Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Angry Vulgar Cripples, Part II

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As the discussion continued among a group of disability rights advocates, the thought of Paddy Chayefsky's great character in the film Network came to mind. "I'm made as hell, and I'm not going to take this anymore."

A good attitude for any person working for social change, albeit "mad as ... " can raise the blood pressure and burn ulcers.

But "hell," of course, is no transgression at all, at least when it comes to vulgar speech. 

Consider, however, that "anger" evident in those who have worked for change on a grand scale: Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., the Dali Lama. There were several quotes posted by better-educated and better-read people, and those quotes focused on anger as a motivator. No one can deny that, just as no one can deny that anger -- as opposed to nonviolent, peaceful resistance -- can motivate both change and hate.

Anger aside, it is ever more evident that the use of vulgarities -- to express anger, to instigate change, to communicate any idea -- is in fact generational. 

And so I find myself in the minority. I think vulgarities, obscenities, and curse words are more than (and less than) mere words. Words hurt. Otherwise a prominent professional basketball player would not have been fined $100,000 for using a homosexual slur. If an openly homosexual politician opposed a disability rights cause, I doubt anyone with serious intent to alter that person's opinion would use a slur.

Generally, in fact, a serious person wanting to be taken seriously will not resort to vulgarities in a public forum. Obama did not say, "Good evening, my fellow Americans. Remember that we swore we'd nail that sonuvabitch who orchestrated the destruction of the Twin Towers. Well, last night we finally put a cap in his skanky ass."

And yes, I know it's situational, surely, as well as generational, but that in itself is proof that words -- language -- matters

There is second factor in play. If every declaration is laced with Carlin's set of forbidden words, what will be used for shock value?  I have watched more than one R-rated film wherein the f-word in all its forms has been used so repeatedly that it either loses meaning or becomes a distraction, both of which obscure the story.

To bring this back to how language influences the quest for full access for people with disabilities, I do believe that anger-expressed-through-vulgarities plays into the stereotypical assessment of a person with a disability. 

The word "whiny" was used as a reference in the discussion, which can easily be plugged in as a substitute for "angry" or "vulgar and angry." If then, the point was made, the stereotype of a person with a disability is "whiny" (or "angry"), that person's rational, logic arguments for change will be seen always as "whining."

The argument then has circled back: We are damned if do; damned if we don't, to indulge in a minor curse word. As a minority, it matters not what we say or how we say it, we will be pre-judged.

And that's enough to make almost anyone angry.
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