Thursday, February 14, 2008
Sticking up for [gasp] Jane Fonda
HER AGAIN. I don't have to prove that I have no use for Jane Fonda. But today she's being tarred unreasonably. Drudge has run one of his RED headlines to highlight her latest crime:
La Malkin pounced on the infraction in her first post of the day, expressing her profound indignation, as well as the banal observation that "the woman has no class." Yet she found it within her journalistic soul to reproduce the offending clip and to caption her teaser for the post as follows:
That's better is it, than what Fonda did? I don't think so. "Ew, I could never bring myself to utter this disgusting word myself, but I can show you other people saying it, and I can play allusive word games with it, but rest assured it will never pass my lips." The truth is, there are only two dirty words left in the English language. The runt-rhyme is one of them. Malkin is equally obsessed with the other one (which she can, somehow, force herself at least to type):
Michelle's not happy about this, either. At all.
It used to be that words were dirty because they were too anatomical, too pungently evocative of sheer physicalness to be permissible in mixed company. The offending source was always Celtic or Anglo-Saxon (Go figure.) Latin words were almost always acceptable -- feces, urine, anus, penis, glans, testicles, mammaries, vagina, vulva, coitus, orgasm. Because they're not especially successful words; they don't instantly summon a vivid, sensual (i.e., lurid and smelly) experience of the thing so named. The Anglo-Saxon words are all works of verbal genius, astonishingly direct highways to the most fully developed regions of sense memory: shit, piss, asshole, cock, prick, balls, tits, cunt, pussy, fucking, cum.
Well, the Romans faded away for some reason. The Celt/Anglo-Saxon peoples flourished and came to dominate the world. Because their dirty words were dirtier than everyone else's? No one can say. But their dirty words were so powerful that their own poets and playwrights and novelists actually connived in the process of making them dirty in the first place. (Distinctly not the case with the Romans, for example. See Catullus, the Keats of Rome.) The words were too powerful. Using them in print or on stage heightened their power and could cost the author the audience attention he craved. So the Latin words were resurrected for all mundane informational applications ("The mother delivers the infant through her vagina," not "Mommy squeezes the baby out of her cunt"), and the writers made up a brand new art of innuendo, double-entendre, and puns to keep their audiences under control. Today it's popular to blame Christians for such word games, and Christians seem happy to accept the credit, but squeamishness about truly effective words long predates Christianity. Politicians have hated every one-syllable word meaning 'lie' as long as governments have existed. 'Prevarication' is a great, mild-sounding Latin word, isn't it?
But we live in liberated secular times now. The censoring of dirty words has become as vestigial as the human appendix. Most of them can be encountered on American sitcoms in primetime, and all but two are routinely said on basic cable and BBC sitcoms: shit, piss, asshole, cock, prick, balls, tits, [nope], pussy, [nope], cum.
But I previously said there are only two dirty words, including the infamous, unspeakable, unholy N-Word, and I've listed two plain old dirty words you'll never hear unless you have a premium cable channel -- or a pre-teen son or daughter.
Which brings us to the most ridiculous phenomenon of our whole media-saturated age: the phony bleep. With the possible exception of 'shit', 'fuck' (and its variants) is the most widely used word on the whole list. The audio editors have acquired the skill of neurosurgeons in cutting out all sound between the first half of the 'f' and the last half of the 'k.' (Soupy Sales should have been so lucky.) Like there's anyone over the age of three who doesn't possess enough persistence of memory to hear the word that's being (un)spoken. We seem to be content with the pretense that we don't hear what every single damn one of us does hear in our mind's ear, as long as the token phony bleep gives us cover. Exactly the same principle is at work with Michelle Malkin's "rhymes with runt." All phony bleeps come with a built-in leer that arises from the shared perception that a dirty word has been amplified by its fraudulent subtraction. We LOVE it, lechers and prudes alike. Censorship as actual titillation. Will Malkin be hotter tonight, on this St. Valentine's Day, because she rhymed runt with [you know]? Sure she will. Words wouldn't be dirty if they didn't have an effect.
Here's a good example of the whole phony bleep phenomenon. Note two things (skip ahead to four minutes into the clip): Harvard alum Matt Damon's easy use of the word 'fuck' with his whole immediate family and children sitting in the front row, and his schizophrenic feelings about the word 'cunt.' Why does he love it AND hate it? Because it's the last dirty word. (Except for that other one.}
Observe how the largely female audience just loves his uses of these words. They laugh, they giggle, they smile. It's HOT.
The sad truth is, we've destroyed all the good dirty words. When anyone can use them anytime, they gradually lose their force. That's part of the meaning of Matt Damon's description of 'fuck' as a mere conjunction like 'and' and 'because' and 'but.' He said the word a whole bunch of times in his interview, but he never got the reaction he did when he said 'cunt.' The women approved and accepted the former, but they loved the 'latter.' They knew exactly what he meant.
Here's the thing. Women don't "hate" the word 'cunt' any more than black people "hate" the word 'nigger.' Apart from real articulate speech, these are the last two words of power in our language. They're both words used by people who inflict their power on others by posing as victims. They're both words that are used proudly by the supposed victims with each other to heighten the potency of their grievances: Feminists 'celebrate' the supposedly hateful C-Word in events like Penn State's 'Cuntfest,' while blacks use 'nigger' as an ethnic privilege to demonstrate their politically correct advantage over white people in the culture wars. In short, women love the word 'cunt,' depending on who says it and under what circumstances. And black people love the word 'nigger' the same way.
The only thing that makes these words dirty anymore is that there's a caste distinction with respect to who can use them.
But that's not dirt. That's politics.
I know it's taken a long time to get here. But I really liked what Jane Fonda said. She didn't cringe or make a face when she said 'cunt.' She didn't pretend the word is one her lily ears have never heard. I think I heard her say, implicitly, that scrawling a bad word on the wall of a theater or on a page (or even its rhyme) is basically a juvenile waste of time and hardly art. (Rappers take note.) What better way to communicate her objection to performing in a play called the Vagina Monologues, for God's sake? She said a word we all know and made it clear she's not hostage to the word, afraid of it, or particularly smitten by it. She sounded [gasp], for the first time in my experience of her, like a grown-up woman.
Malkin take note too. Yes, a word can be a hurtful brick. But a brick is a weapon only by accident. Mostly, it's a building material. A cunt isn't a disgusting thing. It's probably the single coolest thing God ever created.
UPDATE. Thanks to Glenn Reynolds for the link. Also, InstaPunk has a new essay up at the American Conservative Party website under the odd name RobertFLaird. He doesn't seem to like the word 'conservative' anymore. What a punk.