Smile Politely

buzz Writer Highlights the Worst of the Status Quo

Local blogger and current buzz magazine Arts editor Drake Baer took a crack at writing his own “Likes and Gripes” this week in the buzz’s “Best of” issue, on newsstands now. His gripe is worth a gripe from me. Here’s what he had to say:

“Yes, this is your lovely alt weekly, but seriously, our sports program has been disastrous this year. As I type this, we’re playing in Detroit — the worst city in the world — and LOSING to the mighty Broncos of Western Michigan. I think Sarah Palin must have given birth to Ron Guenther ‘cause our sports is retarded.”

Really. That’s in the paper. You can pick it up yourself and read it in print if you like.

This statement is wrong on so many levels that for me to expound on them all would take too long; I’d lose you by the time I got to my main point. What immediately needs to be addressed is the last sentence of that quote. It’s his use of the word “retarded” as a way of referring to something as being “bad.” Just a few months ago, use of the word retarded became a national debate thanks to the film Tropic Thunder. Lately, a similar stir was caused by use of the word “gay,” with Hollywood joining in the fight by airing prime time commercials denouncing its use.

In Baer’s quote, the word retarded wasn’t used in reference to something like a sandwich shop or a new song on the radio. Baer actually invokes the imagery of someone giving birth to an infant that is intellectually challenged as a way to describe the poor output of the university football team.

Which brings us to the question: where is the line drawn regarding the use of seemingly harmless banter that is technically offensive? On one hand, you could easily claim that this was a flippant remark written extemporaneously. Baer obviously isn’t trying to maliciously harm those who live with disabilities or those who care for the people who do. But I can’t excuse the remark. A writer shouldn’t get away with saying just anything, even if it is commonplace for people to use such a word as slang to express feelings of disbelief or anger. Such a word being part of the cultural status quo doesn’t make it alright to use it at will, without regard.

As for his attempt at humor and his dig on Sarah Palin, I dislike Palin as a politician, too. Most people I know do. And I think the way the GOP trotted out Trig, her infant born with Downs Syndrome, was a transparent and pathetic way for the Republicans to try to wrangle votes from an otherwise confused section of the nation. These are families who are oftentimes hurting for support, and they are sensitive to the needs of their children and to others’ children as well.

Call me crazy, but I bet that Palin and her husband want nothing but the best for their children, especially for their youngest. Now that doesn’t necessarily make her qualified to sign bills into legislation, but it does make her worthy of our respect in that capacity. And our language regarding her scenario should follow suit.

Words have power. And when we use them, we need to use them with care. I have spent more than a few moments regretting the things that I’ve written, even up to this day, if I am being honest. It doesn’t mean that we have to play by the rules all the time, but it does mean that we have to be responsible for the words we use when we write them. And as such, Drake Baer is responsible for writing his, just as I am responsible for mine.

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