Roseanne, Samantha Bee, and you & me, with apologies to the Bee Gees. (*warning contains explicit language on purpose)
Sticks and stone may break our bones, but this week we learned words can derail a career. You would be living in a vacuum if you haven’t heard by now about Roseanne Barr showing her ass in a tweet. She continues to be in the news cycle because people are reading through her entire Twitter history. It’s like a wreck, they can’t seem to look away. She hasn't been this relevant in years. Was what she said bad? Yes. Is this new? No. If you've ever seen or heard her, she basically made a career of flaming people. I don’t think anyone should be surprised, but I’m glad people are reacting. I’m also happy people are engaging in conversations about it. This is not an easy subject and it’s a dialogue that’s long overdue, if for no other reason, I welcome the discourse.
It sounds weird to say I’m pleased, but I’ll use the term because I could not find the ‘right’ word for what I’m feeling; it’s close though. It’s a better alternative in my mind, than shutting out those who don’t agree with us. More on that in a bit.
Then there’s the case of Samantha Bee and the “C” word. How much power can we give a word, or even the unspeaking (yes, it’s in the dictionary) of one? It seems to rank up there with the “N” word for some people. I offer up the perspective that how you react to this situation, is about your viewpoint/ affiliation, and your relationship with the word. We give power to certain words, I’m not a fan of the word “cunt”, but it’s because I grew up with the negative association of it. I lead a workshop where we discussed the word “pussy”. I asked the women in the group to tell me what words and behavior they associated with their experience with the word. None of them had positive connotations. I said, “you all have one, it’s precious and part of you. Why would you associate your genitalia with something less than or bad?” My son, on the other hand, said he does not find the association to be relevant, in that if he calls someone a “dick” he doesn't feel he’s devaluing his body part. It’s a nonstarter for him. WE, individually, give words power and we accept or denounce the meaning. It’s what we perpetuate, allow and choose that becomes the norm. Again, your relationship with the word matters.
Regarding the viewpoint/ affiliation, those who aren't a fan of Samantha Bee and her brand of humor, or feel an allegiance to Trump (any of them) are appalled. Those who voted the other way, love most late night talk show monologues are hollering about freedom of speech, and canceling out this occurrence by bringing up Ted Nugent, Hilary Clinton and a White House visit. The latter is the very popular ‘two wrongs make it justifiable’ argument, I’m sure you’re all familiar with it. Perhaps I have less sympathy about this, not because I lean one way or the other politically. It’s more so because it was intentional and vetted by several decision makers affiliated with the show. It was taped, edited and aired. It’s not just about Samantha. As far as the word, in this case I could not care less.
“Words are free. It’s how you use them that may cost you.” -Rev J. Martin
Contrary to popular notion, Freedom of Speech doesn't mean you can just say whatever you want. There are limits which are well documented and highly debated. There are also repercussions, hence public apologies and canceled shows. The conversations around these events are messy, uncomfortable and sometimes not productive. They are also necessary. Since the Presidential election there has been so much divisiveness in the United States; the rest of the world isn't immune either. Not a day goes by without people purging their contact lists, unfriending those who don’t agree with them and shutting out those “other” people. So much tribalism has turned us into siloed echo chambers. We are so engrossed by the things that effect us, that we seldom consider what we affect. How else will we ever come together if we ignore and disregard others? What’s happening to responsibility and accountability? Do we just feel justified and righteous as long as our ‘friends’ agree and root us on? Does it feel good? Are we good? Yay for our side, “THOSE” people suck!
So back to Roseanne and Samantha… is one insult worse than the other? Is a racist comment more egregious than a sexist slur? Is the freewheeling, mindless spewing of a social media blip more wretched compared to snarky, nefariously crafted repartee? At the end of the day, will it cause disaster, change lives, minds and hearts? Some may argue it already has and others may debate that it’s all rubbish. I offer this, as long as we continue to exchange words in a meaningful and thoughtful manner, regardless of consensus, we’re better off than we've been in a while.
“A word is dead when it is said some say. I say it just begins to live that day” ~Emily Dickinson
Keep talking, keep debating, keep asking the hard questions. Use words, lots of them, colorful, flamboyant, eloquent and mellifluous ones! Words matter, expressing ideas and communicating means we’re still connected and that means something!