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That which must not be named…

I did a rare thing last night on Twitter: I got serious. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from real life and Twitter, it’s that no one finds the serious me as interesting, preferring to reward me when I indulge in whimsy.

That’s fine. I know my role. I usually enjoy it quite a bit.

But there are rare times when the Merrye Foole feels he cannot laugh it off anymore.

Last night I blurted, in and among the 1000+ comical tweets I’ve written, that I would be unfollowing anyone I saw using the r-word.  I couldn’t hold my tongue any longer, and didn’t care what kind of blowback I’d be causing for myself.  For the past week or so, it seemed that for every ten tweets scrolling by in my timeline, two would have the r-word in them, and not in the flippant “I’m such an r-word, locking my keys in my car!” kind of way, but in the hard, dismissive, I-will-never-confer-human-status-on-you way. My. Blood. Boiled. I ‘ve seen the word before, even in the writing of people I very much admired and I overlooked it.  I feel that I’m past the point where I’m going to overlook it any more.  If you feel you need to load your tweets with the r-word in order to get your point across, you won’t find me there to chastise you about it or tell you what to do;   you just won’t find me following you any longer.  Whether you still follow me or not after that’s a matter of complete indifference to me.

In real life, since I’m related to two people with cognitive disabilities, I have at times been flayed alive by people using that word in front of me, many of whom know my relatives. I used to be a good deal less forgiving. Now, I either phase the person gently out of my life, or, if I feel they can be turned toward the light, will pull them aside and gently tell them how they are killing me.  These conversations never end with the person angrily denouncing me, or defending their actions to the hilt or anything like it. They know, they’ve always known, deep down, that they’ve been using what really is an epithet as though it were a casual descriptor, and when they’re called on it are willing to make an effort to drop it from their everyday use. Everybody wins.

It saddens me to tell you this, but I’ve had to have that conversation with more than one relative. So I realize how pervasive the use of the world has become.

I’d like to try that pull-you-aside approach here. I’m not telling you what to do. I never would.  I’m asking as nicely as I know how.  I realize online is different from real life. I know that many of us have a cloak of anonymity around us that frees us to make the kinds of jokes that our real world associates would punish us for. It allows us to be a little more scabrous, a little more truthful, a little more risky, and the result is we’re usually a little more funny when we hit it right…but the downside is how this anonymity awakens the darker tendencies in some, since there’s far less likelihood of real world punishment, of people calling you to account for what you said and twisting your tail until you squeal. I’m a battle-scarred veteran of the Chatroom Wars, and I’ve seen the very worst people can say or do online. I’m not wet behind the ears or naive in any way.  Probably the last thing anyone would ever call me, here or offline, is PC. I get all that. It doesn’t make using the r-word right. Or funny.

I realize that strong feelings against Sarah Palin in the wake of this “Family Guy” episode that poked fun of her probably spurred this latest rash of sightings, and all I can say to those who offer that as a reason for their use of the r-word is: I call BS. She’s a public figure. Her son is a toddler. She’s fair game and he’s not.  He doesn’t deserve to be referred to as a different species just because his mother’s a public figure and you don’t like her.  Just as people worldwide with cognitive disabilities shouldn’t be lumped in with members of the disliked Palin family just because they share a trait, or symptoms, with her son.

You may be thinking: By using this word, I willfully hurt Sarah Palin, because I’ve seen her complain when she sees it, and that’s my “in”  But using the word that way and for that purpose isn’t what you’d call a direct hit. It’s more like spraying a crowd with a hose to try to get at one person. You may not believe, deep down, that life is worth living if you are far from perfect. Who’s defining “perfect” these days: Simon Cowell or the Kardashians? You may not believe that someone with a cognitive difference can make something of him-or-herself, even if confronted with evidence to the contrary.  What you believe, if it stands in stark contradistinction to the facts or improving trends, doesn’t interest or affect me in the slightest. It’s when you put your mouth on these good, striving people, that you wake the sleeping giant.

I was here on Twitter a very long time before I discoved this ice-cave full of funny people, and quite a lot of the funniest things I’ve ever seen written have been here on Twitter. Keith Richards once said that every band has a shot at being the greatest rock & roll band in the world on any given night, and I think the same is true with funny. There have been times when I’ve been completely convinced that I was at the funniest place on earth at that moment in time, right here on Twitter, with everyone riffing off each other, ratcheting up the energy, taking their writing to a higher and higher level in the face of competition.  There’s a lot of very talented people right here, spurring each other on, inspiring us every day.

No one here is so talentless that they should ever feel like they have to throw an r-word into their tweet to bring the funny. Quite the opposite.  It takes your tweet and kills it for me. It makes me want to march you to the sink and hold your head underwater.

I’d rather not phase you out (unfollowing isn’t really a phasing-out - it’s more like a black-holing), and I told you all this because I think you’d never want to unintentionally or casually serve me or any good person a grave insult, one that would redound back upon you. So I ask you as nicely as I can to refrain from using it, or retrain yourself to use something a good deal less disgusting, because I’d hate to unfollow you.

But I sure as hell will.

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    Excellently written piece. I’ve waged this same battle.
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