Cunt. Nigger. Dyke. Retard. Paki. Jew. Mong. All powerful examples of what can be in a word; power, oppression, prejudice, hatred, bullying, extermination, alienation. But, ultimately all just words. So what's the fuss about?
Context is everything, languages are fluid, constantly developing and the meaning of words can be subtle and nuanced. Sometimes humourous, sometimes insulting, it's the background and intention of use which matters not the word itself. Jokes can go wrong and humour fall flat, but that doesn't mean anyone should stop making jokes just because one isn't funny...although it might be time to add a Gervais exemption clause to that.
Ricky Gervais has recently joined twitter and typically for twitter it's the latest storm in a teacup. In short, Gervais made a joke that was frankly quite a lot shit and not at all funny. That's ok, we still (just about) have something approaching free speech and if a middle aged, overweight, acne scarred loser wants to make jokes that's perfectly acceptable. See, I just attempted a funny and it was almost, but not quite as crap and unfunny as Gervais. Next stop the Oscars for me.
So, what's all the fuss about? Gervais was making jokes about 'mongs'. Had he had the class to shrug his shoulders, admit that the joke wasn't funny in the way he intended it to be and accept that for many 'mong' is a word associated with hate and fear that would have been the end of it. But he didn't. Gervais moved on to whip up his twitter followers to 'prove' that the word mong totally, doesn't like mean anything to do with disability and is just, y'know all about monging around. Well yeah, sometimes it can mean that, but Gervais then went on to post photos on twitter pulling contorted 'mong' faces to prove his point that it absolutely definitely did not have any connection to learning disability and couldn't possibly be offensive.
Other comedians stepped up support those disabled people already pointing out that for many people mong was a hateful term, still used commonly in an abusive fashion. And that's when it got really nasty. Gervais was inciting his followers to 'prove' that mong was fine and his followers were dutifully following suit. One tweet I saw directed at Richard Herring made comments about how stupid it was to think that mong had any connection with anything...and ended by calling him a 'fucking mongoloid' for being stupid enough to think it did. Gervais insisted in a whiny way that 'it was all about jealousy of his success' and continued to insist he was funny.
In what must obviously be the same kind of coincidence as Gervais's forthcoming series, last night's episode of Shameless featured people with learning disabilities in a drama group as the community service 'punishment' for the character Mickey. Unlike Gervais's jokes, this episode of Shameless was beautifully written. The words may have been the same, but the intention and effect was entirely different. I howled with laughter when Mickey expressed dismay at being sent to a learning disability drama group and was firmly told that was what he got for calling the magistrate a fucking mong. I loved the way Mickey tried to hide his spliff until one of the young people offered him his, the confident and aggressive sexuality of one of the young women and the beautiful moment when, while still on her knees she looks at Mickey blustering as to why he doesn't want her to suck him off, shrugs and says...oh, you're gay. A scene which for me set up the biggest laugh of the episode, when they open the toilet door, the rest of the drama group are huddled outside eavesdropping and Mickey asks them not to tell anyone he's gay. A young woman in total deadpan fashion assures him that of course they won't...just as long as Mickey promises not to tell anyone she's got down's syndrome.
I could ramble on for a long time about how bloody brilliantly Shameless addressed the humour of disability, using the same words as Gervais, but unlike Gervais managing to make it hilariously funny all the way through. It boils down to just one crucial point though - at no point in last night's episode of Shameless were disabled people seen as weak, powerless, unintelligent or the butt of jokes. The language used went much further than Gervais as did the concepts, young women with learning disabilities in control of their own sexuality, or young autistic men using cannabis to assist their condition is not an image of disability seen in the mainstream media and it was frankly fucking fantastic to behold.
Banning individual words makes the liberal in me shudder in the same way burning books might, but reworking language is definitely to be encouraged. So, I'd urge you all to start using the latest insult for when someone's being an arrogant, unfunny, bullying prick ..... and start calling them a 'Gervais'