Wednesday, July 8, 2009

FCC has "Little" problem

Joan Rivers has always been hysterically offensive and will poke fun at herself as much as she does others. Donald Trump is just offensive and everyone makes fun of him. I even risked insulting a dog when poking fun at Trump.
funny pictures
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Together, Rivers and Trump have managed to upset a small - make that "little" - segment of the population by using the word "midget" on "Celebrity Apprentice." As a result, there has been an uprising a subversive move towards having the word banned from television.
As a writer, I know how important word choices can be. I also recognize that verbiage is only 10 percent of spoken communication. Intonation, intent, content, and body language all contribute to nuances of messages. Being politically correct is getting tiresome and this isn't the first time I've addressed the issue.
Banning a word from television doesn't make it any less or more offensive. In fact, such a ban is the technological equivalent of burning books. Instead of prohibiting language, discussion should be encouraged in order to educate the masses. Avoiding a word doesn't make it go away. The government, in this case the FCC, is not the authority that I want dictating public verbiage.
Certain words, in certain circumstances, uttered by certain people can make a word bad, funny, or just awkward.
I've heard the "n" word --WAIT --Trying to be politically correct here is an oxymoron!
Correction: I've heard the word "nigger" used by racists and felt disgusted at hearing it. I've laughed hearing the word spoken by black comedians in jokes or scripts. I've also rolled my eyes when hearing my own grandfather use the word, not as an epithet, but only because he was born at the cusp of the 20th century and it defined his culture. Sure I scolded him, was embarrassed for him, but I also recognized he meant no harm.
Sometimes efforts to be politically correct can backfire, such as the case when Houston's director of affirmative action called a councilman a midget instead of a dwarf and the public official took offense. The employee giggled when she made the mistake, which seemed to add insult to injury. Perhaps, the giggle was a natural reaction to an embarrassing mistake. Immature maybe, but not derogatory.
At other times, political correctness can move the harm from one set of toes, and cause someone else's to fall victim. A "little person" in El Paso was interviewed regarding the proposed ban. Daniel "Tiny Titi" Moreno finds the term "midget" offensive. He doesn't mind being called tiny but endorses the ban. He also has the nickname "Titi." At first glance, I was personally offended at what I thought was one of the seven words banned on television, made famous by George Carlin. Titi is actually pronounced TEE-tee, which I am not sure is any better than my first impression.
I was a young child when I learned that midgets and dwarfs were not the same. Dwarfism is actually a condition causing disproportion in a person's body. Generally the head is average in size but the body is smaller, with specific attributes. A midget is a miniature version - proportionate, just smaller. A pygmy is even smaller than a midget. These are real terms with genuine definitions. They didn't develop from slang and the term "little people" has emerged within the current generation as the preferred terminology.
I've heard people stumble over the words in an effort to be polite in describing a little person, ultimately shrugging or nodding, indicating no harm, no foul.
It is hard enough to get people to play by the rules, but when the rules are changed mid-game, we have to offer some sort of allowance. When I was a kid, I was called "crippled" because I walked with crutches. I knew people didn't mean harm, but the word made me cringe. Handicapped became the choice word until "disabled" became the norm; and now, the term has graduated to "physically challenged." A person is no longer mentally retarded, nor do they have "Downs Syndrome," or any other brain injury. Instead, they are now "mentally challenged."
Increasing vocabulary and expanding our ability to describe our fellow humans is a plus. However, the most mundane word can be twisted to invoke hatred.
1) What is that? - an innocent question about an object
2) Did you see that? - an accusation of something inappropriate
3) She thinks she's all that! - a derogatory comment
The issue is not words, but what people are actually saying. We must stop "hearing" and start "listening."

1 comment:

  1. Iris,
    I great job on this article. I do think words matter.
    Your following quote is important:
    "Certain words, in certain circumstances, uttered by certain people can make a word bad, funny, or just awkward."

    As a corporate trainer I'm always on the look out for great articles, photos, You Tube clips and also talks from TED-Technology, Entertainment and Design.

    Recently on TED I found a perfect clip that had everything I wanted. It was "on the mark", short, and at times really funny. The only problem is that at one point they have a visual and it uses the "F word." Now, perhaps because I'm a female I find this word usually offensive, but in this case I do find it appropriate and actually funny.

    It's too bad the creators chose to include this word but because of this one tiny word I'm going to chose to not show this talk when I teach this topic. Call me "old school" but it's simply not professional to expose even adults to a word that could cause some folks any type of discomfort.

    Iris, thanks again for this piece.