Monday, February 22, 2021

Euphemisms

The Comedic and Writing Genius - George Carlin

Something that has been irking me for the past decade or so has been the real push on the homogenizing and bleaching of the English language to squeeze out any ways of speaking that could be considered hurtful to someone.  Who it is that actually decides all of this is still up in the air.  Is there an international committee on what terms are appropriate and what terms aren’t?

When I was growing up, people, who used crutches to walk were called crippled.  As anyone knows, there have been iterations after iterations as to what you can refer to that person as, landing most recently on “disable bodied," or some derivation of this.  That was after terms such as handicapped, and other transitory expressions over the years.  

I think that everyone knows someone who is disabled and, thus, treats them with great respect.  But I don’t know how much good it does to keep shifting the terms around.  What happens is that terms get negative connotations after a while, and then people want to change the terms to extricate the people represented of those old connotations.

The same thing happened in Los Angeles with South Central.  That area, south of about Exposition Blvd, was always called “South Central” until sometime in about the 1990’s.  Then it was changed, again by whom I do not know, to “South L.A.”  That’s fine with me, but I really don’t know how much good it does to keep doing this.  

I was at a theatrical event about eight years ago and ran into an old girlfriend.  As she was talking to someone else, that person referred to a student who had some sort of developmental disability that cause their learning to be slowed in relation to the average student.  I really wasn’t a part of this conversation, so I don’t know exactly who they were discussing.  

But my former girlfriend quickly stopped the person who was speaking and said, “No, they’re now called _________”  fill in the blank, because I don’t remember what term she used.  But it was the flavor of the month club for that term.   She is part of a liberal family, and I do think these things kind of get generated from more liberal milieus somehow; newspapers, media, etc.

I thought to myself, “Is that really necessary?"  To change these terms as if they are ascending to a higher and higher, more neutral stances, when it does nothing to change the underlying conditions?  

The National Disability Authority has a page of “Appropriate Terms To Use,” and on that page, where they list former terms and then appropriate terms, one of the items is:

•Term No Longer In Use: “Normal”
•Term now Used:  “Non-Disabled”

“Non-Disabled?” I mean, you’ve got to be kidding me, right?  I do get the intention.  What is normal?  The answer is that normal is when one’s abilities (or whatever subject matters are being considered) are not causing daily problems for the individual.  But for some organization to tell others what is appropriate and what is not appropriate just seems a little assuming of them…assuming that they know what is better for society than the rest of us do.  

It feels to me like the same undertow that has pushed for the idea that everybody on every team gets trophies at the end of the year.  Is competition really that bad for everybody?  If one doesn’t learn to lose well, then one definitely never learns to win well.  

I have the distinctly contrasting experiences of having been on a totally winning team, and a totally losing team as a child.  My T-Ball team as a kid (Go Giants!) that won every game we played in Studio City Park.  No joke; we never lost one game.

I was also on a basketball team at my Junior High School in Sherman Oaks that lost almost every game we played, coming in last in our league.  I seriously think that it was mostly because of me.  I just couldn’t think fast enough of where to pass the damned basketball and always ended up blowing plays.  I gradually spent more and more time on the bench.  

So, it was fantastic to come in first in our T-Ball league, and it fucking sucked to come in last in our basketball league.  But what’s wrong with that?  I survived.  I didn’t need a basketball trophy.  We didn’t deserve it.  And I still played hoops after that.  

When I later ran twenty-six odd marathons, I always got a commemorative medallion for running them (as well as a t-shirt).  But I didn’t get a trophy.  There was always one male runner (Ethiopian or Kenyan), and one female runner (same two countries) who got a trophy and the $100,000 prize.  It was the joy of participating for me.  None of us mid-packers were going home with a damned trophy or a shiny new Mercedes Benz.  

So, what spurred this article on?  The other night, I showed a George Carlin routine to someone who had never seen it.  The Seven Dirty Words routine he did.  I had forgotten what a great performer and stand up comedian he was.  I mean, everyone knows that he’s one of the two or three greatest, along with Richard Prior and Lenny Bruce.  But jeez could Carlin’s linguistic surgical preciseness make me laugh!  

Well, we watched that routine, and about six others that evening on YouTube, and then I got to one called, “Euphemisms.”  Once the routine started, I recalled it, but it wasn’t one of the ones that had always stood out in my mind.  

But since I have been thinking about these issues of watering down the English language in a way to wring out ever last bit of authenticity to it in exchange for the somewhat diluted idea of protecting people’s feelings, this routine stood out to me as something that he had long seen coming WAY before I ever had.  

And as I watched his routine, I thought to myself how this man, clearly a liberal, was such a powerful commentator on things going on in our society.  And because he was respected in his field of entertainment, he was able to say these truths that make people nowadays cringe more than they would have back then because we have become conditioned to the modern P.C. self-editing that most people feel that they must do.  

And who knows if he’d be able to get away with saying these things now onstage.  This time-elapsed conditioning may have overtaken the threshold of what would be considered tolerable by now.  But clearly, this man was a very deep thinker, and a very good writer.  

I also remember Jerry Seinfeld being interviewed on some program where an interviewer asked him how comedy had changed in the last few decades.  So insightful as he has always been, Seinfeld answered that it was the audience who had changed more than the comedians.  He recalled that he had performed a joke about someone swiping through pages of their iPhone without a care in the world, like a gay French king.  

Seinfeld said that when he used to tell that joke, he would get big laughs.  But recently, in looking through some old jokes, he had rotated this story back into his routine as a sort of trusted old joke, but that it now confidently wouldn’t get the laughs it had gotten.  Instead, he said that he could feel that the air was thick with a slight haze of discomfort for his mentioning a gay French king.  Seinfeld thought, wow, things have really changed quickly.  

I doubt that ANY gay person would object to that joke.  But it’s the general audience, the general public, that has been made nervous of things that could appear to be in the realm of sensitive terms and is left not knowing how to react.  That’s some definite negative conditioning, and that’s sad to me that people can’t be their true selves anymore.  I mean, let a kid just be herself and say, “Dammit!  We should have won this year!”  And then she’ll play a little harder and as part of a greater team next year.    

I personally think that we should all chill out about this P.C. nonsense just a bit.  It’s fact that insecurity breeds insecurity, and so making these linguistic corrections all the time just bakes out the real “us” in all of it.  There is no reason to deliberately say hurtful things to others.  But at the same time, we should all have a bit of latitude to communicate in a more authentic way.  

The idea that around every corner could be another potential victim is just a little wearing, and the better way to protect those who might get teased due to a weakness or vulnerability is to always stand up for them and just not tolerate it in the actual moment; not with the homogenizing of words.  Teach your kids to be a friend to those who aren’t as equipped as they are.  

And to tell the truth about it, we’re all screwed up in some particular way or two, so nobody is excluded from being imperfect.  Just ask my basketball coach…and most of my friends.  George Carlin, genius observer and communicator that he was, knew exactly what he was talking about thirty years ago.  

If you want to see Carlin’s routine for yourself, just go to YouTube and search for “George Carlin Euphemisms”