Tuesday, March 29, 2011

You can't do that on television

To piggyback upon my previous post about the utterance of racial slurs, and the perpetuation or eradication of said words, I thought I would introduce a discussion of "dirty" words and their place in society. Now, while I try to keep the curse words to a minimum on my blog, in my everday speech I swear worse that Snoop from the The Wire. However, I never think about curse words making me sound unintelligent or ignorant, I think they actually add emphasis to whatever particular word I'm using them, or to a particular point I'm trying to make. Now some may hear someone using curse words sprinkled heavily through their regular speaking patterns, and believe that the person is unintelligent, because they cannot think of alternative words that deliver the same impact. I guess I can understand the point, but in my opinion, the whole reason the words are so taboo is because they add a sharpness and specificity of emotion that other words have a difficult time eliciting. What I find so interesting is that most people in society swear; whether it's Vice President Joe Biden calling the healthcare bill a "A big fucking deal", or Lyndon Johnson likening the difference between a Senator and a Representative to "the difference between chicken salad and chicken shit". But we all like to act as though the use of curse words is relegated to those that are considered profane, not pure of heart like the former president. So everyone watches their mouths around kids, and punishes their children for cursing, while at the same time recognizing that once they grow up, everyone will curse at one time or another. Obviously there are different levels, and it's important to convey to children when, where and to whom to direct certain words and phrases. But to act as though there is never a time for curse words is not only unrealistic, but completely misses the point of the words in the first place. When a child is hurt, and screams out "fuck" in a fit of anger or injury, you don't typically see parents repremanding them for this behavior. But when a brother calls a sister a "bitch", it usually doesn't matter what age they are, parents will be furious. So I guess my point is that there is a time and place for everything, and curse words fit into the social lexicon just like other words. This brings me to the next point, which is the use of words on television. A classic comedy sketch by George Carlin dealth with the "Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television". This list included a few words that have lost their edge, and been relegated to either non-use or non-curse status - I'm speaking of piss and tits. People still use the word tits in society, but you rarely heard it uttered on television (and not because of its previous status as a "dirty" word); and piss has become commonplace on television, and therefore no longer can be considered a "dirty" word. The remaining several words still pack a punch, most of them having those hard K sounds that somehow always manage to turn heads, except for shit which, while it has become more commonplace, will always remain a dirty word because, well, it's the word for shit. Sorry for the tangent, I remember listening to that on record when I was a little kid, and it always made me laugh, and still does, and I think really helped shape my view of the absurdity of censoring, especially considering the hypocrisy of censoring words that everyone uses. Anyway, the use of swear words on television has morphed considerably over the years, from the early days where damn and hell slipped in on late night dramas like Silk Stalkings and NYPD Blue, to the more dramatic flare of South Park paying FCC fines for the use of "fuck" on air, and It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia using shit and fuck unabashedly as if they were on HBO. But has more use really has any effect on kids that are watching? I don't think so, I think that kids still swear the way they always have; in the school yard, behind the backs of their teachers and parents. I think that more swearing on televison is simply art imitating life, and not the other way around. Back to a discussion of the use of swear words in society. I, for one, think that curse words convey so much emotion, that it is folly not to include them in our speech. Calling someone a "motherfucker" is much more potent that calling them a jerk, no matter your inflection or level of anger. Certainly "motherfucker" can also be a term of endearment, which can be confusing from an intellectual level, but actually seems to work very well in the real world. That is one of the beautiful things about curse words, their diversity and ambiguity. No other word in the English language can possibly be as diverse as the word "fuck". "Fuck" can be used as a verb, adverb, adjective, command, interjection, noun, and basically can be used as any word in a sentence. In essence, I think that we should not be so puritan with regard to our speech patterns. Certainly we should try and find a word that best conveys the specific point we're trying to make, but it's nice to know that when all else fails, "Fuck the fucking fuckers" still works as a gramatically correct sentence.

Friday, March 25, 2011

From malignant to malignment

I read an interesting blog post recently about the removal of the "n-word" from Huckleberry Finn by the publishing company NewSouth Books, in an effort to erase the word from the social vernacular. They plan to replace the word with what they determined to be the less offensive term "slave". What I find particularly interesting about the use of the word slave, is that it removes the pejorative connotation from the description (essentially the fact that at that time all people with dark skin were called the n-word), and instead just makes the word a simple descriptor. However, the replacement actually becomes somewhat offensive in itself, because instead of the honest implication that white people at the time called people with dark skin the n-word, the implication becomes that all people with dark skin were slaves.
As with the blog posting above, I have to agree that I think the publishing company's heart is in the right place, but to remove the word is trying to rewrite history, and actually does a disservice to both the book itself, as well as history. Somewhere around a year ago, I read a *somewhat* interest book called The N Word: Who Can Say It, Who Shouldn't, and Why (thanks, Nakia). While the book did not delve particularly deep into how the word has changed over time, or the ramifications the current accepted uses - i.e. music, slang, term of endearment - will have on the survival of the word, what I found particularly salient was the writers perspective about how continued use, regardless of who is using it or for what reason, keeps the word alive, and therefore it will continue to be used (essentially continued use breeds continued use).
I was having a discussion a while back with someone about this particular point, and she was saying that the "reclaimed" version of the word, used mostly in music and as a term of endearment, can take the sting out of the word, and therefore it loses its power over time. While I don't disagree with this point, and it has been done successfully with other words (queer, cunt, etc.), the word has been used non-pejoratively by African-Americans for some time now, and the word has lost none of its original sting if used by the right (or I suppose wrong) person. In fact, because of its *hopefully* limited use in society, the word can actually have a sharper edge today than it has in times past, because the use of it is so deliberate and pointed; whereas (unfortunately so) the word was thrown around by what would in today's society would be considered nice, normal people. This is not to say that these people were totally unaware of what they were saying; and certainly believing yourself to be better than someone else because of the color of your skin has to cause some alarm bells to go off inside your head, but I think that they lived in a society that reinforced the idea that they were good people, and that treating others as being only partially human, or even worse as property, was not a big deal. Today people who use the word are truly showing themselves to be on the fringe of society, and that they're representing a viewpoint that is hateful and ignorant.
Whenever I'm confronted with the above argument regarding the reclaiming of the word, I acknowledge the legitimacy of the argument, but caution people not to be hasty to imagine that the word is going to eventually just become another variation on the word friend. I think an example of a word that has been extinguished due to the specific efforts of the group that it was directed at, is the racial slur for jews, k*ke. There was a deliberate attempt by jews to eradicate this word from any and all use. Never using the word for slang, or attempting to reclaim it, jews simply would not utter the word, and anyone using the word was proven to be showing their hatred and anti-semitism. Their efforts were successful, and except for a very few small self-defined hate groups, rarely (if ever) do you hear the word uttered. I think this is more the route that the n-word should take; efforts to reclaim the word have been slow and unfruitful, I think it might be time for a new course of action - all out eradication.
Note: My perspective is my perspective, and there are many other perspectives that are not only valid, but possibly more correct. I cannot and will not tell someone, especially someone who the word has been used against, or could be used against, not to use the word. I simply think that perpetuation of the use of the word does just that, regardless of the context.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Some men just want to watch the world burn

I just re-watched the movie The Dark Knight, and I have to say that in my opinion it's the best of the franchise. I'm not a huge Christian Bale fan, and I don't particularly think that he does a better job at being Batman that Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, or even George Clooney. Okay, maybe he's better than Clooney. However, what makes this movie so great is the Joker. Not only does Heath Ledger do a fantastic job as the Joker acting-wise, but for the first time in the whole Batman movie franchise, a character was actually evil. Not evil in a funny way, or an overly dark way, but more in a just a really f*cked up way. The Joker has no desire for anything other than to see misery spread to everyone around him. He uses the other bad guys just as he uses the good guys, all to inflict as much pain on society as possible. Easily the most salient quote of this movie, and one of the best of the franchise is spoken by Alfred in reference to Ledger's Joker.

Because some men aren't looking for anything logical, like money.

They can't be bought, bullied, reasoned or negotiated with.

Some men just want to watch the world burn.

I must be honest that I was not a huge fan of Batman Begins, but to be fair I've only seen the movie once, so it might be worth giving it another try after liking the The Dark Knight so much. There is one final movie left in Christopher Nolan's Batman trilogy, and hopefully if will live up to the second in the series, and complete the trilogy in LOTR fashion. However, it's going to be difficult to top Heath Ledger as the Joker (he played the character better than Nicholson did, and that's saying something), but there are a slew of great Batman villains that have yet to get any play in the movie franchise.

Friday, March 11, 2011

She's on the attack...again

So Mother Nature has struck back yet again. This time she decided to pummel the docile island country of Japan with a magnitude 8.9 earthquake, the largest the country has sustained on record, and among the largest throughout the world over the last century, causing a massive that tsunami that has reeked havoc throughout the Pacific rim. While the current death toll remains relatively low, somewhere around a few hundred, and expected to climb to somewhere around a few thousand - nowhere close to the 230,000 plus that were killed during the 2004 earthquake/tsunami in the Indian Ocean - this is a terrible tragedy, and shows once again how truly small humans are. We can have all the technology we want, and build as much as we want, and Mother Nature will find a way to come along and destroy it with simplicity and impunity. While it's terribly unfortunate that so many people perish during these acts of nature, I think it's important for us to use the tragedy as an opportunity to reflect on how bold we've become in the face of a foe we cannot match, yet try to time and again.
What I mean by this is that we, as humans, think that we "rule" the earth. Of course, most people understand that there are things beyond our control, and beyond our power, but for the most part we pretty much think that we can do whatever we would like to the planet, and that the only thing that is stopping us from doing it is us. Hence the use of the popular "we're destroying the planet". I always find this phrase both comical, and odd. "We're" not doing anything to the planet that the planet cannot handle, what "we're" doing is making the planet uninhabitable for ourselves, and possibly for several other species. Therefore, we're obviously having an impact on the planet, I'm not so ignorant to believe that we aren't, but it's not the planet that we need to worry about, it's ourselves (and the other species that we will - and have - inevitably affected with our blatant disregard). I think this is one of the major problems with the environmental campaigns to "Save the Planet"; it is not that their heart isn't in the right place, it certainly is, it's the fact that people don't really care all that much about the "planet". The planet is big, and it's difficult for people to imagine that humans can really have such an affect on something so large (which is partly true); and because they can't wrap their head around the idea, they either dismiss is as bunk, or simply ignore it. However, if the slogan was "Humans are making the planet uninhabitable for humans, and if we don't change our ways in the next couple of centuries, we will all die out", I think people would care a little bit more. Things need to be put in a perspective people understand. Making bold claims about destroying the planet does't speak to people, the only thing that is going to destroy the planet is time and possibly an asteroid, but if you tell people that humans will no longer exist, it might be more relevant and comprehendable.
It's somewhat ridiculous the lengths we go to to battle Mother Nature; especially when we know any and all attempts are futile. However, I think that the idea that we've done something gives us piece of mind, even if we're just deluding ourselves to the fact that the only reason something doesn't happen is not because of our precautions and preparations, it's because Mother Nature hasn't decided to do it yet.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Is it hypocrisy, or just ignorance?

The political stage is heating up again, with Republicans and Democrats battling it out in congress over the budget, healthcare reform, and organized labor. While the prospects of positive legislation coming out in this climate are minute, at least Dems (for the least part) are sticking by their guns, and trying to show a little bit of muscle in the debate.
The budget. This ridiculous monstrosity is completely antithetical to what Republicans presented as their main focus over the course of the last two years (or at least their proxy focus, as it's been the focus of the American people for about the past decade), which was jobs. Their budget does absolutely nothing to create jobs, and is actually projected to kill 700,000 over the next fiscal year. Does that seem like a jobs-producing bill? No, because it's not. Republicans couldn't leave well enough alone, and instead had to use this budget as a tool for pandering (once again) to their "moral majority" base, and essentially cutting every social safety net they can, starting with their favorite pariah, Planned Parenthood. It's not really even worth mentioning, but I'll do it anyway for posterity, that the overwhelming majority of what planned parenthood does has nothing to do with abortions. They are a family planning organization, and therefore they provide options for which choices women [and hopefully significant others with them] can make in the face of a planned or unplanned pregnanacy. But I digress... The point is that Republicans just couldn't play nice, and try to work with Democrats on creating a budget that both cuts some discretionary spending, but also raises some much needed tax revenue (or at least not exacerbate the problem with more tax cuts). The bottom line on the budget is that Republicans will spend willy-nilly for several years, and then leave it to Democrats to fix the problem (they look like the tax cuts princes, and we're the tax-raising, budget-balancing knaves); it happened from Reagan to Clinton (I'll give credit G.H.W. Bush credit for starting the budget-balancing process), and now it's happening from G.W. Bush to Obama.
This healthcare reform issue in congress is absurd. The Republican governors are not happy with the healthcare bill, because they see it as both encroaching upon people's constitutional right not to be forced by the government to opt-in to the system, and also because the spending it requires does not fit into their budgets. Therefore, the president came out and said flatly, (I'm paraphrasing here) "Fine, if you want to come up with something better that provides the same services to the same number of people, and does not affect the overall cost of the bill, do it." So what is their response, 'Nope, that's not what we're looking for'. Which only proves the point that their idea (along with Republicans in congress) of "fixing" the healthcare bill is nothing more than a thinly veiled effort to completely destroy it. Democrats and the president went it alone to get the bill passed (I guess I have to give the then newly elected Republican senator from Massachusetts a little bit of credit for at least voting for cloture), with the only Republican ideas being tort reform and the ability to purchase healthcare across state lines, both of which would typically only be line items in the more than trillion dollar bill; and now that the bill has passed, Republicans still have yet to offer any comprehensive or sensible alternatives to the bill. The healthcare system is broken, we all understand that. If the president could do more, he would. But constantly complaining about the bill, instead of providing any viable alternatives is simply an act in futility. Unless Republicans come around, and start legitimately working with Democrats on this, I think the healthcare bill (in its current form) is here to stay.
Finally, this issue with the attack on organized labor. I think the everybody will concede that the hayday of unions is over. While there are reasons for this, other than a simply pro-corporate/anti-union sentiment throughout the country, but especially in Washington, DC, that does not mean unions don't still have their place in American business. The purpose of the union is to give power to the individual worker by creating a collective of workers who then can go to management and tell them that everyone in the plant has elected so-and-so the union leader, and they will stand together on whatever the union determines the correct coure of action, i.e. collective bargaining. The reason this is a good thing, is that it does not allow management to simply pick individual workers off one at a time for this reason or another, until they have the most depressed and apathetic workforce they can find, who will deal with whatever management throws their way, because they have no alternatives. Essentially, unions give workers power against management, despite the fact that laws and policies have been eroding that power of the past several decades. Sorry for that long introduction to unions, but I'm just trying to emphasize that I think they're important (albeit rather anachronistic in some sectors, but better to have them and not need them, than to need them and not have them). Fast forward to 2011, and what we're seeing it not only an attempt to slap the unions with major concessions, but to get rid of their collective bargaining rights altogether. The Republican Governor Scott Walker in Wisconsin told the public employees union that cuts had to be made, and there was simply no way around it (let's forget for the moment that he passed tax cuts worth almost $200 billion shortly after arriving in office). So, while the union members certainly didn't want to paying higher portions of their medical benefits and pension savings plans, union leadership was open to the idea as sort of an olive branch to "collective belt-tightening" and "we're all in this together". But, once it was clear that the public employees union was ready to play ball, the Governor came back with a play out of left field, 'We need to get rid of collective bargaining'. WHAT??!! Where did that come from? We said that we were ready to work with you on making cuts, why then would it be necessary to get rid of our collective bargaining? The reason is that the Wisconsin governor does not actually care as much about cutting the budget, as he does about breaking unions in general. This is occurring throughout the country, and it's unfortunate that Republicans are able to sway public opion on this by presenting it as a budget issue, which is completely absurd.