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GLAAD Asks ‘South Park’ To Dumb Down Show

This commentary is the opinion of the author and may not reflect the opinions of other authors at Box Turtle Bulletin

Daniel Gonzales

November 9th, 2009

Here’s a clip from last week’s South Park, titled “The F Word,” in which the boys attempted to redefine the word “fag” to mean inconsiderately loud and attention seeking motorcycle riders:

Fans of South Park, including myself, often view the show as one of TV’s most intelligent outlets for artistic cultural commentary.  “The F Word” episode was no exception as it examined the power of the word “fag,” its constantly changing definition throughout history, and lastly the ability of a community to reclaim an insult into a badge of honor and identity.

GLAAD sees things differently and issued a Call To Acton.  Poor GLAAD couldn’t even bring themselves to using the word “fag” in their Call To Action:

The creators of South Park are right on one important point: more and more people are using the F-word as an all-purpose insult. However, it is irresponsible and wrong to suggest that it is a benign insult or that promoting its use has no consequences for those who are the targets of anti-gay bullying and violence. This is a slur whose meaning remains rooted in homophobia. And while many South Park viewers will understand the sophisticated satire and critique in last night’s episode, others won’t [emphasis added] – and if even a small number of those take from this a message that using the “F-word” is OK, it worsens the hostile climate that many in our community continue to face.

Let me establish my credibility as a creative professional;  I’m a licensed architect, I create films and interviews for my gay activism, and I’m a paid blogger for a community events group in Denver.  There are a variety of ways to criticize creative works, some of which are stronger than others.  Here’s how I see things…

Examples of valid and strong criticisms:

  • The theme of your work is offensive to gay people
  • Your work exploits gay people
  • Your work presents ugly stereotypes as truth
  • Your work is uninteresting or uncompelling
  • Your work failed to make its point
  • Your work is unoriginal

Examples of weak criticisms:

  • Stupid people won’t understand your work
  • You didn’t fit our talking points into your work
  • You didn’t articulate your work’s message the way we wanted

It’s like saying contemporary art superstar Damien Hurst shouldn’t create works of art like the image below because someone might not understand the piece and think it’s OK to go out and spear an animal dozens of times with arrows.

dh-bull

The only thing I find offensive about “The F Word” is GLAAD asking other creative professionals to cater to the lowest common denominator in their audience because someone, somewhere might not understand it.  The weak and invalid argument GLAAD presents would dumb-down America’s great cultural landscape for all of us.

The full episode can be viewed on South Park’s website until Wednesday night when the next new episode airs.

Comments

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Andrew
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

Thanks for this! I just took out my frustration in pointed letter to GLAAD reps! I love South Park, and I loved this episode.

Blake
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

Thanks for sharing this–I couldn’t agree more! I also sent an email to GLADD. I fear that this kind of knee-jerk reaction only validates those who dismiss all criticism of hate speech as “political correctness” or “thought police.”

AJD
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

I’m glad to see this and very much on South Park’s side with this one. I think GLAAD has a place, but they really go overboard sometimes.

Ben in Oakland
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

100% bang on, Daniel. I saw the big fag episode and being a big fag with a bit of intellect, did not find it offensive at all, but brilliant.

you don’t take the sting out of the word by demanding that it never appear lest your feelings be hurt. You take the sting out of the word by ont being offended, by using it as much as possible, by diluting it by using it.

big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!big fag!

see how easy it is?

Ken in Riverside
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

Judge 1: We are really trying to understand this. How is it that you boys think referring to gay people as fags in today’s world is acceptable?
Kyle: [exasperated] Because we’re not referring to gay people! You can be gay and not be a fag.
Stan: Yeah, a lot of fags aren’t gay.
Judge 2: I happen to be gay, boys. Do you think I’m a fag?
Stan: Do you ride a big loud Harley and go up and down the streets, ruining everyone’s nice time?
Judge 2: No.
Stan: Then you’re not a fag.

Priya Lynn
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

I’ve only seen a couple south park episodes – it was crap. You couldn’t pay me to watch that show again.

Stefano A
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

Personally I’ve never found South Park to be “all that” as many proclaim. Rather than “high brow” I’ve tended to find they cater to the crasest vulgarities passed off as humour.

Although, as to GLAAD’s argument, I’ll agree the reasoning was weak.

As for the comments above, however, and perhaps where GLADD might be coming from, is they do rather undermine the whole public service campaign with Sykes et al on the “That’s so gay” campaign.

If the above attitudes about “own the word” or “it doesn’t mean “gay” it means “inconsiderately loud and attention seeking motorcycle riders” is the prevailing attitude, then it would seem pointless in even having such campaigns as “That’s so gay”.

I’ll spare readers any detailed commentary on my reasonings for my opinon, as I’ve expressed them elsewhere in the past to little avail (and which can tend toward being didactical), and simply say that I’ve never been one that bought into the whole “own the word” school of thought regardless of what group was trying to “own” a word.

Simply put, I don’t think any word used as a derogative has ever had it’s negative connotations removed or supplanted, rather other connotations are simply added. I defy anyone here to honestly claim, for example, that whenever they hear the word “fag” or “nigger”, for instance, the derogative connotations don’t also enter their mind in association with the word used, if only briefly, until they’ve had time to judge the contextual usage.

Burr
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

I liked the episode a lot. I think making a call to action about it is just going to make things worse, especially considering South Park is on our side overall (although yes they dance on the edge of offense in doing so).

If it was just a shallow episode crafted as an excuse to say fag as much as they wanted, then I’d have a problem with it, but that whole bit about “You can be gay and not be a fag” won me over.

Elliot
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

I can’t stand South Park but what they say does make sense. An offensive word is only offensive if you take offense to it. Once everyone figures out that no one is offended by being called a faggot, or that nobody really means “gay person” when they say it, it will all be a thing of the past, and the word won’t have that power anymore.

DougK
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

Priya Lynn, is someone offering you money to watch South Park? Somehow I didn’t realize you were a sought-after media critic…
(for some reason I’m feeling very snarky today)

Timothy Kincaid
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

Behind the argument that one can be gay and not be a “fag” is the premise that the initial assumption is that gay = fag.

I personally have heard people say “well not all blacks are n*ggers”. And I think you already know that in their mind, there was a base equation to which they made limited exceptions. In the mind of bigots, all African Americans are n*ggers until proven otherwise.

Sadly, though it was probably not South Park’s intention, I think that the “You can be gay and not be a fag” message is all too familiar.

Ben in Oakland
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

An offensive word is only offensive if you take offense to it. Once everyone figures out that no one is offended by being called a faggot, or that nobody really means “gay person” when they say it, it will all be a thing of the past, and the word won’t have that power anymore.

my point exactly.

johnathan
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

While GLAAD may have a valid point in that the viewers unlikely to understand the satire will not pick up on the intended message, that does not necessarily follow these viewers will immediately uncontrollably utter the “F-word” (a la GLAAD-ese).

Mark in Colorado
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

I think it’s fine if people want to be lazy and use “gay” and “fag” as derogatory terms with supposedly new and unique meanings. Just remember that there are consequences for the words you use around the wrong people.

I don’t care if you’re 13 years old or 50 years old, male or female. You use “gay” or “fag” in a derogatory manner around me or to my face–well let’s just say you and I are not going to like each other at all. And that’s putting it mildly.

Ken in Riverside
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

I would be much more concerned about a program coming out from Focus On The Family which implored people to only use the term “fag” when referring to homosexuals than I am about a South Park episode which implored homosexuals to not be so touchy about the word “fag”.

Neither the gay community nor society-at-large would be better if the word “fag” were as nuclear as “nigger.”

We’d all be better off if humanity weren’t inclined to use these words to hurt eachother. But that option isn’t really on the table, is it?

Lets keep our skins thick and go after what really matters: equality under the law.

Emily K
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

South Park’s goal is to act like it has something intellectual to say while simply trying to piss off as many people as humanly possible. It makes for good entertainment but let’s not confuse it with paradigm-shifting creations.

That being said, there are two problems with this situation: Words will have connotations with something until they don’t. Change will happen gradually – Just as the word “nice” used to mean “simple,” as in, a simpleton. Now it is a compliment, but not very long ago it was just the opposite. So South Park’s point is somewhat moot.

The second problem is that GLAAD has gone over the line before. I remember being infuriated at their insistence that Gene Shallot apologize for his review of the movie Brokeback Mountain, in which he characterized the secret affair between the two men as being predatorial, or something similarly negative. MY reaction was that if we’re going to let gay relationships be as “normal” as hetero relationships, we have to let people interpret them with the freedom that they would a straight relationship. This includes thinking that an affair between couple of men who are petrified of coming out and yet still entered into sham marriages is on some level somewhat dysfunctional. In that sense, GLAAD overstepped their bounds and equality took a step back.

They need to just ignore South Park. They’re just trying to suck as much publicity as they can from a world that is all but too jaded for their shock style anymore.

Mike
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

GLAAD wasn’t asking South Park to dumb down the show for America. It was asking it to dumb down the show for it’s audience. 11-year-old boys and guys over 20 who think like 11-year-old boys. Neither group gives a shit about gay rights, nor are they in the dark about what it means when they call someone a fag.

I always love when people in the gay community want to jump on the “Hey, we get it. We’re in on the joke. we’re not like those reactionary FAGS.”

It’s a shame that there is a portion of the community that is so use to getting slapped in the face that they don’t even realize when it’s happening.

Burr
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

I guess I think like an 11 year old boy then.

Trust me, a lot of South Park’s audience does care about gay rights and is on our side on this. They’ll get it just like they got the gay marriage episode and all the other relevant episodes on this topic.

The ones that don’t, wont get it no matter how it’s spelled out to them.

Eshto
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

“Fans of South Park, including myself, often view the show as one of TV’s most intelligent outlets for artistic cultural commentary”

Wow. I’m… sorry?

Srsly that’s really pathetic.

Robert in San Diego
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

GLAAD needs to not worry about this and worry more with what is happening in Uganda. I have been watching South Park since it started and I loved this episode. My partner and I go over to some friends and watch it with them. Though my partner and I loved it and couldn’t stop laughing, our friends frowned at it. I totally understood South Parks point. many times when I hear family or friends use the fag word I ask them which meaning they are using? Are they accusing the other of being gay or are they using it as the worst thing on the planet that could ever be. They scratch their head and see my point. Now I don’t use the word, I personally don’t like it, but I agree 100% with that episode.

Duncan
November 9th, 2009 | LINK

This isn’t even the first time the South Park creators have messed around with this word, doesn’t anyone remember Team America? Film Actors’ Guild and the fun they had with that?

As for me, being a Brit means that the word fag is just a smoke.

truthteller
November 10th, 2009 | LINK

BS.
Some people are so desperate to be “normal” they will deny the obvious.

The only reason they are using the word fag to denigrate a person is because it has a built in insult to one’s masculinity.

Gay people are generally hated, looked at with disdain and basically treated and looked at as inferior, so by using the word fag, the users transfer those qualities to the insultee.

You truthfully argue that the”not all fags are gay” is an intelligent argument?

Sounds like internalized homophobia, to me.

GLAAD got this one right!!!

Al W.
November 10th, 2009 | LINK

I’m a big fan of South Park, and although the humor’s pretty low-brow, some of the social commentaries are actually well-woven IMO.

That said, I’ve seen a bunch of comments saying they’re trying to shift the meaning of “fag.” Newsflash, kids-it’s ALREADY shifted. I’m 27, and I have a few friends that regularly use “That’s so gay” as an insult. These are the same friends that invite my boyfriend and I to various events, support full marriage, and are all-around classy people that I consider amongst my best friends.

We don’t try to bury or hide each other’s differences. We make light of them, joke around about them, and realize that they’re inconsequential. At the end of the day, the Asians, the blacks, the whites, and the gays that all get together on Monday nights for football, good beer, and good food at Neel’s apartment don’t care about the Black/Asian/Gay things, but we don’t ignore them and pretend they don’t exist either.

GLAAD really overreacted and obviously was part of that group that was too stupid to get it. Call me a fag. I won’t care, even though I don’t own a Harley.

Donnchadh
November 10th, 2009 | LINK

(I’m using the Gaelic version of my name from now on – because I’m not the Duncan above)

This dispute over words inspires in me:

Where Humanity’s been, what Humanity’s done
Words were made for all under the Sun
They answer to all, and they answer to none.

The tyrants and teachers, the good and the great,
The rulers and lobbies that the power goes to
By arms, by kindness, by reason, by the state,
Try to vainly decide what language will do.

But language don’t bend to, like, the fury of hell
By the people, for the people, it is our thoughts’ own shell,
For the strength of words, no word can tell.

palerobber
November 10th, 2009 | LINK

so was it also “artistic cultural commentary” and “sophisticated satire” when Parker&Stone’s movie Team America portrayed hollywood actors as belonging to FAG (Film Actors Guild)?

please enlighten us poor non-creative professionals on the brilliance of this master stroke of wit.

GLAAD Upset Over Latest ‘South Park,’ Assumes We’re Stupid
November 10th, 2009 | LINK

[…] disclosure, this post is crossposted on BoxTurtleBulletin, an activist blog I also contribute […]

Respect
November 10th, 2009 | LINK

“the ability of a community to reclaim an insult into a badge of honor and identity.”

The South Park episode did not attempt to do this. They associated a word not categorically denied for use towards gay men, to something very negative. People already know how the word may apply to gay men.

This is no better than saying not all blacks are the “n” word. Not all Jewish people are the “k” word.

I’m sorry that some gay people will accept disrespect, and not see that we deserve better.

Emily K
November 10th, 2009 | LINK

I think truthteller touched on something important: that the word “fag” has, at this point in time, a built-in insult to one’s masculinity (or lack thereof). Since the bikers were obviously trying to make themselves look much tougher and more macho by.. well.. being bikers and having loud Harley’s, then using the word “fag” was fitting because the SP kids were trying to tell them that their attempts at being more manly are futile. And as a result, they are “fags.”

However – I have seen “fag” used elsewhere as a simple insult akin to “dweeb” or “loser.” Internet slang calls someone new to a forum a “newfag” and someone who’s been around is an “oldfag.” Really the term “fag” is unavoidable in this case, and has nothing to do with anyone being gay OR manly.

aratina
November 10th, 2009 | LINK

I wonder if Matt and Trey got the inspiration for this episode from John Hughes’s film “Weird Science”. It has a scene where a gang of bikers breaks up a house party, and when the main character gains enough confidence to confront the bikers, he calls one of them a “faggot”. Could it be (maybe a sly John Hughes tribute since he recently passed away?), or did I miss out on a period in the 80s where bikers were popularly called “faggots”?

Anyway, I thought the show was offensive at first, but it became so absurd towards the end that I couldn’t help laughing. Then, I realized their redefinition had really sunk in and it is hard now not to think of bikers as “fags”. In the end, I’m not sure it is a bad idea. That word, “fag”, hurts straight and gay people terribly when used as a dehumanizing insult. It would be nice to be able to look at the bullies like they are on a different planet and say “I’m not a biker, idiot.”

Jason D
November 12th, 2009 | LINK

1 – I don’t think GLAAD was asking or Demanding South Park to do anything.

2 – It’s GLAAD’s job to blow the whistle on these issues, big and small because…

3 – It leads to, if nothing else, conversations like this very thread.

How are we to define
-what is and is not offensive
-what is and is not helpful
-what is and is not homophobic

if we don’t talk about it??

This conversation is taking place all over the internet and in real life because GLAAD blew the whistle. I’d say they did their job, they got us talking, which is the real point of their work.

Silence = death

Whether you agree with GLAAD or South Park, the important thing is that we’re talking about this stuff.

Robert in San Diego
November 13th, 2009 | LINK

I was out driving the other day and in 2 different occasions idiots ran their left turn red light, therby keeping me sitting with a green light. You know I called them a fag for being inconsiderate and keeping me sitting there.

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