinating take on the place of these words in the lexicon. In “The F Word,” ‘fag’ is redefined to refer to another group of social pariahs; loud, attention-hungry, middle aged motorcyclists. In the reverse of ‘Nerfherder,’ the specific meaning of the word changes, but the injury of the word remains. ‘Fag’ is an insult that mutates in the collective consciousness to deride a different group of outcasts. As a gay person, I can get behind this. If the mantle of ‘fag’ was passed, I’d be happy to know that someone else, someone deserving, would finally be the target of that derision. Would I just be enjoying the arbitrary exclusion of another group from the mainstream? Not if that exclusion was based on voluntary acts that reflected poor character instead of a group that violated arbitrary social norms. Who knows, maybe in the more tolerant, distant future, obnoxious bikers will be socially accepted. But don’t think I’d ever let my daughter marry one!
To sum up, banning words completely is bad, but could everyone stop saying ‘mangina’ forever?