Feb 19, 2010

The Double Standard of Offensiveness [No Offense]

In private life most of us use bad words and are sometimes casually, unthinkingly, derogatory about people whose problems are not their own fault. So why, when scandals over loose comments go public, do we all pretend to be outraged?

A reporter was fired for casually referring to a blind motivational speaker as a "blind fucker." This was then spun, by the blind motivational speaker's PR company, as some great big tragedy, equivalent to said reporter kicking partially-sighted orphan toddlers down flights of stairs.

Rahm Emanuel called a plan by liberals to campaign against democrats who were not sufficiently liberal "fucking retarded." Sarah Palin called for him to be fired.

In both cases, everyone was officially appalled. Which is, frankly, ridiculous. Let he or she who has never let the word 'retard' escape their lips cast the first stone. In time, as society gets more tolerant of disability and difference, the cultural impetus behind shocking, casual offensiveness like the examples above will hopefully die away. For the moment, it's completely unreasonable to expect people to maintain a perfect record of political correctness in conversations and emails.

If either of the two men had used the terms in, say, a published article or a speech then it would be a different matter. And it's right that they had to apologize. It's not right for the rest of us to purse our lips and stare pointedly as if they're the only ones.

Newsrooms and political offices foster gallows humor. Some of it is offensive. Sometimes it will leak. So what?

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