Name Calling

It’s scary out there.  Watch out for free-floating name-calling and judgments about your ethnicity, how you live your life, your childhood, and, as always, what you wear.  No, this isn’t merely Oscar red carpet stuff.  This is Natalie Portman parading her very pregnant unwed motherly self on the Oscars and thus being a poor role model for young girls.  This is about drunken Dior uber (yes uber) designer John Galliano captured on video saying he admired Adolf Hitler at a Parisian bar while warning a presumed Jewish woman that only a few short years ago her “kind would have been gassed.” Or “Two and a Half Men” creator Chuck Lorre snidely being referred to as “Chaim Levine” by Charlie what’s his name.  Or Rep. Michelle Bachmann calling the Obama administration a “gangsta” government (okay, “gangster” but we know what was meant).  Or potential US presidential candidate Mike Huckabee announcing the president grew up in Kenya (uh, Hawaii), with his father (only met him once), wasn’t in the Boy Scouts or the Rotary Club like most of us in the US (they weren’t big in my hometown of the Bronx, NY either), and had misinformation about the Mau Mau Revolution that caused him to think…. Well, the important words in that sentence are OBAMA and MAU-MAU, get it???   Yes, that’s editorializing but I’m pretty sure I’m right.  And this is a blog.

For good measure let’s throw in MSNBC’s Snidely McSnide Chris Matthews asking Bachmann on election night if she’d been “hypnotized” when her answers seemed canned.  Or Kathy Griffin joking she wanted to “take down” Bristol Palin, only to then be called a “bully” by her Mama Grizzly mom Sarah.  Of course, Sarah was called a Bully and “Cruella” several months ago when she skinned a moose live on TLC by Aaron Sorkin on the Huffington Post, so maybe that’s a wash.

The point is —  never let it be said I’m not as fair and balanced as Fox News or any other cable station in America.

I haven’t even gotten to any of the Oscar dresses.  (And I won’t).  Or the fact that none of the out of shape and ill-wardrobed men on the red carpet ever ever seem to get criticized for what they wear unless they actually decide to put on a dress as Matt Stone and Trey Parker did at the Oscars one year.  What’s that about?

Has it ever been this bad?  Probably.  It can easily be argued there is more bile-like vitriol available because everything now can be You-Tubed, Facebooked, Twittered, digitally remastered and recorded into oblivion.   And every gas-baggy, fire-breathing, ready to cast the first stone hypocrite (yes, that’s all many of us) is ready to hurl the first insult.  Why anyone believes they can even have sex in private is beyond me.  And those who still think you can go on a website anonymously and get it – well – does anyone really think that still?  Or as Dr Drew Pinsky might say, “then you want to be caught?”  And as Dr. Phil might then answer, “And how’s that workin’ for ya?”


You can’t even fix a $65 million musical like “Spiderman: Turn off the Dark” in private anymore without the whole world knowing it.  The new musical’s opening has now been postponed another four months to July, making this the longest recorded preview in the history of the world.  Even longer than the Watergate hearings but shorter than the time it took to make and release any one of the “Spiderman” films and much less expensive, so that’s something, I guess.

I grew up as a member of at least four religious, ethnic and social minorities by my count  (gay, Jewish, short, not much interested in sports) as well as at least two majorities (male and white).  Do the math and that still makes me more in the minority than most people.  But given that status, I can honestly say as a middle-aged person (well, yeah, because I plan to be on Willard Scott’s Smuckers jar one day!) that I don’t recall it being this relentless, this bad, this out-of-control in your face.  Oh sure, I heard the occasional sniggering about being “queer” as a teenager.  But that word is no longer considered a pejorative, since in our post racial, post-sexual age, minorities have adopted the language of the oppressor.  Meaning gay people today proudly proclaim to be “queer.”  Just as Black people are allowed to call each other the “n” word.  Which reminds me of that famous “Saturday Night Live” sketch where Chevy Chase and Richard Pryor freely threw various ethnic epithets at each other, only to meet at a very uncomfortable impasse when the White person (Chase) decided to fling back the “n” word at Pryor.   Watching it even now I get jittery, which is why I suppose Pryor really was one of our true comic geniuses because it’s also very uncomfortably funny.

Not to downplay the contributions of Chevy Chase, in case he’s reading, which I’m sure he’s not, because he’s busy working in the hit cringe comedy “Community” now, and still on NBC.

Call me lucky or sheltered, and maybe I was, but it wasn’t till I was in my twenties in Chicago that I ever heard my first honest-to-goodness blatant name-calling epitaph.  I’m sitting at a busy outside coffee shop on Michigan Ave when two Chicago businessmen, sitting as close to me right now as you are to your computer screen, casually converse about the days events.  I’m hearing snippets of their conversations until one clearly said, “Yeah, and then the guy tries to Jew me down.  You believe it.  He tries to Jew me down!!”

Rewind the tape, please.

…Oh, I heard it right?


I can remember plain as the cursor on your keyboard stopping, looking at them casually continuing their conversation and wondering, maybe I was wrong.  But I wasn’t.  Because I can still hear it.  Again.  And again.  Every time I think about that day.

With so many outlets to hear so many words these days, I can’t imagine how much hurtful, untrue or marginalized epithets people in their twenties are hearing.  Not to mention those 17, or 15, or 13, or 12 or under.  I’m a liberal  (oops, a fifth minority?).  And I’m not a parent.  But even people who are many, many, many decades away from having their face on a Smuckers jar like me, can wonder, has it really come to this?  Can we maybe dial it down a few notches, perhaps do just a tad better than we’ve been doing?

As one of my friends once joked to me, or perhaps I once joked to one of my friends,  “They can put a man on the moon but with 1539 channels, you’d think I could find something decent to watch on TV.”

Not decent like the council of morality, censorship, core value, American, apple pie decent.  Just a little less manipulative and a little bit more honest.   And maybe not so —- mean?

We can have one or two remarks in private because really, let’s not fool ourselves.  And comedians and artists should probably be exempt.  But as for the rest of us – think about it.   I haven’t mentioned Cong. Gabrielle Gifford’s shooting in Arizona or its many causes because maybe it’s connected (or isn’t) and maybe I don’t need to.  This is more about pollution.  Intellectual pollution.  And the warming is global and coming from all sides.

3 thoughts on “Name Calling

  1. Breathtaking. Thank you for this.

  2. I’m a Jew by choice–a convert. I’m blond and blue-eyed with an anglo-saxon last name, so the God-fearing Christians often assume I’m one of them. Still, it was a shock when an acquaintance I met at an antique show asked “Did you Jew him down?” I wasn’t as surprised at what she said (although I was) as at my reaction to it. I felt as if I’d been kicked in the stomach. I didn’t grow up with prejudice, and if Hitler came for the Jews again, he might not take me with him, but it still felt like a body blow.

    • Thanks for your comment. I have a Jewish friend whose last name is Jones who has told me similar things over the years. But me being a Ginsberg, I usually only overhear them 🙂 I suppose that could be considered some progress since WW II, thought perhaps not.

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