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Late Nite FDL: Language


I want to talk a bit about the site, my view of what we do, and the use of language here.  Recently there was a dustup when comments made by TRex and Pach were deemed objectionable by some and based on this, characterizations of both as "sexist" were made.  While I basically think that people who launch these kinds of attacks, drawing false conclusions based on a superficial analysis of their respective works that consists entirely of the posts in question and engaging in gender- or race-baiting as a way to get their point across (or draw attention to themselves) are either shallow analysts, bad faith artists or both, the discussion of the language used in these posts is a valid topic of discussion and that conversation should have happened here at FDL  One of the words used in TRex's post — "cunt" — triggers the comment moderation function here and when the text was quoted in the comments they wound up in the filter and did not get sprung in time for the conversation to be conducted at FDL. So  tonight I wanted to give people the opportunity to air their views here, and Pach, Christy and TRex are all here to add their thoughts, which vary by individual.

I don't use the "c" word personally, though I'm hardly a saint on that front — nothing gets Michelle Malkin's blood boiling faster than to remind her that I once called Kate O'Beirne "sandpaper snatch."  Since that time it's been refined by the community (thanks to punaise) into "Ole 60 Grit" and it has become something of blogospheric lore — Jim O'Beirne's notorious hiring of Heritage Foundation interns for the CPA is now commonly referred to as the "60 Grit Employment Agency."  We are, first and foremost, writers (and artists) here on this site, and I will not impose limitations on how people can express themselves here.  We test the edges of communication, and in doing so often get perilously close to the edge and occasionally step over.  It's what makes us exciting, challenging and interesting, in the tradition of Lenny Bruce or Hunter S. Thompson. 

I have personally been notoriously short tempered with the Barbara Bushes amongst us who castigate us for lack of "civility" and our part in soiling their beautiful minds.  It's a classic accusation leveled against outsiders by members of the established order trying to disempower them, rather than addressing any validity of their viewpoints.  Nothing written here has ever led to thousands of bodies lying dead in the Middle East (thank you WaPo and NYT) or approached the extreme outrages of Rush Limbaugh or Ann Coulter, yet we are constantly subjected to characterizations of being dirty, foul hippies.  But the fact is that the right owned the public discourse for decades by using hot language that shot straight through the limbic system and engaged people in a primal way while the left wrapped itself in dry wonkery.  Our use of strong language is concerted and, I believe, effective.  As Alinsky said (thank you RBG):

Ridicule is man's most potent weapon. It is almost impossible to counterattack ridicule. Also it infuriates the opposition, who then react to your advantage.

It's one of the tools we use, some of us more than others, and I think our success is largely a testament to its effectiveness.

But as Pachacutec said in an email, trying to define appropriate limits is going to create a lot of gray area:

I think the online medium does operate according to some more unique physics of communication and social conduct.  While I don't think it's acceptable to lie, as Coulter and her ilk do, I do, for myself, think it's acceptable to engage in targeted character assassination and takedowns to strategic purpose, as we did with Lieberman.

Now, when you're doing these character takedowns, insulting or mocking people, some people are going to dislike it.  The material we have at our disposal should not include, according to our own principles, racist, homophobic or sexist content.  Then again, once we get into the takedown, mockery and insult arena, there are some gray areas that people could interpret either way.  Take for example my post on Saturday that started this latest tempest.  The #3 definition of the word whore from my online dictionary describes a person who has compromised principles for personal gain.  At what point does my application of the term in that context cause offense?  Is it the use of the term at all?  Is it when I use the language that recalls fellatio rather vividly but metaphorically?  I can see arguments for either, but my point is, once we get into the character attack mode, according to some notion that online communication allows for communication that is not likely to occur in direct, offline social discourse, we're going to run into grey areas and lines with this. 

A discussion of what is and is not acceptable within this type of discourse is appropriate and desirable here at FDL, and to the extent that we have been dismissive of those who don't agree with our individual interpretations of what is acceptable I take responsibility for setting the tone.  And while I think that attacking us (or other liberal bloggers) for a lack of "civility" is often the tack of bad faith artists with other agendas (especially on the heels of our success during this last election with Blue America and other projects and battles we've successfully undertaken), it is our responsibility to take those critiques offered in good faith seriously and be willing to engage in a reasoned conversation about them in an appropriate time and place. So please consider this the appropriate time and place and feel free to express your views (as always with respect for the posters and fellow commenters), and we'll be here to answer your questions.

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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