I just read the piece by Andrew Sullivan up above. I love Sullivan’s writing and even when I disagree with him I feel like I learn something. Even in this piece, where I disagree on some points that he makes, he questions himself. It is the rare writer these days that is unafraid to dabble in uncertainty.
The piece is about Alec Baldwin and how some of the vulgar things he says make him an anti-gay bigot. There is a text message that Baldwin sends later in the piece that I do believe is out of line. Writing takes time and even when angry there must be some deliberate thought put into it. However, let’s just take the thing he is being vilified for at this moment. Alec Baldwin recently went on a tirade against a photographer where he used some pretty vulger and hateful language.
My gut just tells me that we have to learn to differentiate between real hate and one temporarily losing one’s shit in a stressful situation. We also have to learn to not respond to language, but to sift through it and find the real meaning behind something. One can maybe or maybe not see a pattern emerge over time and make a value judgment, but something said in anger one time should not doom an entire life.
I swear, a lot. I have said things that would make women, children, and grown men blush. I find a certain poetry in swearing. Watch the show Deadwood where swearing is mixed with Victorian language and occasionally iambic pentameter. Listen to George Carlin where the right swear word is used in just the right place for devastating effect to get a point across. My dad told me about a piece by the comedian Louis Black where he talks about swearing. I am paraphrasing but Black says something along the lines of, “when you lose your job it’s not like you are going to say ‘oh horse feathers’.”
When angry, or if one is just having fun, one very well might swear. If someone says fuck do they necessarily mean to have sex? Of course not, as that word has about a million meanings when used in different ways. You might say about someone, “that fuck”. In that way you are basically saying someone is a jerk and it has nothing to do with the word’s original sexual connotations. Or you might say, “oh fuck”, as in I’m in trouble now! I believe that certain swear words that have homophobic origins have been divorced in people’s minds from their original intent. If you say someone is a cocksucker, you very well might mean that they are an asshole.
The more meanings that a word has the less it should have the power to offend. The word has actually been devalued as a word of hate. This is a good thing. The problem with the N word is that, see I can’t even type it, is it has never lost its original intent and therefore is still a word of hate. It can’t be construed in many other ways other than to say something derogatory about black people. And that is a problem, for the more you put words up in an ivory tower where they can’t be touched, the more real world hurt they can actually cause when used.
I’m not necessarily defending or attacking Alec Baldwin. I’m just saying that certain words, especially ones that have been pervasive, and are often divorced from their original meaning, do not necessarily translate into hating a whole type of people. The term homophobe means that one has fear of or contempt for homosexuals. Bigot means that one is intolerant of those that are different. Those are quite heavy trips to lay down upon someone, if we are only talking about the one situation, for swearing. My gut tells me that he might be someone with ego or anger issues, but he probably doesn’t hate gay people. He is probably far more in need of meditation or anger management classes than in learning tolerance for those different than himself. However, I don’t know him and I could be wrong. We are all free to decide in this life.
And there are two other problems. The first is, look how much time I have spent writing about this situation. I could have been writing about global warming, gay marriage, drone warfare, or any other number of things more important. I believe in economic and social justice for all, and I have just spent the better part of an hour talking about a celebrity meltdown. When we allow ourselves to be easily offended over meaningless controversies, we take our eye off of the ball of far more important things. The press thrives on this. It loves to entertain and distract us so that it doesn’t have to do its real job which is to keep us informed. That’s how it keeps people tuned in while allowing them to spend as little money as possible on real investigative reporting.
The second is what is wrong with our culture that we are so invested in the personal lives of celebrities? Watch TMZ someday and ask yourself how we allowed people like that to thrive in our culture. Many of you don’t believe in vampires, but there they are on our TV screens every single day. Something like that can only function because it has the interest of enough people. How did we get to a point where celebrity gossip has become a currency in which so many people trade? And yes, I’m partially complicit because I just spent an hour writing this piece. We all need to take a good hard look in the mirror and ask ourselves if this is the best use of our time. Anyway, I’ve got much more to say on all these topics, but unfortunately, I’m out of fucking time. (See how fucking there has nothing to do with sex?)