Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The F Word

By now you have no doubt read about the Isaiah Washington/Grey's Anatomy situation, wherein Mr. Washington called his costar (who happens to be gay) a f$%#@t. Then, in not-very-credibly denying later that he had said it, used the word again TWICE.

I know I'm coming late to this issue, but seeing the SAG awards the other day reminded me of it. I was thinking that the Grey's Anatomy set must be one of the few places in America where you can call someone that and still have a job. It took weeks for the ABC brass to acknowledge that, gee, that probably wasn't okay. Then they had Isaiah do that classic "I am sorry if I offended anyone and I need to look inside myself to determine why I would have said such a thing" non-apology. Only when the drumbeat of people boycotting ABC and the show got some momentum did they react. And how did they react? They sent Washington to "rehab." I guess I wasn't aware that they have rehab for that. I suppose in Hollywood they have rehab for anything, but I'm just not convinced. What do those meetings look like? How do you get "clean" from being a bigot in one month? How do they treat it? I personally think bigotry is a lifestyle choice. A disgusting, evil lifestyle choice. ;)

I know that many people believe we have become an oversensitive nation, that "jeez, you can't say anything about anyone anymore." I'm waiting for someone to elucidate for me why that is a bad thing. Because now you don't get to tell all your hilarious f@%%0t, N-word, Jew, lesbian, Chinaman jokes anymore? Believe me, my town was full of those people growing up. My high school had one Jew, two Haitians, a couple of closeted gay (and totally ridiculed) guys, three Asians, and a brother and sister who were labeled "towelheads." All of them lived with the majority white population who thought it was funny to tell "jokes" about them, to use those epithets about them; and if not about them specifically, near them as if they were supposed to find it funny or no-big-deal too. It was a suffocating and damaging environment as I look back on it with no great fondness, and I think about how that connects to the ABC situation, about how it can no longer be a valid defense to say that "people should get over being sensitive," "it's not that big a deal; it's only words," or "why should I care?"

Washington used that word because he simultaneously knew it had the power to hurt his castmate but also thought he probably had the cover to use it. Why? Because when something is considered to be a funny word, a suitable joke topic, you can wound the person in question then easily retreat into "but I didn't know it was so offensive!" If TR Knight (the cast mate) had called Washington the N word, he wouldn't have been allowed to even clean out his locker before his ass hit the pavement outside the studio lot. Why? Because we have come to a general agreement as a society that the word is not acceptable. Not because we're oversensitive but because its use is just wrong. It's time to do the same for the F word--in every work environment in every small (and apparently, large) town in America.

So what's my point? Twofold. First, I'm depressed at how long it took for anyone in the hierarchy at ABC to clue into how unacceptable that on-set attack was. Second, as depressed as that makes me, I'm simultaneously hopeful for the future when I think about how quickly the general public (admittedly people-who-follow-this-sort-of-thing) made it an issue for which they were willing to vote with their feet...or eyes...or advertising dollars. Indeed, that is the only thing that is going to change the words--and therefore the attitudes--that we as a nation find acceptable.

Think of all the things that used to be considered funny and/or acceptable to say in the Good Old Days. Were those things really funny and no big deal or were they just funny because you didn't know someone they would have denigrated? Were they just funny because it was easier to laugh than wonder why you found humor in them? And was it really humor or something more like fear? Because I can guarantee you that men who are comfortable with their own heterosexuality (including those on successful medical dramas) do not feel the need to attack those who are gay.

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