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Consider the following words and phrases:
- Privilege (White privilege, thin privilege, male privilege)
- Marriage equality
- Triggering or triggered
- Larger person
- Women’s clinic
Seven simple words or combinations of simple words that have each been meticulously engineered to “trigger” a cascade of ideas and emotions meant to rewrite and reinforce new moral definitions every time they are used. If you are honest and aware of what the engineers of these word-concepts are trying to do, you have to admit that they have been very successful.
A quick Google Trends search for the search term “fat shaming” shows that, before the end of 2012, that particular combination of those two words was practically unheard of in popular culture. But now, just two or three years later, those two words beside each other have a very precise political meaning that tells the listener or reader volumes about the user’s values, background, politics and viewpoint. And most of the Western world is familiar with the concept. Impressive.
If someone uses the term “fat-shaming” (or any of the terms bullet-listed above) un-ironically, you can immediately deduce with a pretty decent degree of certainty that the person is:
- upper middle-class
- on the leftward end of the political spectrum
- overweight to a greater or lesser degree
- studying (or studied) the humanities or social sciences
(The sorts of people who invent and use a term like “fat-shaming” bristle at how easily astute listeners or readers can peg their social status and political/intellectual position on just about any issue after just after a brief conversation. I know this from experience. )
But the phenomenon isn’t a new one. It’s a cliche’ by now, but whenever totalitarian political movements appear, a struggle for the language of whatever nation being taken over always follows. George Orwell made his career on this fact.
When the Communists took over Russia, they instituted a well thought-out and organized government censorship plan within ten days of coming to power. They did so for a reason:
“Soviet censors regard[ed] the world as a semantic system in which the information that is let through is the only reality….In terms of truth or falsehood, the objective sense of the world no longer exists. Instead of dealing with real things, the censor hopes that his world view will be accepted. Only what the censor approves is said to exist; what he disapproves has no independent existence.”
—From I Must Speak Out: The Best of the Voluntaryist 1982-1999, edited by Carl Watner
In other words, totalitarians believe that reality is a consensus and that if enough people can be convinced that a concept is real (or unreal), it will either magically exist or cease to exist. Americans have seen this theory in action since the 1960s, as concepts of what people have traditionally considered natural or unnatural are continually under semantic assault. Consider ideas of gender, sexuality, body image, race, nationhood, etc. “Normal”and “decent”–two words which once had understood meanings–have been deliberately destroyed. Or, at least, damaged.
But more than a tool of social re-engineering, progressive Newspeak serves as a conversational identifier to differentiate the in-crowd from the politically unacceptable. The use of the words is a status symbol, announcing to the world that the user is superior to the non-user and that the convinced are superior to the unconvinced and that the New Soviet Man is superior to the parasite.
Consider which you are the next time you consider using a word like “transgendered.”
“The Los Angeles Times has announced new guidelines for covering immigration.
“The goal is to “provide relevance and context and to avoid labels.”
“That means stories will no longer refer to individuals as “illegal immigrants” or “undocumented immigrants,” but instead will describe a person’s circumstances.
“A memo from The Times’ Standards and Practices Committee announcing the change explains the move away from labels:
” ‘Illegal immigrants’ is overly broad and does not accurately apply in every situation. The alternative suggested by the 1995 guidelines, ‘undocumented immigrants,’ similarly falls short of our goal of precision. It is also untrue in many cases, as with immigrants who possess passports or other documentation but lack valid visas.”
“Though this is a change in written guidelines, the philosophy is already in practice in The Times.”
Now, I don’t know where these yahoos went to journalism school, but the examples they give are so idiotic and such glaring examples of pussyfooting circumlocution that it boggles the mind. They ACTUALLY give an example where, instead of saying that someone is a “Filipino illegal immigrant” or “illegal immigrant from the Phillipines” they say–and this is a DIRECT QUOTE:
“… she and her family had moved here a decade ago from the Philippines without papers.” (!!!)
Without papers! What is she, a fucking Lhasa Apso? Jesus!
The word “illegal” is a valid one and has a meaning. No. Really. See?
It means “not according to or authorized by law.” So if an immigrant sneaks into the United States from Mexico or Canada or Cuba or France or Iceland or wherever and they have NOT gone through proper, sanctioned, LEGAL channels to do so, their presence is…wait for it…”not according to or authorized by law.”
Which, again, is the definition of ILLEGAL! Come on! This is easy logic and basic English! The kind that they must teach even in California’s overrated high schools.
But they say they want to avoid “labels.”
**PAUSE DURING WHICH PEOPLE RIGHTFULLY SNICKER AT WEST COAST, NEW AGE BULLSHIT**
Well, I’m sorry, Kierkegaard…er, I mean, major American newspaper in a large city, but you have to use labels sometimes because “label” is another word for “ADJECTIVE.” And provided you care AT ALL about the reader’s time or the cost of newsprint, you’ll try to keep “context” to a level that makes sense.
I mean, I could write:
“Serial killer Ted Bundy was executed in Florida.”
But where is the RELEVANCE and CONTEXT there? Isn’t “serial killer” just a label? Should I write–using your examples as guidance:
“Ted Bundy, a man who took great pleasure and psychosexual satisfaction in violently ending the lives of women on a somewhat regular basis, was executed in Florida”?
This slippery slope these news outlets have started down is so embarrassingly Orwellian–a regular theme in our culture lately–that it seems superfluous and redundant to even point it out.
“Illegal” becomes “undocumented” becomes…some diaphanous directive about “context.” All the while the Ministry of Truth continues to re-write normal people as repressed hatemongers and they do so by offering as little context as they can get away with while fabricating labels hand over fist.
“Patriot group”; “Tea Party operative”; “Southern Evangelicals”; “Ex-Military”; “Gun Rights Activist”; “Born Again Christians.” Shit, I even heard “Native-born Texan” used one morning on CNN to imply someone hated Mexican immigrants! The editors and producers don’t feel compelled to use context when they show a guy in a Caterpillar hat and label him a “Southern Evangelical.”
But when Eduardo sneaks into America from Nicaragua in the trunk of a Dodge and has an accident on the loading dock that kills someone, as much back story as possible should be in the story and “labels” are to be avoided.
You know what there aren’t enough of? Earthquakes.