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To those who were offended...

@jeeemerson god. Pretty soon we won't be able to tell a knock knock joke, for fear of hurting a doors feelings. STFU

That's an offended tweeter's response to my previous post, "The "gay" Dilemma: If it's a joke, what does it mean?" -- except that it's not really a response, exactly, since it doesn't address anything I actually, you know, said.¹ It's a tweet. Still, it expresses a fairly common attitude among those who are easily offended that others take offense to things they are not offended by: Why are people hurting my feelings by getting their feelings hurt over what I say or what I like? So, to those whose feelings have been bruised in this way, I want to say: Don't stop whining. Don't stop making it all about you. Keep on complaining that your sensibilities are being hurt because you feel that other people should not express opinions other than your own. How dare other people claim that things you honestly feel are funny are not only not funny to them, but maybe even painful or insulting!?! What if that's not even what you meant at all? Just remember, when your feelings are hurt by somebody who says you've hurt their feelings, it's all their fault for being so sensitive to what words mean and being so rude as to tell you. Blame them. You shouldn't have to accept responsibility for what you do or say or laugh at. That's just not fair!

But seriously, folks...

Several of yesterday's commenters mentioned comedic treatments of the anti-gay epithets "fag" and "faggot" on "South Park" ("The F Word") and Louis CK's series, "Louie," which is where the clip above comes from. A group of comedians are discussing the implications of using the word "faggot" in Louis's stage act. Louis asks Rick, the only gay comic at the table, if he thinks he shouldn't use the word. Rick says, "I think you should use whatever word you want... but are you interested to know what it might mean to gay men?"²

The account he gives of the word's etymology (that it refers to homosexuals being burned like witches) is of dubious validity, but that's not the point. It's not like Louis doesn't use the word is an insult. And it really doesn't matter all that much if he "means it" or not. He doesn't have the power to change what the word means to other people in his audience. (That's what the "South Park" kids try to do with "fag" in "The F Word" by simply deciding to use it as an insult for noisy Harley riders and then trying to get the dictionary definition changed accordingly.) Apparently, until now, Louis -- or the version of him in this show -- just hadn't given his use of the word much thought before.

Can he get laughs without using the word? Should he try? There's no indication that Louis CK changes his act. What's important is that he wants us to see that he's thought about it. And that he's willing to take personal responsibility for using it or not using it.¹

We live in a time when public figures issue non-apology apologies "if anyone was offended." The fault is not with the person who actually said or did something that he/she may or may not now regret, it's with those who took offense to what he/she did or said.

So, for the whiners who complain that they ought to be able to use whatever slurs they feel like using, I remind you: You are. If you want to use "gay" or "faggot" as pejoratives, you go right ahead. Nobody's stopping you. You can use them to mean "homosexual," or as insults (or both), or you can use them as friendly mock-insults that don't really mean "homosexual" (just "lame" or "cheesy" or "unmanly"). You can use them as terms of purest affection. Nobody's denying you your First Amendment Rights According to Dr. Laura.³ But the words do have a real, recent history, and one right you are not guaranteed is that somebody else won't get pissed off at you for how you use them, in the context in which you use them.

And if that offends you, then you are such a prawn. No, of course I don't mean it that way.

- - - -

¹ A quick recap of what I did say in that post:

1) I saw the first trailer for "The Dilemma," which featured this joke near the beginning: "Electric cars are gay. I mean, not homosexual, but my-parents-are-chaperoning-the-dance gay." It struck me as a tired old formula joke we've heard many times before over the last 20 years or so ("It's a masterpiece -- NOT!") and I was a little surprised to see used so prominently to promote a movie in 2010 and making Vince Vaughn look really old. It wasn't, however, the only joke in the trailer that I didn't think played very well.

2) CNN anchor Anderson Cooper said on TV that he was disturbed Universal thought this particular joke was a good way to sell the Ron Howard movie (which won't be out until January). Universal apparently agreed, withdrew the trailer, and substituted another one (which I've also seen, and think is funnier).

3) Next, I offered some thoughts about why this particular joke (variations on which, as others have noted, have been used in recent movies such as "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "The Hangover") hit a sour note at this particular time. It might have something to do with recent news accounts of gay teen suicides, harassment and gay-baiting by politicians. It could be that it just wasn't a very good joke, and it wasn't delivered or presented very well in the context of the trailer. (NOTE: We are not talking about judging the movie by the trailer because the movie is not out yet. Our discussion of this particular joke is, therefore, only about its use in the trailer as a piece of marketing. We do not know if the joke was to underline that Vaughn's character is a jerk, but that doesn't matter because that wasn't the context in which it was first shown to the public.)

4) I offered some background on the evolution of the word "gay" in the "not homosexual" sense, and how it has taken on other meanings -- uncool, unmanly, lame (all insults stemming from the "homosexual" definition) -- and even (ironically/satirically) as a post-postmodern non sequitur ("Traffic is so gay!"). None of these newer meanings derives from the original meaning (as in lighthearted and carefree); they all exist in relationship to the "homosexual" meaning -- as Vaughn said in the trailer.

5) Finally, I pointed out that nobody had claimed that Universal or the filmmakers should be prohibited from making this or any other joke in their movie or their trailer. Universal made a business decision to substitute a different trailer. How or if they use the joke in the finished movie will depend on whether they think it helps or hurts the movie's financial prospects.

² For historical perspective: After a trip to Kenya in 1979, Richard Pryor stopped using the word "nigger" in his act. Earlier in his career, he felt the word gave him power, but later he wrote that he regretted "ever having uttered the word 'nigger' on a stage or off it. It was a wretched word. Its connotations weren't funny, even when people laughed.

"To this day I wish I'd never said the word. I felt its lameness. It was misunderstood by people. They didn't get what I was talking about. Neither did I. ... So I vowed never to say it again."

Here's a clip on the subject from "Richard Pryor Live on the Sunset Strip" (1982) -- just more evidence that meaning comes from context:

³ "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart" -- "The Hurt Talker":

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