Wednesday, November 9, 2011

There's Only One F Word that Bothers Me

This post is a part of my “Out of the Kitchen” weekly column at The Progressive Playbook in which various news and pop culture items will be examined through a feminist lens.

Trigger warning for homophobic slurs.

If you asked me 30 minutes ago who Brett Ratner is, I would have fumbled around for a minute or two before admitting that the name sounds familiar but I can't place it. In fact, I think I might have even claimed he was affiliated with 80 hair bands, in some kind of twisted combination of Bret Michaels and Riki Rachtman. My mind can create really interesting things when pressed...

Anyway, as I'm told by Ronald who shared this news with me, Ratner is, in fact, a filmmaker. He's responsible for a myriad of mediocre films including Rush Hour, Red Dragon, and X-Men: The Last Stand. But I became acutely aware of him because Mr. Ratner recently decided to proclaim that "rehearsal is for fags."

Part of me just wants to stop here and let that ignorance hang in the air. But I can't let it go. I feel like I am continuously making this case, but I will assert this at least one more time:

Words matter.

I am someone who loves language. I love how word choice can add impact, gravity, and/or flavor to whatever message you are trying to convey. Words, to me, mean everything--and I truly believe that the words we use shape our reality. Language can create the most beautiful imagery. It can empower us to tell our own stories, transport us into whole new places, educate us about things beyond our own small worlds, and help us express deeply felt emotions.

But the power of words, when thrown around carelessly, can also hurt others and cause us shame and humiliation.  Too often people think that language is "no big deal." However, as I've argued before, all the little deals can really add up into things that make the big deals. When society is, in this case, making every possible effort to other and disparage homosexuals, is it any surprise that gay kids are sometimes bullied to death?

There is clearly a negative side to the power of language, which is often a tool of oppression. How many women are called bitches when they stand up for themselves? How often is a woman called a slut for doing the very same thing a man does (but he's a "player?") How much was/is the "n-word" used to spit venom at African Americans? How many times were Jews compared to animals during WWII in order to dehumanize them and justify mass murder?

When you really think about it, it becomes pretty clear. Words are amongst the few uniquely human things we have, and despite our childish notions about "sticks and stones" or "rubber and glue" words can and do hurt us.

Mr. Ratner is learning that words matter the hard way. He has since issued an apology and stepped down as the producer of the upcoming Oscars, but the impact of his initial words remains, nevertheless. His original four word statment has now required a lengthy apology, which he acknowledges is not enough.

That's the tricky thing about words. When you say them, they're out there. You can try to undo them all you want, and issue flowery apology after flowery apology, but nothing said can ever be unsaid. That's become a cliche, but things become cliches for a reason. I think it's appropriate to invoke one of my all time favorite lyrics, by Modest Mouse in "Blame it on the Tetons:"
Language in is the liquid that we're all dissolved in, Great for solving problems after it creates a problem
I just keep coming back to a very simple concept: respect. It's something that is taught to us from the time we are in preschool, but we still have a hard time grasping.  Eliminating hate speech is really quite simple when you demand it upon yourself to only choose words which offer respect and dignity to every person you are speaking to and about.  There really is no excuse for carelessness.

1 comment:

  1. I was listening to the most popular rock station in the Bay area last weekend and they played a song with that word in it without censoring it in any way. I was seething.


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