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Language discussion in Letters section
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lysander
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PostPosted: Sun Jun 16, 2013 9:04 pm    Post subject: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

Dear Larry and the rest of the editorial staff,

I am grateful for the fellow tape-oppers who chose to write in and express their dismay at the use of the "R" word in a recent issue, which is referred to in the Letters section of the most recent issue (95). Their sense of consideration speaks to everything that is excellent about this community.

Larry, your response in the Letters section was totally unacceptable. Using that word is not simply "swearing." If you can find me an example in a back issue where someone used the "N" word and you thought it was cool to leave it in, I might take your point. That is the appropriate analogy. The word refers to a segment of our society that has a history of forced institutionalization and sterilization.

People need to be educated about this. You need to be educated about this.

Thanks for reading,
Wes Folkerth (Lysander)
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digitaldrummer
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 3:47 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

I think it's good people are calling this out too and I almost agree... but...

If anyone needs education, its probably Paul Leary. I don't really blame Larry and the gang as they are reporting what was said in the interviews. That's the job. Nobody likes criminal lawyers but someone has to do it. I appreciate the unedited interviews or at least what appears to be (or maybe I'm naive and its all edited anyway...?).

After you read the interview, did you want to be buddies with Paul Leary? probably not... well now you know. Dave Grohl drops an F-bomb every 3 seconds - don't take him over to Grandma's house.

I sometimes find some of the interviewees remarks offensive too but it doesn't necessarily make me want to read the magazine any less. Again, I appreciate the unedited content. I don't have to repeat it or propagate it in any way if I don't like it or agree with it. I'll take this over censorship though.

Hopefully TapeOp won't have to ship in a brown wrapper? Embarassed

Mike
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lysander
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:25 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

Thanks for your post, Mike,

First point: I find it impossible to imagine anyone's grandma who wouldn't absolutely fucking love Dave Grohl. I just can't.

Second point: I don't have a problem with profanity.

Third point: Editing and censorship are not the same thing. Don't conflate them. Editing is the act of preparing a text for publication. It often involves the exercise of critical judgment. It's like being a mastering or mix engineer. Tame Impala, yes -- but Dave Fridmann, too, right?

For me, censorship is not the issue here. Of course it isn't. Sensitivity is. I've been a member of the TOMB for almost ten years now, and I've learned a ton here. Thanks to Larry and the moderators, this has been possible. Thank you, Larry, and everybody else involved in the administration of the site, if you read this. I've been reading Larry's essays and contributions for a long time as well -- they're always informative and often surprisingly inspiring. But don't allow yourself to be used as the conduit for the dissemination of such gross insensitivity as I saw in the magazine the other month. Let your interviewees talk, and preserve their voices, great, exactly, but be real, and call them on shit like that when they need it. Don't be like the rest of the media and trade access for complicity.
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lysander
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PostPosted: Mon Jun 17, 2013 8:27 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

Thanks for your post, Mike,

First point: I find it impossible to imagine anyone's grandma who wouldn't absolutely fucking love Dave Grohl. I just can't.

Second point: I don't have a problem with profanity.

Third point: Editing and censorship are not the same thing. Don't conflate them. Editing is the act of preparing a text for publication. It often involves the exercise of critical judgment. It's like being a mastering or mix engineer. Tame Impala, yes -- but Dave Fridmann, too, right?

For me, censorship is not the issue here. Of course it isn't. Sensitivity is. I've been a member of the TOMB for almost ten years now, and I've learned a ton here. Thanks to Larry and the moderators, this has been possible. Thank you, Larry, and everybody else involved in the administration of the site, if you read this. I've been reading Larry's essays and contributions for a long time as well -- they're always informative and often surprisingly inspiring. But don't allow yourself to be used as the conduit for the dissemination of such gross insensitivity as I saw in the magazine the other month. Let your interviewees talk, and preserve their voices, great, exactly, but be real, and call them on shit like that when they need it. Don't be like the rest of the media and trade access for complicity.
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lysander
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 9:58 am    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

After some thought, here's a simple editorial protocol that might help (sorry if this double-posts, I'm not sure why it's happening):

Profanity is like harmonic distortion. It has its uses. Slurs, racial slurs, ethnic slurs, cultural slurs, however, are like digital clipping. The signal has crossed a threshold and has become harsh, ugly, and unpleasant. You don't want to send an ME a mix that is clipping. When you hear someone else doing it, you explain that to them that it's not good to do that.

So an issue came out that had some clipping - it's not a big deal, but you obviously want to try to avoid it in the future.
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fossiltooth
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 12:03 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

Hi Wes,

The best place to send these kinds of editorial comments is to Larry's email directly:

http://www.tapeop.com/contact/email/larry-crane

Hopefully, this conversation here will draw more attention to the fact that this word is becoming far too loaded to use in any context. But the truth is that this is a recent development. To pretend that the efforts to stigmatize all uses of this word have already fully permeated the culture in 2013 would be disingenuous.

Most people who use the term in a casual sense innocently assume that it is a de-fanged former medical term, much like "idiot" or "moron" are. Many others use it in a way that has nothing to do with the original meaning, such as the kids do with the word "ridiculous" these days (as Paul Leary did here.) In slang, the word is often used interchangeably with "surprising", "great", or "crazy" in the positive sense. Just look through Urban Dictionary. Some people actually think it's still a medical term. (Fact is, until the DSM-5 was published in May 2013, it technically was.)

The comparison to the "N word" is a tricky one, because unlike the "R word", the N word is already so thoroughly stigmatized in our culture that no one would use it in an interview unless he were either a blatant racist or involved in certain corners of urban Hip Hop subculture. (Tape Op doesn't interview many of either.)

But even if a direct comparison really did work, I have to admit that if Tape Op did interview a blatant racist who was dropping N-bombs in the middle of interviews, then I'd like to know that about them. (Either that, or I'd like the publishers could decide that the subject wasn't worthy of a feature story after all. But I'm just not sure if I'd blacklist a user of the R-word in the same way in 2013.)

The campaign to stigmatize this word outside the realm of real cognitive disabilities is now five years old. But I only know that because I just found out about the campaign this year when it made front page news for the very first time in October of 2012 and I looked it up for myself. (And this is coming from the kind of guy who likes to study the evolution of language!)

Just because a good case can be made against the use of the word, it doesn't mean that everyone has got the memo yet. In fact, one member of this community uses a quote of mine in his signature that uses the word. I had written that sentence several years ago, and never thought twice about it, because at the time, there was no social stigma attached to it. (It was also still a technically appropriate term according to the DSM-IV) And that was just a handful of years ago! Language does not change overnight.

If this campaign is to be truly successful, more letters like this one will probably be required in the years to come. So thanks for this one. Personally, I've never been 100% convinced that it makes sense to stigmatize words too strongly, because from what I've seen that only makes them more powerful -- not less. (Better I think, to stigmatize attitudes and actions instead.) But with that said, if someone who this word affects thinks I should stop using it completely, then who am I to argue?

It's a word I do not plan to use in the future. But for the time being, I don't think it makes sense to demonize folks who innocently use the word in a non-derogatory sense. At this time, gentle reminders are more far appropriate. The truth is that language is slow to change, and this is a fairly new campaign, only recently getting off the ground in the popular culture. Keep on getting the message out there. Because as of today, it still needs to spread.

lysander wrote:
Second point: I don't have a problem with profanity.


To be fair: Yes you do! Smile If we're being sticklers about language, then it's reasonable to point out that "profanity" means "abusive, vulgar, or irreverent language." Does that not describe how you feel about the word?
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chris harris
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 2:21 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

This is very interesting. However, I'm not going to refer to the words "retard" or "retarded" as "The R Word".... To me, this seems ridiculous. I understand that the term can be and has been used pejoratively. But, the difference between "retard" and "The N word" is that both before and after the common and offensive misuse of the word "retard", there existed a reasonable and accepted non-offensive use for the term. The same cannot be said for "the N word".

People have also (offensively) used the word "slow" to refer to people of limited mental capacity. So, sure we could find other ways to describe things that are "slow" so that we don't offend anyone. But, the word itself isn't offensive. It's only offensive in inappropriate contexts.

So, like Justin, I'm happy to avoid using the terms "retard" or "retarded" in certain contexts, if people are offended and my use of the terms is insensitive. And, I think that this is a fair discussion to have. I'm also very interested in the evolution of language.

But, the words "retard" and "retarded" still have completely acceptable and non-offensive uses. So, I think it's a little insulting to me, as an adult, to be expected to refer to them as "the R word".
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dfuruta
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 2:38 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

Would just like to point out that there are plenty of snappy phrases one can use instead which don't happen to further reinforce the cultural "othering" of an already-oppressed group of people, to wit: "dipshit", "fuckhead", "stupid motherfucker", "poop-head"...

Once one becomes aware of the fact that a particular word targets a marginalized group of people (and, seriously, is it that hard to tell?), one's got to be a real dipshit to keep using it instead of something else (see what I did there?). And, it's never a bad thing to educate people - otherwise, how will things change? Some folks have their heads too far up their asses to figure things out for themselves.

As far as the "it makes the words more powerful" argument: do you really want to be that asshole who says something about "retards" and then realizes you've made someone with a developmental difference feel like they don't belong in the community? This isn't just about words; it's about excluding real, live people from our scenes (and, on a larger scale, our society) by making them feel attacked, judged, or inferior in the eyes of others. That's not a very nice thing to do - these words already have all the power they need to make people feel unwelcome.

Also worth pointing out that slurs are not necessarily profanity, and vice-versa. No one's going to think you're swearing if you say, "I got gypped!", but you most certainly dropped a racial slur.

So, props, lysander.
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lysander
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 2:39 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

Hi Justin,

I read you over at SonicState all the time. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I plead guilty to having a double-standard of sorts when it comes to profanity.

I read the Paul Leary article when it first came out, and remember wincing at the time. Of course his repeated use of the word was unintentionally offensive -- as you note, most people aren't aware that the word has been acquiring a strong stigma in recent years. Especially if you grew up hearing it and using it casually from time to time. I know I did. So I just passed over it.

Then in the next issue I saw that someone else had had the same response I did, and wrote in about it. I looked him up, and apparently he's playing with Guster these days. That took courage. The dude stood up for what he believed. I never listened to that band much, but I'll be supporting them now, for sure.

As you would be correct to assume, I have a child with a cognitive disability. I love him like crazy, and am a honey badger in his defence. It was not my intention to demonize anyone in my comments above (and if that was the effect, I apologize to you, Larry) -- on the contrary, it was my intention that my son and people like him not be allowed to be casually demonized that compelled me to write here.

As for your claim that words might be dissociated from attitudes and actions, I am not totally convinced. I have taught Renaissance English Lit and Cultural Studies at the university level for over 20 years, and have thought seriously about that issue for most of my adult life. But that's a whole different conversation.

Anyway, I'm happy to let the issue drop. Though I will end by quoting Mandy Patinkin, who once said, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
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JGriffin
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 3:02 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

chris harris wrote:


But, the words "retard" and "retarded" still have completely acceptable and non-offensive uses.


That's so gay.
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chris harris
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 3:07 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

dwlb wrote:
chris harris wrote:


But, the words "retard" and "retarded" still have completely acceptable and non-offensive uses.


That's so gay.


That's my point. It's the context that makes those words offensive, not the words themselves. If we're having a discussion about the offensive use of the word "gay", I'm not likely to refer to it as "the G word".

I'm not arguing in favor of the offensive use of the word "retarded".
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lysander
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 3:15 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

Hi Justin,

I read you over at SonicState all the time. Thanks for your thoughtful reply. I plead guilty to having a double-standard of sorts when it comes to profanity.

I read the Paul Leary article when it first came out, and remember wincing at the time. Of course his repeated use of the word was unintentionally offensive -- as you note, most people aren't aware that the word has been acquiring a strong stigma in recent years. Especially if you grew up hearing it and using it casually from time to time. I know I did. So I just passed over it.

Then in the next issue I saw that someone else had had the same response I did, and wrote in about it. I looked him up, and apparently he's playing with Guster these days. That took courage. The dude stood up for what he believed. I never listened to that band much, but I'll be supporting them now, for sure.

As you would be correct to assume, I have a child with a cognitive disability. I love him like crazy, and am a honey badger in his defence. It was not my intention to demonize anyone in my comments above (and if that was the effect, I apologize to you, Larry) -- on the contrary, it was my intention that my son and people like him not be allowed to be casually demonized that compelled me to write here.

As for your claim that words might be dissociated from attitudes and actions, I am not totally convinced. I have taught Renaissance English Lit and Cultural Studies at the university level for over 20 years, and have thought seriously about that issue for most of my adult life. But that's a whole different conversation.

Anyway, I'm happy to let the issue drop. Though I will end by quoting Mandy Patinkin, who once said, "You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means."
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GooberNumber9
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 3:30 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

If there is any question about whether the r-word is highly offensive to at least a portion of society, there is an entire web page devoted to that:
http://www.r-word.org/
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Bro Shark
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 4:18 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

chris harris wrote:
But, the words "retard" and "retarded" still have completely acceptable and non-offensive uses. So, I think it's a little insulting to me, as an adult, to be expected to refer to them as "the R word".


Not really. "Retard" is a verb, used in music to connote slowing tempo. It is not used much in modern, every-day language. Its common usage, as a noun, is not an actual word. It is a slang pejorative only, like "nigger."

I want to back up the original post, which attempts to make a valid distinction between innocuous foul language (fuck, shit, piss, motherfucker etc) and slurs towards groups that have faced historical disadvantages (fag, retard, etc) I think that's what this post is about, and it's a good post.
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JGriffin
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PostPosted: Tue Jun 18, 2013 4:28 pm    Post subject: Re: Language discussion in Letters section Reply with quote

chris harris wrote:
dwlb wrote:
chris harris wrote:


But, the words "retard" and "retarded" still have completely acceptable and non-offensive uses.


That's so gay.


That's my point. It's the context that makes those words offensive, not the words themselves. If we're having a discussion about the offensive use of the word "gay", I'm not likely to refer to it as "the G word".

I'm not arguing in favor of the offensive use of the word "retarded".


My point is that my use of the word "gay" is no more acceptable in the "non-offensive" context in which I used it.
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