Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I Decide When You Should Be Offended

A rare ism 101 lesson.

How to tell if you're being a used ass wipe? See if you're saying anything along the lines of this individual; one Brian Seiler.

Empahsis mine. Spot The Fail; Teacher Edition.

First off, I'd like to extend to you sympathies for what you had to go through in your youth - I cannot imagine how awful that was.

I think, however, that you are going just a little bit overboard in your attempts to characterize this idiotic advertisement as "hate speech." Hate speech is not a term that you should throw around lightly - particularly not when the very act you are criticizing is the throwing around of words without consideration for their impact. In order for a string of words to be hate speech, they must first be hateful in nature, which I do not believe anybody would suggest was ever the intent here.

In any act of communication, it is the responsibility of both parties to try and understand the idea that the other is attempting to communicate. By seizing on the semantics of this terrible anagram and then re-contextualizing the entire discussion to the subject of bigotry against homosexuals, you are abdicating that responsibility. Words have no inherent context, as you clearly note in your own writing when you conveniently excuse the British for using hate speech to refer to their cigarettes.

I'm all for criticizing Infinity Ward for completely fumbling this effort, but their failure here was not one motivated by hate or bigotry. Their mistake was one of marketing - they failed to realize that some people would consider their humorous attempt to be in poor taste. As marketers, it behooves them not to stir the sorts of unpleasant feelings that this word was bound to stir, and for that they deserve to be chided. If your intention is to paint every person who has ever used the word in conversation with the tint of bigotry, however, I cannot disagree strenuously enough.

We cannot lock language in a box and pretend that it never changes. Over time, words will transform to mean things that we wouldn't have imagined - a fact which my futile crusade to revive the grammatically proper use of "he" as the singular neuter personal pronoun has driven home to me. As responsible communicators, it behooves us all to try and understand the thoughts behind the words, and not simply latch onto the language in isolation. If you are going to criticize Infinity Ward for this act, or 5th Cell for their accidental and unfortunate handling of the word "sambo," or even Capcom for the imagery in Resident Evil, please do criticize them for what they're trying to say, instead of how you personally interpret the words and images that you perceive. If the language of this campaign makes you uncomfortable because of the history around the word, it's good to share that, and I'm certain that anybody who could be made to understand how the word affects you would not use it around you. Labeling this an act of bigotry or hatred, however - that is too far, and declines to accept all of our shared responsibilities in communicating with one another.

Funny, isn't it. How the individual Seiler is addressing needs to be more responsible, but the offensive corporate party doesn't.