I kind of liked this singing response to the recent Supreme Court decision upholding the right of the Westboro Baptist church to picket military funerals with signs bearing various vile and hateful messages. Like the singer, I agree with the Court’s decision, but find the Phelpsians quite vile.
Yesterday, President Obama named Jeremy Bernard, a gay man, as the White House Social Secretary. Bernard is the first male White House Social Secretary in history, apparently.
On Facebook, one of my older gay acquaintances posts that he “sees this as a positive step.” A mutual friend comments to the effect of well, of course! If she ever were in a position to need a social secretary, of course she would never hire anyone other than a gay man. To which the original poster, a gay man (who was in the closet for a large portion of his life), replied: “lol. It is logical, isn’t it? Who else can be such a great party planner.” (The comment thread then deteriorated into snobby comments attacking a nationally prominent leader of the “family values” crowd who is originally from our area, suggesting he would never attend a White House party now that a gay man was social secretary.)
Isn’t that rather stereotypical? And is the appointment of a gay man to such a stereotypically “gay” job really that great of an advancement for gay rights? Wouldn’t it be more impressive to appoint a gay man as, say, a campaign manager, rather than a job which has historically been filled by a woman?
I’m just puzzled by people who, if questioned, would certainly say that they want to end outdated stereotypes against gay men, and yet themselves perpetuate some of those very same stereotypes.
Back in the day, people believed that you could summon demons by simply speaking their names. They also believed that speaking certain words in certain orders would cause magic. But that was a long time ago, right? Surely no modern person believes that the mere uttering of some collection of syllables has magical powers, right? I’m not so sure.
See, tonight I went to see Randy Newman in concert. My date (a friend, not a “date date”) was a 29 year old graduate student originally from Boston. She’s fairly liberal, but not generally obnoxiously so; we tend to avoid talking politics to minimize unnecessary confrontations. She’s quite bright, but comes from a low-income, not well-educated family. Both in her youth and as a college student and an adult, she has spent a lot of time with African-Americans (she’s white), and so is fairly sensitive to racial issues.
Anyway, if you know of Randy Newman’s work, you probably know of his song “Rednecks.” In the course of making fun of both southerners and northerners for their attitudes towards black people, he uses what we now call the “N-word.” The southerners, who “don’t know their ass from a hole in the ground” are “keeping the N—-s down,” while the northerners call them “negroes” and let them be free… to stay in the cages of the ghettoes of Boston, New York, Chicago, Detroit, and elsewhere.
Before this song, my friend was enjoying the concert (though she had no idea who Randy Newman was before this evening). She was tapping her toes, swaying her hands, and smiling. As he played Rednecks, though, her attitude completely changed. She sank back in her seat, crossed her arms, and stopped moving entirely. And she stayed that way for the remainder of the concert. Stayed seated during his standing ovation. And BOY was she ticked at me because I hadn’t warned her (I thought about it, but honestly I thought she would either not come to the concert, or she would spend the entire concert waiting for THE song to be played, plus I wasn’t sure that he any longer played that song publicly).
Understand, now, that she accepted the basic explanation of the meaning of the song. She doesn’t think that Newman is racist, or was trying to demean black people with the song. It was just the use of the N-word that set her off, and that she finds extremely offensive in and of itself. She is also uncomfortable, she says, listening to hip-hop music which uses that word.
This naturally got me to thinking of the recent controversy over the bowdlerization of Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, by replacing the N-word with the word “slave,” which has very different meanings and emotional connotations.
Why does this word have such power? We used to have a lot of taboo words, words that weren’t said in “polite society.” By about 38 years ago, we only had seven. Today, most of the seven aren’t very taboo. I wouldn’t be socially ostracized for saying any of them at a dinner party, but for one, the “c-word.” Women really hate that word, viscerally. But that’s it. That and the N-word. You say either of those two words in most social circles today, the social circles of all the right-thinking people, the highly educated people, the proper people, and you WILL be ostracized. The context matters not. Quoting Mark Twain using the word to show how ignorant are the people using it is little different from telling some disgusting old racist joke.
Why? I really don’t understand it. I mean, I don’t use the word. I certainly agree that actually CALLING somebody that word is a horrible thing to do, and understand why using it in that sense is strongly socially condemned. I understand why it’s considered bad even for black people (mostly hip hop artists) to use the word in referring to themselves and their own social group. I certainly agree that using it in racist jokes is a very bad thing to do. Out of prudence, if no other reason, I make sure that the word never crosses my lips (I sang along with most of the song at the concert, but not those parts), because I have no desire to be ostracized and I recognize the hair-trigger sensitivity that most people have about it. But I don’t understand how the uttering of the word, in and of itself regardless of context, is and must be so universally condemned.
I can only see it as a modern manifestation of the very old phenomenon. You don’t say the true name of demons, because you don’t want them to appear in the room. Racism is our most powerful modern demon, and the N-word is its true name. All we’re missing is some mysterious hand movements to ward off the evil on the rare occasions when the word is said by some evil or thoughtless person.
Does this Charlie Chaplin movie show a time-traveller talking on a cell phone?
I apologize in advance for posting this after yesterday’s comment thread. I just can’t resist. I’m part Irish, you know, and can’t resist a little mischief from time to time.
I felt sufficiently guilty of my own failings in visiting elderly relatives with various degrees of dementia in the past that I couldn’t quite bring myself to comment on Amba’s last post, Why? Why?. I grew up knowing well many of my great-aunts, my maternal grandfather’s sisters. One was a little “off” her whole life, and the only thing I remember of her from my youth was trying to avoid her, because she would pinch my cheek every time I walked by, and just say very odd and random things. I only learned later that she was a fantastic cook, and I wish now that I had been more willing to face the craziness and follow her around in the kitchen. Another aunt, Le-le, was the only one of the sisters who married. Her husband died long before I was born, and she lived alone in her house for many years. I used to love to visit her house; she was fun to talk to, and she always gave me a cold bottle of Coca-Cola. But she had to go into a home for the last few years of her life. Teenage me, self-absorbed and uncomfortable with death and old people and hospitals, I think I managed to visit her just one time. I’ll always regret that.
My grandmother lived to be 93 years old (1903-1996), and was physically healthy as a horse the whole time. But the last 4 or 5 years she spent in a nursing home far from her own home, in the town where my aunt, her oldest daughter, lives. I was better about visiting granny; I would readily go whenever my mom suggested I go with her. But I was still so selfish; though passing through that town on a regular trip I made several times a year would have only taken me an hour or so out of my way, I think I stopped to visit her by myself only once or twice. I was in law school, then a young lawyer, but it wasn’t that I didn’t have the time — it just made me uncomfortable. She didn’t have full-blown Alzheimer’s. Men tend to have a fairly rapid onset of dementia, a short period of transition before getting pretty bad. Women are more likely to slowly slip down the path; that was my grandmother.
Her husband, my grandfather, was in some ways the opposite. His mind was strong until the end (he died in 1985, when I started college), but his body was confined to a bed for the last 7 years of his life. He had been a strong man all of his life, over 6 feet tall, a small business owner, a man’s man. But stomach troubles followed by a not-fully-successful surgery left him bedridden and on a colostomy bag for 7 long years, weak and dependent entirely on my grandmother for his care.
I did visit him fairly regularly, if only because he stayed at home the whole time, and I visited my granny often. But it was hard to see him like that, so far removed from the man I had once known, the man who would chew on a cigar as he gave me a penny to put in the weight and fortune machine.
Why do we tend to so avoid the old and frail and demented? Selfishness is a big reason, of course. Visiting those folks doesn’t promote our career or better our chances of getting good Christmas presents. We don’t really get the joy one gets from a stimulating conversation.
Visiting them also makes us uncomfortably aware of our own mortality. That could be me lying there, and probably will be one day. We don’t want to confront our own frailty and mortality, so we avoid reminders of it.
But I think there’s one more factor. None of us want to appear sick or weak to other people. We, and men especially, hide our weaknesses, carefully controlling the few people we allow to see them. Whether it’s FDR hiding his wheelchair from the public or a man racing to the far bathroom to vomit his guts out so his kids (and maybe his wife) won’t know how desperately sick he’s feeling, we have an almost instinctive fear of showing weakness. We know that WE would not want to be seen in a state of profound weakness.
So when we see a man like Jacques (whom I’ve never had the pleasure of meeting in real life), a strong and proud man, I think a part of us wonders whether it might not be more respectful to glance away, to choose not to invade his condition, to not view him in a condition in which we know we ourselves would not want to be viewed. This idea that we’re doing it for them joins together with all the selfish reasons for not visiting and takes just enough edge off the guilt we feel for not visiting to make it more tolerable than going to visit.
Of course, the thing is that how we feel when we DO wind up in that condition is probably far different than how we THINK we’d feel about it. Many men might think today that they’d rather be dead than confined to a bed, with a colostomy bag, for 7 years. But when they find themselves in that situation, they wind up clinging desperately to every ounce of life they can hold onto. We thus need to realize that what WE think we’d want in that person’s shoes is probably very different from what that person actually wants, today.
Elizabeth Scalia (aka The Anchoress) has a moving post at First Things about a man who visits his wife at the nursing home every day, even though she doesn’t remember him at all. Would that we all had the strength of character and depth of love that he has.
And God Bless all caretakers and all those who put aside their fears and squeamishness and selfishness to visit their friends and loved ones who need visiting.
Many thanks and blessings to the friends I have made through Annie and this blog! I hope each and every one of you have a wonderful Christmas.
Dr. Seuss no doubt intended for young people of my generation to side with the Lorax, who speaks for the trees. But clearly the Once-ler was not without his fans, including the young lad who grew up to invent this machine:
Cross-posted at StubbornFacts.us.
Wow. Ksenyia Simonova, of the Ukraine, is an incredible artist. Astounding how much emotion can be conveyed in just a few lines of sand. And so transitory; each image lasts, complete, for but a few short moments, before another is constructed on its foundation.
[Update: Oops, my bad. I knew this looked familiar, but I didn't look far enough back in the Ambiance prior posts. Randy spotted her work first, 3 weeks ago! Sorry about that, Randy! I was swamped that week and didn't have time to watch it then, then I saw somebody else post about it today at another blog.]
Ok, I asked Amba to go ahead and give me an account because I have a serious post I want to make, which I’ll do later this evening. But I decided to start off with something a bit more fun light-hearted. What’s the difference between a sex toy and a shower head?
Few political factions in the U.S. can lay great claim to intellectual consistency these days. Mutual hypocrisy rather abounds. When Democrats were uncivil to President Bush and called him a liar, Republicans were all about civility and decorum. When Republicans were uncivil to President Obama, roles switched, and Republicans spoke of speaking truth to power and the need to fight effectively, while Democrats suddenly rediscovered the need for civility and decorum.
But even among more civil debaters and on more specific issues, one can see some really inconsistent thinking. Let’s look at two issues.
Eugene Volokh brings us news of a court challenge to an Alabama statute which bans the sale of devices “useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs.” Prof. Volokh believes the Supreme Court will either decline to hear the case or will uphold the law, though it would seem fairly at odds with current jurisprudential trends, both in light of the Griswold case on contraceptives and certainly the more recent Lawrence case on privately conducted homosexual activity. The left-leaning commenters, as one would expect, decry the law as prudery, and speak in glowing terms of the right to be left alone, to do what one will in one’s own bedroom.
On the flip side, let’s look at shower heads and toilets. I’m informed that shower heads have, in fact, been used as a “marital aid” by some women, and a number of public conservation campaigns make discretely sexual suggestions to “shower with a friend!” to save water, so this seems rather analogous to the sex toy ban. Since 1994, EPA regulations have banned from sale all shower heads which put out more than 2.5 gallons per minute of water. The Energy Policy Act of 1992 also imposed a 1.6 gallons per flush limit on most residential toilets. Again, those on the left are largely in favor of these regulations, while those on the right are against.
So here’s the question. How can you have a constitutionally-protected “privacy interest” in buying “devices useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs,” but not have a constitutionally-protected privacy interest in the type of showerhead or toilet you buy for the single most private room of any house?