My minor incident follows on the heels of the incident with Isaiah Washington and his use of the word "faggot" on the set of the TV show Grey's Anatomy. While TV and the Internet has been roundly criticizing him (and his later attempts to cover his tracks), something seemed to be missing to me.
I will admit it, I no longer watch American Idol until toward the end. This year, there was an incident that caused me to watch the clip in question. I'm talking about Simon Cowell's very personal attack on one of the auditioners. He stepped beyond merely challenging this person's singing ability and attacked him personally, by going after his physical attributes. Of course, there has been some outcry about it, but still something seemed to be missing to me.
These incidents are not isolated nor unrelated. And finally, I realized each incident - all of them - involved hate speech. That was what as missing in all the discussions about what had occurred. No one really seemed to want to say that Isaiah or Simon had engaged in hate speech, but that's exactly what it was. To me, by attacking someone with something that is either a part of their life (i.e. being gay) or something they have absolutely have no control over (i.e. basic physiognomy) hate speech is being used.
Again, Isaiah attacked another person's sexuality and core of existence. Simon, rather than going after talent or lack of it, attacked someone about their physical characteristics, and in the process brought their core being into question. . And while there has been some outrage over both, (and possibly leading to Isaiah's loss of job) no one is talking about what this kind of tolerance does to us as people and as a nation. These two incidents are just symptomatic of something deeper and more insidious. Even though there might be some disgust or upset over what was said, the lack of immediate, decisive reaction and immediate decisive action, says a lot that those of us disgusted over what is happening really need to be concerned about.
In what really wasn't so long ago, Michael Richards followed in the footsteps of Mel Gibson, and carried a rant into front page headlines. A powerful writer/blogger at Proceed At Your Own Risk (which is currently closed for renovations) wrote a tremendous article about intolerance and language. I've posted this before and completely unapologetic, part of it is reprinted here:
"Politicians like Rick Santorum and religious leaders like James Dobson openly and proudly use words that are painfully insulting to gay Americans. Senator Allen laughingly calls a college student "Macaca." Rappers and Reggae singers celebrate rape, murder, racism and homophobia. We pretend that it's humor, Biblical or a political statement, when in fact it is hate language that pollutes our society and even worse the minds and hearts of our children.When we tolerate any of this kind of behavior, we are saying - especially to our youth - that it is acceptable. That it will cause some "discomfort," or upset - but it is still tolerated. I no longer want to be any part of tolerating hate speech of any kind. Frankly, life is too short, and people are too valuable for that. I want to support that which builds up, not tear down.
Rather than uncompromisingly condemn this behavior and language as disgusting, we debate it. We look for ways to explain it away and allow it.
The collective outrage over Michael Richards' "nigger" tirade rings hollow in a society were politicians are applauded for comparing homosexuality to bestiality, where millions of voters are indifferent to Macaca, where hate-spewing rappers, black and white are given record contracts and Grammy Awards, where openly homophobic Reggae singers are booked for concerts and religious leaders who use words like fag and abomination to describe their fellow Americans are allowed tax exemptions.
Partly it's because as a nation we have perverted and trivialized the value of free speech. Neither the Bible nor the Constitution were intended to justify intolerance and bigotry. Michael Richards is symptomatic of a badly damaged society. Tolerance is not an absolute; we do not tolerate murder and rape, nor should we tolerate homophobia, racism or intolerance for that matter.
As a society we must take harsh action against hate language regardless of it's source: the Bible, politics, booze or rage. As adults we can rationalize, excuse and trivialize, but in the meantime less sophisticated minds, our children, are listening and learning very bad things.
"Bigot: A person obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices esp: one who regards or treats the members of a group with hatred and intolerance."
postscipt:I am not criticizing the comments about the singing talent on American Idol. After all the years I've spent in theater on both sides of the footlights, I'd be out of my mind to even suggest that. The auditioners know that they are going to be looked at for their singing. What, to me, is NOT acceptable is to "go after" something that is not connected to the talent. And before we condemn the lack of talent, remember William Hung make a fortune -- by really not being able to sing. But, then - that's nothing new. Anyone remember Ethel Merman's disco album? Or Kiss's disco I Was Made For Loving You? (I thought so)