Tuesday, October 11, 2016
A pretentious and aspirationally Carlinesque digression on linguistics and pussygate
(My cats, Drusilla and Spike)
Yesterday in class, a student noted that I use the term, "pussygate," on this blog. By formal, legal decree, we must append the suffix, -gate, to every political scandal, thus, "pussygate." Yet I didn't say it in the classroom. Hypocrisy? No. Cowardice. Or, self-interest. Same diff. Yet, I'll say most of the words on George Carlin's list of seven dirty words in the classroom. Which won't I say? Figure it out. Here's the list: "shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, tits." There's a word there that I won't even type except when directly quoting/hiding behind Carlin.
I'll repeat what I've been saying here. What is actually disgusting about the tape is not the fact that Trump says "pussy." It is that he brags about sexual assault. Consider what we call, in social science (see? social science and pussy!) the "counterfactual." What if the world had been otherwise? What if Donald Trump had bragged about being able to grab women "by their quims?" Too archaic? Fine. How about just this: "grab them between their legs." Linguistically clean, right? Would the reaction be as harsh?
Obviously, we can't rewind time and run the experiment. In social science, we call that "the fundamental problem of causal inference." We can't know the effect of the word, "pussy," on Trump's trials and tribulations without an impossible time travel experiment. But, as a cynic who has no respect for the intelligence of the unwashed masses, I suspect that the reaction wouldn't be as harsh. AND THAT WOULD BE A MAJOR FUCKING PROBLEM! I contend that the "between their legs" version is precisely as vile, even if it wouldn't incur the ire of tv censors.
And it gets worse. The rule that we can't say "pussy" actually winds up giving Trump less harsh news coverage than he deserves. Let's consider the absurdity of news coverage. Trump's comments are never directly quoted by network news, nor on the pages of outlets that attempt to follow the standards that Carlin worshippers like me do not respect. Consider "The Old, Gray Lady." Somehow, that sounds wrong right now, doesn't it? It is actually the real nickname of The New York Times. Anyway, they won't quote Trump directly, in full. Why? Cuz' "pussy" is a naughty word! Instead, do a quick Google search for the words, "Trump lewd." I get over 10 million hits, with The New York Times in the first set, and I say that's fucking bullshit. Those comments weren't lewd. They were fucking violent. But, austere and respectable types fall back on words like "lewd" to avoid quoting Trump and saying "pussy." In doing so, they gloss over exactly what was so vile in what he said, giving cover to him.
See how that shit works? And this critique couldn't even be discussed in polite company, whatever the fuck that is, because I'm saying "pussy," along with "fuck" and "shit." Of course, "pussy" doesn't even make Saint Carlin's blessed list. Why? The point of Carlin's list is that they are the words that could never be uttered. "Pussy" has a context in which it can be used. See that picture up there of my geek-named cats? What, you thought I was just being obnoxious? Of course I am, but with a point.
We all know exactly what Trump said. The dance that journalists have to do to avoid saying it out of respect for the arbitrary distinction between polite and vulgar is just ludicrous, and we cannot ignore the likelihood that the reaction would be at least slightly less severe had Trump just said "crotch."
Now, imagine if Trump hadn't said "pussy," but instead said a word I'm too much of a fucking coward to even type outside a direct quote from Carlin. The one that starts with a "c." Would it be worse? Could it get worse? Should it be worse?
NO!!!!!!!! Socially, we treat "the c word" as worse than "pussy," but the problem was that Trump bragged about sexual assault. There is no polite way to commit rape or brag about it. Trying to be polite about it might even make it more creepy, like the villain who tries to soothe you while murdering you.
And yet I won't even type the "c" word unless quoting Carlin. Why? I'm a fucking coward. Also, I'm a professor. Who is a coward.
Can we derive, from first principles, an argument against that word? No. Not in the way we can for racial slurs. Why won't I ever use the n-word? Because its use entails a threat, based on history. Pretty simple. Is there similar history for that word I'm not using? Nope. Nothing else comes close to the n-word in that sense. Is there some threat? Arguably. The fact that you don't hear that word except from people like, well, Trump, arguably means there is a threat, but that doesn't carry the historical weight of the n-word. It's just the fact that even Carlin didn't do a lot of extended riffs on the c-word means there is implicit weight.
So, maybe that's what comes next. A tape of Trump using the c-word. And people get offended by the word, as though it is worse than bragging about sexual assault. And my point is that it would be fucking bullshit. The problem isn't, or shouldn't be, that he said "pussy," and it shouldn't be a problem that I call this scandal "pussygate." The problem is that Trump brags about sexual assault. And damn it, stop calling his comments "lewd." They were violent.
Fuck it. I need some George Carlin to cheer me up.