"You can't be afraid of words that speak the truth. I don't like words that hide the truth. I don't like words that conceal reality. I don't like euphemisms or euphemistic language. And American english is loaded with euphemisms. Because Americans have a lot of trouble dealing with reality. Americans have trouble facing the truth, so they invent a kind of a soft language to protect themselves from it. And it gets worse with every generation. For some reason it just keeps getting worse.
I'll give you an example of that. There's a condition in combat. Most people know about it. It's when a fighting person's nervous system has been stressed to it's absolute peak and maximum, can't take any more input. The nervous system has either snapped or is about to snap. In the first world war that condition was called shell shock. Simple, honest, direct language. Two syllables. Shell shock. Almost sounds like the guns themselves. That was 70 years ago. Then a whole generation went by. And the second world war came along and the very same combat condition was called battle fatigue. Four syllables now. Takes a little longer to say. Doesn't seem to be as hard to say. Fatigue is a nicer word than shock. Shell shock...battle fatigue.
Then we had the war in Korea in 1950. Madison Avenue was riding high by that time. And the very same combat condition was called Operational Exhaustion. Hey we're up to 8 syllables now! And the humanity has been squeezed completely out of the phrase now. It's totally sterile now. Operational Exhaustion: sounds like something that might happen to your car. Then of course came the war in Vietnam, which has only been over for about 16 or 17 years. And thanks to the lies and deceit surrounding that war, I guess it's no surprise that the very same condition was called Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Still 8 syllables, but we've added a hyphen. And the pain is completely buried under jargon. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
I bet you, if we'd still been calling it shell shock, some of those Vietnam veterans might have gotten the attention they needed at the time. I bet you that.
But it didn't happen. And one of the reasons is because we were using that soft language, that language that takes out the life out of life. And it is a function of time it does keep getting worse.
Give you another example. Sometime during my life toilet paper became bathroom tissue. I wasn't notified of this. No one asked me if I agreed with it. It just happened. Toilet paper became bathroom tissue. Sneakers became running shoes. False teeth became dental appliances. Medicine became medication. Information became directory assistance. The dump became the land fill. Car crashes became automobile accidents. Partly cloudy became partly sunny. Motels became motor lodges. House trailers became mobile homes. Used cars became previously owned transportation. Room service became guest room dining. Constipation became occasional irregularity.
When I was a little kid if I got sick they wanted me to go to a hospital and see the doctor. Now they want me to go to a health maintenance organization. Or a wellness center to consult a health care delivery professional. Poor people used to live in slums. Now the economically disadvantaged occupy sub-standard housing in the inner cities. And they're broke! They're broke. They don't have a negative cash flow position. They're f--kin' broke! Because a lot of them were fired. You know, fired. Management wanted to curtail redundancies in the human resources area. So many people are no longer viable members of the work force.
Smug, greedy well-fed white people have invented a language to conceal their sins. It's as simple as that. The CIA doesn't kill people anymore, they neutralize people, or they depopulate the area. The government doesn't lie, it engages in disinformation. The pentagon actually measures radiation in something they call sunshine units. Israeli murderers are called commandos. Arab commandos are called terrorists. Contra killers are called freedom fighters. Well if crime fighters fight crime and fire fighters fight fire what do freedom fighters fight? They never mention that part of it to us, do they?
And some of this stuff is just silly. We know that. Like when the airlines tell us to pre-board. What the hell is pre-board? What does that mean? To get on before you get on?
They say they're going to pre-board those passengers in need of special assistance ...cripples! Simple honest direct language. There's no shame attached to the word cripple I can find in any dictionary. In fact it's a word used in Bible translations. "Jesus healed the cripples." Doesn't take seven words to describe that condition. But we don't have cripples in this country anymore. We have the physically challenged. Is that a grotesque enough evasion for you? How about differently-abled? I've heard them called that. Differently-abled! You can't even call these people handicapped anymore. They say: "We're not handicapped, we're handy capable!" These poor people have been bullsh-tted by the system into believing that if you change the name of the condition somehow you'll change the condition. Well hey cousin ... doesn't happen!
We have no more deaf people in this country. Hearing impaired. No more blind people. Partially sighted or visually impaired. No more stupid people, everyone has a learning disorder. Or he's minimally exceptional. How would you like to told that about your child? 'He's minimally exceptional.' Psychologists have actually started calling ugly people those with severe appearance deficits. It's getting so bad that any day now I expect to hear a rape victim referred to as an unwilling sperm recipient!
And we have no more old people in this country. No more old people. We shipped them all away and we brought in these senior citizens. Isn't that a typically American twentieth century phrase? Bloodless. Lifeless. No pulse in one of them. A senior citizen. But I've accepted that one. I've come to terms with it. I know it's here to stay. We'll never get rid of it. But the one I do resist, the one I keep resisting, is when they look at an old guy and say, "Look at him Dan, he's ninety years young." Imagine the fear of aging that reveals. To not even be able to use the word old to describe someone. To have to use an antonym.
And fear of aging is natural. It's universal, isn't it? We all have that. No one wants to get old. No one wants to die. But we do. So we con ourselves. I started conning myself when I got in my forties. I'd look in the mirror and say, "Well...I guess I'm getting ...older." Older sounds a little better than old, doesn't it? Sounds like it might even last a little longer. I'm getting old. And it's okay. Because thanks to our fear of death in this country I won't have to die. I'll pass away. Or I'll expire, like a magazine subscription. If it happens in the hospital they'll call it a terminal episode. The insurance company will refer to it as negative patient care outcome. And if it's the result of malpractice they'll say it was a therapeutic misadventure.
I'm telling ya, some of this language makes me want to vomit. Well, maybe not vomit ...makes me want to engage in an involuntary personal protein spill."
"I look at it this way... For centuries now, man has done everything he can to destroy, defile, and interfere with nature: clear-cutting forests, strip-mining mountains, poisoning the atmosphere, over-fishing the oceans, polluting the rivers and lakes, destroying wetlands and aquifers... so when nature strikes back, and smacks him on the head and kicks him in the nuts, I enjoy that. I have absolutely no sympathy for human beings whatsoever. None. And no matter what kind of problem humans are facing, whether it's natural or man-made, I always hope it gets worse."
"The planet has been through a lot worse than us. Been through all kinds of things worse than us. Been through earthquakes, volcanoes, plate tectonics, continental drift, solar flares, sun spots, magnetic storms, the magnetic reversal of the poles...hundreds of thousands of years of bombardment by comets and asteroids and meteors, worlwide floods, tidal waves, worldwide fires, erosion, cosmic rays, recurring ice ages...And we think some plastic bags, and some aluminum cans are going to make a difference? The planet...the planet...the planet isn't going anywhere. WE ARE!
We're going away. Pack your shit, folks. We're going away. And we won't leave much of a trace, either. Thank God for that. Maybe a little styrofoam. Maybe. A little styrofoam. The planet'll be here and we'll be long gone. Just another failed mutation. Just another closed-end biological mistake. An evolutionary cul-de-sac. The planet'll shake us off like a bad case of fleas. A surface nuisance."
The custom of observing a moment of silence before an athletic event to honor dead people strikes me as meaningless. And arbitrary. Because, if you'll notice, only certain people get this special treatment. It's highly selective. Therefore I've decided that someday, when the time comes that every single person in the world who dies receives a moment of silence, I will begin paying attention. Until then, count me out. It's ridiculous. Here's what I mean.
Let's say you live in Cleveland, and you decide to go to the Browns game. There you are in the football stadium, with a hot dog and a beer, ready to enjoy action, and a somber-sounding public-address announcer interrupts the festivities, intoning darkly:
"And now, ladies and gentlemen, we ask that you remove your hats and join us in observing a moment of silence for the forty-three unattractive, mentally retarded, overweight Bolivian dance instructors who lost their lives this morning in a roller coaster accident at an amusement park near La Paz. Apparently, they all stood up on a sharp turn and went flying off, willy-nilly, into the cool, crisp, morning La Paz air. And, being heavier than air, crashed through the roof of the funhouse, landing on several clowns, killing them all and crushing their red noses beyond recognition."
Snickering is heard in the crowd. The American announcer continues:
"And, ladies and gentlemen, lest you think this amusing, lest you think this a time for laughter, I ask you please-please- to put yourself in the place of the bereaved Bolivian who may be seated near you this afternoon. Try reversing places. Imagine yourself visiting Bolivia and taking in a soccer game. Imagine yourself seated in the stadium with a burrito and a cerveza, ready to enjoy the action, and a somber-sounding, Spanish public-address announcer interrupts the festivities, intoning darkly:
" 'Senors y senoritas, we ask that you remove your sombreros and join us in observing un momento de silencio for the forty-three mentally retarded, overweigh, unattractive American meat inspectors who lost their lives this morning in a Ferris Wheel accident at at carnival near Ashtabula, Ohio.'
The Spanish announcer continues:
" 'Apparently, the huge wheel flew out of control, spinning madly, flinging the poor meat inspectors off, willy-nilly, into the hot, humid, Midwester air. And, being heavier than air, they crashed through the roof of the carnival freak show, crushing the dog-faced boy, and destroying many of his chew-toys.'
"And let's say, as you sit there in La Paz listening to this, you find yourself seated next to some Bolivian smart-ass who's giggling and poking his friend in the ribs. May I suggest you'd be highly pissed at this lack of respect for Americans? And, might I add, rightly so."
The American announcer continues his plea:
"And so, ladies and gentlemen, considering the many grieving Bolivians who may be seated among you today, and trying to keep in check that normal human impulse to laugh heartily when another person dies, let us try again-really hard this time- to observe a moment of silence for the forty-three unattractive, mentally retarded, overweight Bolivian dance instructors who went flying, willy-nilly, off the roller coaster in La Paz. Not to mention the poor, unsuspecting clowns who at the time were innocently filling their water pistols."
You can see the problem either announcer would face; the fans would simply not be able to get into it. But I understand that; I can empathize with the fans. Because, frankly, I don't know what to do during a moment of silence, either. Do you? What are you supposed to do? What do they expect? Do they want us to pray? They don't say that. If you want me to pray, they should ask. I'll pray, but at least have the courtesy to make the formal request.
But no. They offer no guidance, no instruction at all. I honestly don't know what to do. Sometimes I resort to evil thoughts: I wish my seatmates ill fortune in days to come; I fantasize about standing naked in front of the Lincoln Memorial and becoming sexually aroused; I picture thousands of penguins being hacked to death by boatloads of graduate students. More often though, I wind up bored silly, searching for something to occupy my thoughts. One time I inventoried the pimples on the neck of the man in front of me, hoping to find one with a hair growing through it, so I could quietly pluck it out during the confusion of halftime. On a happier occasion, I once found myself staring at the huge but perfectly formed breasts of the woman to my left, her fleshy mounds rising and falling softly in the late October sun. And my thoughts turned tenderly romantic:
"Holy shit! Look at the fuckin' knobs on her! Great fuckin' knobs! I think I'm gonna go to the refreshment stand, buy myself a weenie and hide it in my pants. Then during halftime, I'm gonna whip out the weenie and force her to watch while I eat the bun and stuff the weenie up my.... naaah! She's probably one of those uptight chicks who'd think I'm weird. She doesn't know the problem is I'm shy."
Those are my thoughts, and I can't help it. During a moment of silence my imagination runs away with me. I don't know what to do. And why is it silence they're looking for? What good is silence? The ones being remembered are already dead, they're not going to wake up now. Why not a moment of screaming? Wouldn't that be more appropriate for dead people? Wouldn't you like to hear 60,000 fans screaming, "Aaaaaiiiiiieeeeeaaagghh!!" It sure would put me in the mood for football.
And one more criticism. Why honor only the dead? Why this favoritism? Why not the injured, as well? There are always more injured than there are dead in any decent tragedy. What about them? And what about those who aren't dead or injured, but are simply "treated and released"? How about, if not silence, at least a moment of muffled conversation for those who were treated and released? It's an honorable condition. Personally, I've always wanted to be treated and released. Usually, I'm treated and detained. Perhaps it's for the best.*
« Older The Spertus Museum/Spertus Institute for Jewish St... | Record player + video camera =... Newer »
This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments
Buy a Shirt