I’ve been having some trouble trying to figure out how I feel about this whole Ann Coulter thing.
For those of you out of the loop: Coulter, speaking at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) last weekend, said,
“I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that you have to go into rehab if you use the word ‘faggot,’ so I’m – so, kind of at an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards, so I think I’ll just conclude here and take your questions.”
Now, part of the reason I’m having trouble figuring out what to make of this is that coverage on my favorite blogs turned into a slapfast instead of a discussion.
Personally, I’ve never felt the same about the word “faggot” since I was in high school and a really great guy from GLSEN brought up the word and its possible etymology–namely, that gay men were used as kindling when burning witches. I don’t have the historical background to know how accurate that origin is, but it’s pretty chilling either way.
Interestingly, someone I respect a lot wrote an op-ed today, which includes the following:
“The complaints of an injured minority with a reputation for hypochondria are not as effective as the reprimand of unanmious condemnation. In order to adopt a more powerful rhetorical position, the HRC and its peers have to be willing to resist the temptation for didactic speeches about the power of words and school yard bullies.”
This is the first such criticism I’ve heard of HRC regarding this incident. Most of what I’ve heard, in fact, criticizes HRC for not focusing more on the actual word, calling it out specifically as unacceptable hate speech.
I think what bothers me most isn’t that Coulter (sort of) called John Edwards a faggot. Objectively, that’s just a wacky thing to say. What bothers me most is that a huge crowd of CPAC attendees applauded Coulter’s remarks. And I think we have to address the “power of words” to address why that’s unsettling.
It occurred to me that this has a lot in common with my feelings about Eminem, so I think I’ll go with that analogy. I personally think Eminem is a pretty talented guy. His voice is kind of nasal and I don’t think I could listen to a full album of his music, but he does have a knack for clever rhymes and has some really slick songs. He also writes some pretty intensely misogynistic and homophobic lyrics. Whether the guy is being ironic or sincere in these lyrics is entirely beside the point. What’s more important is that a significant chunk of his fan base (adolescent boys) doesn’t make a distinction between irony and sincerity. Instead, these kids just hear misogyny and homophobia.
Similarly, Ann Coulter isn’t stupid. She has no real reason to call John Edwards a faggot, and admitted that she used it more as a schoolyard taunt than a homophobic slur. You can even make the argument that she was using the Isaiah Washington hoopla as an analogy, and didn’t make her full comments about Edwards (whatever they would have been; from her comparison, we can only know that they would have been inflammatory, and may indeed have included different hate speech) because she doesn’t want to get sent to “rehab.” But that part doesn’t really matter. Had she said
“I was going to have a few comments on the other Democratic presidential candidate, John Edwards, but it turns out that when you use inflammatory language in public, like Isaiah Washington, your agents send you to rehab, so I’m – so, kind of at an impasse, can’t really talk about Edwards, so I think I’ll just conclude here and take your questions.”
…the crowd’s reaction would have been a lot different. Instead, she used “faggot” as shorthand, and the crowd went crazy.
Here, then, are my problems with this whole mess:
1) “Faggot” has evolved. It’s no longer just shorthand for “person who deserves to be kindling” or “effeminate man.” (Although it certainly still is shorthand for the latter, and not just for schoolyard bullies.) It’s now also shorthand for a larger incident–one that conservatives use as an example of how out of hand “political correctness” has gotten–and the punchline for a very public joke.
2) A huge crowd of conservatives reacted like that was the greatest joke a person could have made.
I don’t care what Ann Coulter said. Whatever. She says vile things pretty much every time she opens her mouth. It doesn’t surprise me at this point. I do care that people still embrace the vile things she says.