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September 8, 2009 5:11 PM   Subscribe

An Impolite Interview with Shel Silverstein from The Realist, August 1961. "There were some pretty horrendous experiences in the YMCA, too. Because at the time I thought this was a place where all the he-men gather. Where young Christian men gather, and you know. And it's not quite like that. It makes Sixth Avenue and 8th Street late at night look like a cub scout meeting. Q. For the Benefit of our out-of-town readers, could you be more specific? A. Faggots!"

Q. I just mean that since you're on one of the lower rungs of being a public personality, do you find you make it easier with people? Not just girls. A. Absolutely. Well, girls are people - can I point that out?
posted by geoff. (168 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
That was brilliant. I loved the story about the girl on the bus. And the last volley was great too; make sure you read the beginning to understand it.
posted by grouse at 5:18 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


"I never sleep in a tie; I maintain my independence there."

Yes.
posted by DU at 5:28 PM on September 8, 2009


Great find. I enjoyed how adamant he was about things being what they are - there being no deeper meaning behind his clothes or cartoons. That the thing he learned about people while selling hotdogs at a game is that they like mustard and hot buns.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 5:29 PM on September 8, 2009


OK, I'll bite: why is a vile homophobic slur the part of the article most worth repeating?
posted by vitia at 5:29 PM on September 8, 2009 [15 favorites]


Hilarious. Thanks for posting!
posted by joannemerriam at 5:30 PM on September 8, 2009


"Q. For the Benefit of our out-of-town readers, could you be more specific? A. Niggers!"

Works on so many levels. Truly a national treasure.
posted by ethnomethodologist at 5:36 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


OK, I'll bite: why is a vile homophobic slur the part of the article most worth repeating?

You can't figure out why Shel Silverstein uttering "faggots!" might not itself be worth an FPP? Something about incongruity etc etc and so on.
posted by xmutex at 5:37 PM on September 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


The list after the end is also great. #2 most overrated man in America in 1961 is Walt Disney "because he has made cuteness an acute syndrome".
posted by DU at 5:38 PM on September 8, 2009


"Faggots?" Now that's a gaffe and a half. So, he did not particularly care for Greyhound buses, hippies, or homosexuals (or, presumably, hippie homosexuals who ride to the YMCA on a bus). Also, nightclubs are right out.

This would make for a great children's book, about a cranky old man trapped in a young man's body, quietly disliking everything around him. We could call it Where the Tolerance Ends. At first I thought he was kidding, but if so, he's like ... Andy Kaufman good. Yet another reason why I make it a point to avoid knowing too much about people whose work I admire.

*still waiting for someone tell reassure me that this was just a joke*
posted by adipocere at 5:39 PM on September 8, 2009


vitia, it was 1961. Pre-Stonewall, pre-political correctness. It's funny because the Jew Silverstein expected the YMCA to attract upright, uptight Christians. And instead he walked into a Kenny Anger film.

Hell, Arlo freely sang about "faggots" back then:
And the only reason I'm singing you this song now is cause you may know somebody in a similar situation, or you may be in a similar situation, and if your in a situation like that there's only one thing you can do and that's walk into the shrink wherever you are ,just walk in say "Shrink, You can get anything you want, at Alice's restaurant.". And walk out. You know, if one person, just one person does it they may think he's really sick and they won't take him. And if two people, two people do it, in harmony, they may think they're both faggots and they won't take either of them.
posted by orthogonality at 5:40 PM on September 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Sorry. Seemed like the tone of the FPP and some of the comments were praising what a great find this somewhat self-indulgent and fairly ugly college-boy-ist interview was. I shoulda seen the incongruity, I suppose, rather than scratching my head at the apparent: "'Faggots!' Hilarious!"
posted by vitia at 5:43 PM on September 8, 2009


So people are upset and surprised because Shel Silverstein (b. 1930) used the word "faggot" and had retrograde attitudes?
posted by kenko at 5:43 PM on September 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Don't get me wrong, I like the guy and love the books.
posted by vitia at 5:44 PM on September 8, 2009


Most of his attitudes were refreshingly non-retrograde.
posted by vitia at 5:44 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Plus, Silverstein is somewhat well known to be an ass.
posted by kenko at 5:44 PM on September 8, 2009


This was 1961. I doubt Shel Silverstein would be using those words today. He's kind of a hero of mine. The "Giving Tree" gives me shivers just thinking about it, and I often quote "Uncle Shelby's ABZ Book: A Primer for Adults Only."

And "Where the Sidewalk Ends" rules as well.

I forgive decades past slurs for someone who gave so much to enrigh people's lives.
posted by cjorgensen at 5:44 PM on September 8, 2009


I'm not in the least upset or surprised that he used the word. I was just surprised that it was the thing deemed most worth celebrating in the FPP.
posted by vitia at 5:45 PM on September 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


OK, I'll bite: why is a vile homophobic slur the part of the article most worth repeating?

Shel Silverstein hated gays before hating gays was uncool.
posted by Avenger at 5:46 PM on September 8, 2009


The faggots slur really bother me. I don't think it's fair to forgive someone for being homophobic just because of the time era they lived in.

I love his poetry, but this made it a little less special for me.
posted by kylej at 5:50 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Apologies for the derail.
posted by vitia at 5:52 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not in the least upset or surprised that he used the word. I was just surprised that it was the thing deemed most worth celebrating in the FPP.

Yes, on reflection it is not a good choice to have it out there, waving itself around like a big offensive flag. And I regret that it was interpreted as something to be celebrated, as that was not my intention at all (it was, indeed, opposite of my intention). If someone with more editing power than myself would like to chop the last bit off, please feel free to.
posted by geoff. at 5:54 PM on September 8, 2009


It's not a derail if it's in the text of the post.
posted by desjardins at 5:55 PM on September 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I was introduced to Shel Silverstein via "Freakin' at the Freaker's Ball" (nsfw, contains the word "fags"), "Cover of the Rolling Stone", and "Different Dances". When my peers latched onto "The Giving Tree" and "Where the Sidewalk Ends", well, I'll just say that the visions they carried in their heads of Shel being the ambassador of innocence and childlike purity sounded surreally off-base.
posted by ardgedee at 5:55 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


I don't think it's fair to forgive someone for being homophobic just because of the time era they lived in.

That's OK, as long as you are OK with your grandchildren spitting on you retroactively for having eaten poor defenseless plants in 2009 (or whatever other group is inside the "moral circle" in 50 years).
posted by DU at 5:55 PM on September 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


That's OK, as long as you are OK with your grandchildren spitting on you retroactively for having eaten poor defenseless plants in 2009 (or whatever other group is inside the "moral circle" in 50 years).

I really don't think this is a good analogy at all.
posted by kylej at 5:57 PM on September 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


(Not to imply that gays are plants. My point is that future generations will certainly have some new standards that we fail to meet.)
posted by DU at 5:57 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


That's OK, as long as you are OK with your grandchildren spitting on you retroactively for having eaten poor defenseless plants in 2009

I'm personally okay with that and actually would be surprised if it didn't happen.
posted by Avenger at 5:58 PM on September 8, 2009


(Yes, a terrible analogy. I just needed something that was a] pretty light and b] pretty sure to be something the reader would be doing.)
posted by DU at 5:59 PM on September 8, 2009


All this upsettedness about Silverstein saying "faggots", but Ron Paul was filmed swearing at Bruno and calling him a queer, and Dick Armey, the Senator who once called Barney Frank "Barney Fag", is helping organize the Tea Parties... and nobody calls them out for it?!

Who's supposed to be held accountable? An author for what he said 40 years ago, or powerful political players, elected officials, or television personalities for the things that they have said far more recently?!
posted by markkraft at 5:59 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


If someone with more editing power than myself would like to chop the last bit off, please feel free to.

Do we have any mohels around here?
posted by gman at 5:59 PM on September 8, 2009 [8 favorites]


If someone with more editing power than myself would like to chop the last bit off, please feel free to.

Come on, we're not such children that one unremarkable-in-its-time slur means we have to resort to the memory hole, are we?
posted by orthogonality at 6:01 PM on September 8, 2009


It's 1961. Do you think if someone sat down with him, and said, "In the future, that word is all kinds of hateful towards people who continually take it in the teeth, as bad as the "k" word when dealing with jewish people, or the "n" word when dealing with black people" that he would keep using it?

The most important thing Stonewall Riots did was make people aware that there was a problem that needed to be dealt with. Once people were made aware, progress was made... and a lot of progress has been made since '61.
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:08 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


When I was a young whatever, I used to subscribe to The Realist and I had fogotten about those days until now, but this brings it all back--including the famous Kennedy Assassination issue that has LBJ fucking the bullet wound on Air Force One.
posted by Obscure Reference at 6:09 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I don't think it's fair to forgive someone for being homophobic just because of the time era they lived in.

I very much disagree with this -- a human being can be forgiven almost anything because of the era in which they lived. What are we human beings if not the products of our environments? Also, you're somewhat naively assuming that your 2009 self can faithfully interpret the meaning behind words spoken and written down in 1961, which is probably a dangerous thing to take for granted. If we apply an absolute standard of morality to every important person in history, I think we're very quickly without heroes.
posted by i'm offended you're offended at 6:14 PM on September 8, 2009 [16 favorites]


So people are upset and surprised because Shel Silverstein (b. 1930) used the word "faggot" and had retrograde attitudes?

Surprised? No. Upset? Yes. I'm not calling for boycotts or censorship or anything, but yeah, I do find it regrettable. Do you know why? Because of the era during which this was uttered.

Martin Luther made anti-Semitic statements? Sad, but it was the 16th century - so yeah, I can see different standards and all that. Someone makes anti-semitic statements after WWII? Fuck 'em. See?

Jews, gays (pink triangle), gypsies - bigoted statements are always sad, but for those particular groups, if it's any time after WWII, "the times" excuse just doesn't work for me. It's offensive and obscene.

This interview was when? Exactly. Fuck that shit. Not saying anything else about the person, but that statement and those sentiments are BS, and no, "the times" doesn't work here.
posted by VikingSword at 6:15 PM on September 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


FUCK YEAH TRANSPOSING MODERN MORALS TO HISTORICAL FIGURES.
posted by Allan Gordon at 6:16 PM on September 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


It's possible that both the guy on the single and the guy on the five used the n-word at some point.
posted by codswallop at 6:16 PM on September 8, 2009



The faggots slur really bother me. I don't think it's fair to forgive someone for being homophobic just because of the time era they lived in.


That's OK, as long as you are OK with your grandchildren spitting on you retroactively for having eaten poor defenseless plants in 2009 (or whatever other group is inside the "moral circle" in 50 years).


I really don't think this is a good analogy at all.




Okay, here's a better (US-biased) analogy: every time there's a discussion of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson do you immediately say "Fuck those slave-owners" and ignore everything else about their lives?
posted by Ndwright at 6:16 PM on September 8, 2009 [6 favorites]


but this brings it all back--including the famous Kennedy Assassination issue that has LBJ fucking the bullet wound on Air Force One.

The Parts That Were Left Out of the Kennedy Book! (the aforementioned scene)
posted by geoff. at 6:18 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's 1961. Do you think if someone sat down with him, and said, "In the future, that word is all kinds of hateful towards people who continually take it in the teeth, as bad as the "k" word when dealing with jewish people, or the "n" word when dealing with black people" that he would keep using it?

I don't really have that much problem with the word specifically. He could have said, "Gays!" and it would have the same effect (at least on me). It's the context of the interview, he's asked why he didn't like rooming at the YMCA, and "Faggots!" is his answer. It's crude and offensive.
posted by kylej at 6:19 PM on September 8, 2009


Hey, putting aside that one line, that was a pretty great interview. Thanks geoff. .
posted by intermod at 6:20 PM on September 8, 2009


In the late 70s, the Village People had their greatest hit: YMCA

I recall when I had moved out of my house to get a divorce and my son, with me, was checking out the Y as a possible place to move into. Lots of creeps wandering the halls and he said "even you should not live here," to which I replied: "I don't think your mother would agree with you."

I did not move in.
posted by Postroad at 6:20 PM on September 8, 2009


Good read, great link. Thanks geoff..
posted by tellurian at 6:23 PM on September 8, 2009


The "Giving Tree" gives me shivers just thinking about it

Yeah, me too, but probably not for the same reasons.

You can't figure out why Shel Silverstein uttering "faggots!" might not itself be worth an FPP? Something about incongruity

It doesn't seem incongruous at all to those of us who know Shel Silverstein's work that was not for children.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:26 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Does this place always have to be an early 90's Gender/Sexuality Studies class? JESUS FUCK! If I wanted to see people make a show about how sensitive they are, I'd hang out by a Food Not Bombs table or something. I beg of you, save it for your 15-year reunion or something. Please.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:26 PM on September 8, 2009 [37 favorites]


If you think that a slur in this context was too much for your eyes to witness (especially if it's anytime after World War II), let me direct you to some wonderful, uplifting photos of gays being hauled off in paddywagons in many of the largest cities in the US at circa the same time for doing nothing more than being entrapped by police in an underground gay bar. Are those photos too horrible and offensive ever to set eyes upon? And yes, "the times" does work here. Historical context has to count for something.
posted by blucevalo at 6:27 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


"I never sleep in a tie; I maintain my independence there."

I liked this tie-related quote, too:

"I don't like to wear ties unless I really feel I'll be embarassing somebody else if I don't."

That, to me, encapsulates "the practical proto-hipster" ethos. Well said, I say.
posted by dammitjim at 6:31 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


"including the famous Kennedy Assassination issue that has LBJ fucking the bullet wound on Air Force One."

Presumably, there was some sanding of the jagged edges, but no lube required, given how soft, warm, and high in fat fresh brains are.
posted by markkraft at 6:31 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


If you think that a slur in this context was too much for your eyes to witness (especially if it's anytime after World War II), let me direct you to some wonderful, uplifting photos of gays being hauled off in paddywagons in many of the largest cities in the US at circa the same time for doing nothing more than being entrapped by police in an underground gay bar. Are those photos too horrible and offensive ever to set eyes upon? And yes, "the times" does work here. Historical context has to count for something.

I'm not saying it's too much for my eyes to witness, just that I dislike it. I've seen those photos too. Just because worse atrocities were committed doesn't make smaller ones okay.

I realize that historical context counts for something, but people generally don't forgive older people for being racist, or Nazis for discriminating against Jews.
posted by kylej at 6:33 PM on September 8, 2009


Now that a link to The Giving Tree's amazon page has been posted, I'm having an interesting time reading the one star reviews.

"I am in the group that finds this book disturbing. I adore almost all other Shel Silverstein- his poetry books are a staple that I think every family library should have, but this one has always bothered me. The selfishness of the boy and what I think is the tree ultimately giving itself to death just really bother me."

Well... yes. It never occurred to me that some people out there find the book heartwarming. I always saw it as a truthful story, with all that entails. When it was read to me as a child, it was one of the books that actually made me think about a new and difficult concept.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 6:33 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


If I wanted to see people make a show about how sensitive they are, I'd hang out by a Food Not Bombs table or something.

Gee, if I wanted to see people talking about how hilarious homophobia is, I'd go hang out most other places on the Internet.

I mean, there are funny things in that interview, but that particular bit isn't really very funny.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:34 PM on September 8, 2009


I'm not calling for boycotts or censorship or anything

Nobody buy new copies of The Realist! Who's with me?
posted by dammitjim at 6:35 PM on September 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


He who has not sinned cast the first snark.
posted by digsrus at 6:35 PM on September 8, 2009


The faggots slur really bother me. I don't think it's fair to forgive someone for being homophobic just because of the time era they lived in.

Well boy you need to make it a priority in life to never, ever learn about anyone responsible for the art you appreciate it. Whole closet full of disasters, people.
posted by xmutex at 6:35 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Also: Thomas Jefferson. OWNED SLAVES.
posted by xmutex at 6:36 PM on September 8, 2009


Also, my dad is older than Shel Silverstein would be if he were alive, and although I imagine he said "faggots" in the early 1960s, we wouldn't pull up one of his old pieces and be all "OH HA HA DAD THAT WAS HILARIOUS YOU SAID 'FAGGOT'"--instead, we'd talk about the stuff that was funny and not benighted.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:36 PM on September 8, 2009


or Nazis for discriminating against Jews.

Wow. Just wow. You have a gift.
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:37 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well boy you need to make it a priority in life to never, ever learn about anyone responsible for the art you appreciate it. Whole closet full of disasters, people.

The two options aren't "SHUN" and "LA LA I CAN'T HEAR YOU"--what about the option of "This person did lots of things I admire, and said some other things that really skeeve me out"?
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:37 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


[...]let me direct you to some wonderful, uplifting photos of gays being hauled off in paddywagons in many of the largest cities in the US at circa the same time for doing nothing more than being entrapped by police in an underground gay bar. Are those photos too horrible and offensive ever to set eyes upon?[...]

Strangely, yes, I do find that outrageous. And no, I don't propose suppressing those photos - on the contrary, I think they should be publicized, as the outrage that they are. Just as we should publicize and not suppress the much more recent Al-Ghraib photos - also vile examples of hatred in action. When I see pictures or movies of black people being beaten for the crime of marching in a civil rights demonstration, I don't think "well, that's sad, but it was the times" either - my reaction is much more raw, and I can't help it, it's visceral. Same for gay people being arrested back in the day.
posted by VikingSword at 6:38 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Barenboim played Wagner in Jerusalem.
posted by orthogonality at 6:38 PM on September 8, 2009


Wow. Just wow. You have a gift.

I'm sorry the comparison isn't perfect, but there are parallels. Please either respond saying why my comment doesn't work, or shut up. The kind of thing you're doing is pointless and mean.
posted by kylej at 6:39 PM on September 8, 2009


My Nazi comparison, it's not perfect, but ho- ho- hold on, there are, there are parallels!
posted by xmutex at 6:40 PM on September 8, 2009


My adviser lives in his old apartment in the Bowery.
All she has to say about him- "Ugh when I moved in there- Shel Silverstein is a pig!"
(She says pig like piyug.)
posted by Esoquo at 6:41 PM on September 8, 2009


or Nazis for discriminating against Jews.

I really don't think this is a good analogy at all.
posted by gman at 6:42 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


blucevalo just so you know, paddywagons is considered bad now too.
posted by cjorgensen at 6:44 PM on September 8, 2009


My Nazi comparison, it's not perfect, but ho- ho- hold on, there are, there are parallels!

Instead of attacking me, could we stick to the discussion? Thanks.
posted by kylej at 6:44 PM on September 8, 2009


Barenboim played Wagner in Jerusalem.

Wagner's anti-semitism was standard for the era, but more importantly, his statements didn't come about a mere 20 years after an appalling tragedy that was directly connected to such sentiments. Had Wagner lived and made those statements after WWII, yeah, I would have a different attitude. Also, the Nazis liking Wagner doesn't make a lick of difference to me either way. Sorry, but I don't see these situations as equivalent.
posted by VikingSword at 6:46 PM on September 8, 2009


In Silverstein's defense, riding the Greyhound is a horribly shitty experience.
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 6:47 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm sorry the comparison isn't perfect, but there are parallels. Please either respond saying why my comment doesn't work, or shut up. The kind of thing you're doing is pointless and mean.

"Systematically rounding up people and gassing them" is a bit stronger than "discriminating against." Are you really comparing people who used "faggot" in 1961 to mass murderers?

How was your first day of 8th grade?
posted by Mayor Curley at 6:49 PM on September 8, 2009


kylej, your analogy about whether we forgive old people for being racist was apt, because what we're talking about there is attitudes and expressing them. Your analogy about the Nazis was inept, because what we're talking about there is persecuting and killing people.

But anyway, you're wrong, because we do forgive old people for being racist. They're called our grandparents.
posted by palliser at 6:50 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


A friend of mine was hit on mercilessly in 1999 by Shel Silverstein, right in front of her fiance. They were both pretty aghast. Apparently he doesn't have a problem with hippy girls!
posted by chronkite at 6:51 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Actually, xmutex, Thomas Jefferson probably RAPED SLAVES.
posted by bashos_frog at 6:52 PM on September 8, 2009


Isn't the discussion supposed to be over once the Nazis become the topic? What if we discuss the parts of the interview that don't lead to a discussion of anti-semitism and bad Nazi comparisons?
posted by The World Famous at 6:54 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I realize that historical context counts for something, but people generally don't forgive older people for being racist, or Nazis for discriminating against Jews.

Fair enough, and I see what you're saying ..... however, I wasn't talking about forgiving or not forgiving anybody -- in any case, I don't think it's in my power or influence to forgive or not forgive someone I've never met and who has never had any personal interaction with me (but that's just me, and I'm weird).

I was only talking about the idea that this article is somehow off-the-charts horrible because it contains a remark that almost any public figure would have felt entirely within his or her comfort zone at that time to make. I'm not saying it's right that he made this remark, and I'm not saying the remark isn't jarring. I'm just saying, look at the time in which it was uttered and cut the guy some slack.

The next "article" after the Silverstein interview in the same issue contains the following line: "Next, the old ladies with their bright blouses and Polaroid cameras turn up, fresh from a summer course at the San Miguel art school; they are followed closely by the Madison Avenue fags with their pink shirts, tight pants, Olivetti typewriters and burning ambitions to write a great novel -- some day." If anything, that use of the word is even more offensive than Silverstein's use of it. Should it be redacted too? Should any use of that word by Norman Mailer or Tom Wolfe or Jack Kerouac or Ken Kesey (oh, Ken Kesey had some doozies) be wiped out as well?

I know some people are saying that it's not a choice between two opposite poles of how to react. But the language that some are using makes it sound that way.
posted by blucevalo at 6:56 PM on September 8, 2009


I don't really have that much problem with the word specifically. He could have said, "Gays!" and it would have the same effect (at least on me).

According to Wikipedia, the term "gay" had not even acquired that specific meaning at the time, except perhaps as a euphemism among people who would have known what was being referred to.

While not apologizing for people's attitudes back then, it's worth remembering that homosexuality was criminalized at the time, and considered a mental disorder. The average person would not have known any openly gay people, the way they might have known people of other races and religions. So I can easily understand why my grandparents, none of whom were racists, could nonetheless be homophobes. American society has shifted relatively quickly on this issue.
posted by mubba at 6:56 PM on September 8, 2009 [9 favorites]


"Systematically rounding up people and gassing them" is a bit stronger than "discriminating against." Are you really comparing people who used "faggot" in 1961 to mass murderers?

How was your first day of 8th grade?


Sorry, I shouldn't have used the term nazi's, who I meant were the regular German citizens who who discriminated against the Jews w in smaller ways, such as not giving them jobs, firing them, harassing them etcetera before the actual holocaust began.

And for the 8th grade comment, can you please just cut that out? You're the one who's coming across like you're in middle school.
posted by kylej at 6:59 PM on September 8, 2009


Know why this "the times" stuff doesn't fly with me as an excuse for stuff like what Silverstein said?

Because I'm pretty sure at least one dude -- probably many dudes and dudinas, actually, but I am not the holder of all knowledge about history that I wish to be, so I can only speak with confidence about the one dude -- who walked the earth long before anybody I've ever heard the "oh, it was the times" excuse made for laid it all out plainly and simply with "love they neighbor as thyself."

On the other hand, he said this before the Internet, the radio, or the printing press, so I guess I should understand that various people such as the USA's Founding Fathers, Tolkien and Silverstein (all representing a tiny portion of the number of folks I've heard defended with the times phrase) might not have gotten the memo.

On the other other hand, I'm totally cool with acknowledging that people who've created art that I enjoy or a system of government from which I benefit might very well have been complete cocks on issues that matter dearly to me; however, I'm willing to weigh both the good and bad about such folks, and I find that, in general, the scales tilt in their favor when all things are considered. But that doesn't mean I urge myself or others to completely ignore the f*cked up things they did or said.

Finally, I'm so looking forward to reading Where the Sidewalk Ends to my daughter it's not even funny.
posted by lord_wolf at 7:02 PM on September 8, 2009


I saw two sides politely disagreeing ... until the last post. Where is your anger coming from, Mayor?

I was always creeped out by The Giving Tree (I felt bad for the poor tree, and wished that he would've fought back or said no to the man), though I liked some of Silverstein's other stuff. Now I'm confused. The Giving Tree Silverstein didn't seem complex at all, and seemed to be aiming for the self-righteous folk-singing market that he shreds in this interview. The Realist Silverstein seems like he has a chip on his shoulder. I can't tell if he's a punk, if he's posing for The Realist, if he's angry at the interviewer, or what.

Good looking, though.
posted by kanewai at 7:14 PM on September 8, 2009


Jews, gays (pink triangle), gypsies - bigoted statements are always sad, but for those particular groups, if it's any time after WWII, "the times" excuse just doesn't work for me. It's offensive and obscene

From the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum:

"The continued legal and social prohibitions against homosexuality in Germany hindered acknowledgement that homosexuals were victims of Nazi persecution. In June 1956, West Germany's Federal Reparation Law for Victims of National Socialism declared that internment in a concentration camp for homosexuality did not qualify an individual to receive compensation. Homosexuals murdered by the Nazis received their first public commemoration in a May 8, 1985, speech by West German President Richard von Weizsäcker—the fortieth anniversary of the war's end. Four years after re–unification in 1990, Germany abolished Paragraph 175. In May 2002, the German parliament completed legislation to pardon all homosexuals convicted under Paragraph 175 during the Nazi era."

The Holocaust was first so-named in the 1950s, by scholars and historians. The true nature of the events were just beginning to penetrate into public consciousness in the early 1960s. See, for example, this This American Life episode on the largely-ignored work of Dr. David Boder. Until 1973, homosexuality was classified as a metal illness by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, akin to pedophilia. The taboo against child sexual abuse, has, if anything, probably increased in the intervening years, while the taboo against homosexuals has substantailly lessoned. in 1961, the average person would probably have regarded both tendencies with equal repugnance.
posted by Diablevert at 7:16 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


And for the 8th grade comment, can you please just cut that out? You're the one who's coming across like you're in middle school.

OMG that's something Nazi would say!
Easy there Tex just take 'er easy, keep your hands inside the Metafilter at all times.
posted by nola at 7:18 PM on September 8, 2009


I guess I should retract that first sentence. In my defense, I wrote about "two sides politely disagreeing" BEFORE the conversation went downhill! I just took too long to post it.
posted by kanewai at 7:21 PM on September 8, 2009


Okay, here's a better (US-biased) analogy: every time there's a discussion of George Washington or Thomas Jefferson do you immediately say "Fuck those slave-owners" and ignore everything else about their lives?

Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me you see - straight out racist the sucker was, simple and plain. Motherfuck him and John Wayne.
posted by nooneyouknow at 7:22 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Always great see other-embracing heart listening outrage directed at HISTORICAL MATERIAL.

Right now I'm all burned up inside about child workers in the 1700s, I swear it's giving me heartburn.
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 7:23 PM on September 8, 2009


hauled off in paddywagons

That is offensive, mods please purge that word.
posted by Meatbomb at 7:53 PM on September 8, 2009


Elvis was a hero to most, but he never meant shit to me you see - straight out racist the sucker was

I'm not quite sure why you quote that here, but I can't count how many people I've met who believe Elvis was a racist because of that lyric- when he life and actions demonstrated over and over that he was quite the opposite.

P.E. made some great music but some of the lyrics have not aged well. Unless you still think Farrakhan is a prophet I oughta listen to?
posted by drjimmy11 at 7:55 PM on September 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


Instead of attacking me, could we stick to the discussion? Thanks.

Do not thank me when I have done the opposite of what it is you want me to do. THIS IS DISINGENUOUS and no one wants to see that on the internet.
posted by xmutex at 7:58 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


Apologies for the derail.
posted by vitia at 5:52 PM


It's not a derail if it's in the text of the post.
posted by desjardins at 5:55 PM


Is this true? Is desjardins correct about what does/doesn't constitute a derail? What sort of attributes would a comment need to have for it to be considered a "derailer"? It really bugs me whenever an interesting thread gets derailed, so the topic is of special interest to me.

Can we discuss? I'd love to know everyone's viewpoint regarding this...
posted by jeremy b at 8:08 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


From an interview by satirist Terry Southern, called "Terry Southern Interviews a Faggot Male Nurse":

Q. All right, now let me . . . well listen, what do you mean, "faggot" is . . . I mean you think "faggot" is what? . . . derisive?
A. Derisive, yes, it is derisive-l think it's derisive. . . I think it's derisive.
Q. Well, I didn't mean it that way-I assure you that. . . I was just trying to use words.. . . you know, words of "high frequency incidence," as they say. I mean, semanticists and so on, that's what they say-that that's the word in currency-"faggot."
A. I know they do, I know they do, and it's probably. . . well, they're probably right, that that is the word they use. But, well, I didn't know, you know, exactly how you-well, you know, ha-ha. . . .
Q. But you really think "faggot" is derisive.
A. Well, I think. . . well, I know, I know for example that it's used that way.
Q. What, derisively?
A. Well, derisively. . . maybe not derisively, but patronizing . . . condescending. . . yes, condescendingly. Well, it's that . . . that kind of tolerance. . . you know? I mean liberals use it-the worse kind of so-called liberal uses it!
Q. Is that true? Well, what about a word like "queer"?
A. "Queer"! Oh well, ha! There you're talking about, I don't know what. . . I mean nobody would use a word like that except some kind of . . . of lizard or something.
Q. Yes, well I wouldn't use a word like that, like "queer" . . . or actually I wouldn't use a word like "fairy" either, or "pansy" . . . they just seem, I don't know, archaic or something. But what about "fruit"? I mean I think Lenny Bruce has made "fruit," you know to use the word "fruit," okay, don't you?
A. "Fruit"? Lenny Bruce used it? Well, Lenny Bruce . . . I mean Lenny Bruce uses these words and. . . well, what, you mean he used it instead of "gay"?
Q. Well, he used it, I don't know, he uses it some way, and. . . well, you know, it seemed to make it all right.
A. Yes, well. . . what, you mean he used it instead of "gay"?
Q. Yes, instead of "gay," instead of "faggot"-he uses "faggot," too, you know.
A. Yes, well some people, I mean some people can do that. . . they can do that and it isn't offensive.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:09 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not quite sure why you quote that here, but I can't count how many people I've met who believe Elvis was a racist because of that lyric- when he life and actions demonstrated over and over that he was quite the opposite.

The walls of the office in Graceland are covered with canceled checks that Elvis sent to charities. It's amazing how many are to Jewish and African-American organizations, and how large those checks are.
posted by Astro Zombie at 8:11 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


and no one wants to see that on the internet.

I'm not particularly enjoying seeing the piling-onto of a high school-aged kid in a forum purportedly more mature and thoughtful than most, if we're on the topic of things the internet would be better off without.
posted by Cyrano at 8:13 PM on September 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I love his poetry, but this made it a little less special for me.

Similarly, going forward. My adolescent years were filled with swooning over Cat Stevens and his peace-loving, egalitarian music. Now he has adopted a new name and a set of beliefs that I feel is extremely harmful to women's rights.

I love his poetry from the seventies, and I refuse to let this make it a little less special to me, damnit. People change, the world changes. We don't have to let hatefulness in any era ruin existing beauty.
posted by fish tick at 8:14 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


This interview will be fifty years old soon.

To say this interview was early in the homosexual rights movement would be an understatement. Kinsey had only thirteen years earlier published his book which showed a higher incidence of homosexuality in culture than anyone realized. And as with many of these things, it takes a while for a concept of a loathed underclass to move from mythical boogeyman to unmentionable undesirables to being mentioned at ALL , and further out of the pit of hatred and into general acceptance. It is a very slow climb for any of these groups, and gays and lesbians were very early in the journey in 1961.

I cannot know for certain, but Shel was likely savvy to what sort of content The Realist was expected to contain by its readership. The interview is a very savvy affair, with Silverstein grabbing control of the dialogue very early on, and then him feeding the interviewer easy biographical information early on and pulling back from any psychologizing or "deeper meaning" in his own work. He probably knew the magazine had a propensity for using (for the time) shocking words and scandalous anecdotes, and he tried to play the interviewer like an instrument.

To argue for a changed meaning in the use of the word, I point to Faggots And Their Friends Between Revolutions, published in 1977, and one of the most gay positive books I have ever read.

Words change their emotional load over time, and it can be that "faggot" is much more of a perjorative now than it was in 1977, or that in 1977 it was being reclaimed from the ugliness of previous, pre-Stonewall, even very early Mattachine Society days outside of LA. I am not trying to claim that Silverstein was not even using the word in an epithet-like manner, but it can be that the word was more descriptive and less slam-your-face back then in how it was used at the time. We had not really worked out our complex hierarchy of politically correct language at that point, and homosexuality in any sort of known form was entirely underground at that point in US history.

Heck, for all we know, he was giving 1961's homosexual underground this exact kind of travel tip, only nearly a generation earlier (and less accepting than even that later recommendation.)
posted by hippybear at 8:16 PM on September 8, 2009 [10 favorites]


I was born in August 1961. This makes me an authority. The world has changed greatly since then, believe me.

Cut them some slack.
posted by Turtles all the way down at 8:19 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Astro Zombie was the a conversation between Woody Allen and Woody Allen or am I just slow on the uptake?
posted by nola at 8:20 PM on September 8, 2009


From an interview by satirist Terry Southern, called "Terry Southern Interviews a Faggot Male Nurse":

Slow on the uptake then.
posted by nola at 8:21 PM on September 8, 2009


I dunno. I lived in a YMCA in a relatively decent urban location 25-ish years after that interview and it was jam-packed with crude drug addicts seeking twinks. Showers had a unique appeal later captured in "Oz". Nor did I feel safe keeping any of my stuff there. It hastened my apartment search, believe you me.

As to word choice, what other words were really available? Retcon all you like, this was 1961.
posted by dhartung at 9:10 PM on September 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


Wow - this is one fantastic train wreck of a thread, yet there are a lot of interesting discussions sprinkled throughout.

It seems to me that if one likes the work and art of this man Silverstein, yet disagrees with his faggot remark, the most proactive way to approach would be to write him a letter asking how he feels about his own quote now. Perhaps also express some sympatthy and understanding of the change in 'times'.

This assumes of course that he is still alive, of which I have no idea.
posted by mannequito at 9:19 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


This assumes of course that he is still alive, of which I have no idea.

Yeah, no.
posted by xmutex at 9:21 PM on September 8, 2009


Well shit then.

Let's try another approach : has anyone noticed that the link in question is actually titled 'An Impolite Interview' ?
posted by mannequito at 9:25 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's impolite to notice that it's impolite.
posted by blucevalo at 9:27 PM on September 8, 2009


Has anyone made a collaborative web2.0 oija board? Because we could all try talking to him about this.
posted by idiopath at 10:08 PM on September 8, 2009


This does put his little known book, "Where the Marriage Ends, Vote Yes on Prop 8" into perspective ...
posted by geoff. at 10:09 PM on September 8, 2009


*Ouija board
posted by idiopath at 10:11 PM on September 8, 2009


He tells a joke about the YMCA, which is really a joke about his own naivety on first arriving in NY. It's actually a funny joke, but of course thanks to the Village People (hold that thought) the punch line is visible to us the instant he says "YMCA".

Does he say "and the YMCA turns out to be full of faggots, lol!"? No. He makes a subtle reference to Greenwich Village, which suggests that he regards the subjects of his story as just part of the rich tapestry of freaks (1961 style remember, i.e. non-conformists and the socially excluded) to be found in the Village, a place that he is very fond of. He sees gays as part of the same broad sub-culture to which he belongs. So he respects them, not because he unthinkingly and uncritically accepts the mores of his era, but because he's a decent person and respect for the diversity of others comes naturally to him.

The interviewer then asks him to explain the joke for those who have no idea what the Village reference is about. So does his choice of words tell us what he wished he could have said in the joke but felt unable to? His secret, *real* feelings? Of course not, he's putting in the terms he thinks these "out of town readers" would understand. What does the exclamation mark / point signify? Is he laughing (and at whom or what)? Is he impersonating an "out of town reader"? We don't know because we don't have the clues of body language, tone of voice etc that we'd have if we were there.

But hey, let's lynch him anyway. People were stupid and mean back in the olden days, not enlightened moral saints like everyone is now.
posted by GeckoDundee at 10:19 PM on September 8, 2009 [31 favorites]


I always thought it was a bit of a hidden coup that clueless elementary school teachers across America read some old crazy stoner's free association poetry to their students.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:21 PM on September 8, 2009


Last night I was chatting with a friend about my blood-boiling hatred my fellow lefties. I thought I was out on a limb, but she was right there with me on the subject of simmering leftard passive-aggression that lets no chink of real live negativity surface without some kind of thought police comment, snark, or amazingly obvious cunty body language.

It's very otherizing.

What these people don't seem to understand is they're throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
Good for you, you want to "challenge" any language that belittles folk, but in your efforts you totally fucking alienate anyone who isn't balls deep in a world of sensitivity jargon.

What "challenges" me is I can't keep up with which words or concepts that make up my local dialect- which should be protected like an indigenous language- are o-fucking-kay to speak out loud in the presence of the lefty thought police. (Again, I'm a big fat lefty leftosaurus.)
posted by Gamien Boffenburg at 10:37 PM on September 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


What does the exclamation mark / point signify? Is he laughing (and at whom or what)? Is he impersonating an "out of town reader"? We don't know because we don't have the clues of body language, tone of voice etc that we'd have if we were there.

Good point. You know those things called "air quotes"? They didn't have those back in 1961. Maybe he was thinking in those terms. Who knows?

Actually, never mind ..... according to this, the equivalent of the air quote can be found as far back as 1927.
posted by blucevalo at 10:38 PM on September 8, 2009


Gamien Boffenburg: "I can't keep up with which words or concepts that make up my local dialect ... are o-fucking-kay to speak out loud in the presence of the lefty thought police."

A rule of thumb is that you don't use words that slander large groups of people. If you didn't know faggot was an insult, you do now, and no thought-traffic-cop had to write you a ticket.

Remarkably enough people don't like being insulted or demeaned, especially by people they have never met based on superficial characteristics and stereotypes. Hopefully you will make more friends with this new information.

I can understand Silverstien making a gay joke, given the time and place. I can't understand quoting him deriding people as faggots in your FPP and expecting much of anything else to get talked about. Mark Twain called black people niggers. You could make a great FPP about Mark Twain and his writing and his ideas without it turning into a PC language derail, as long as you didn't say "hey check it out, Mark Twain called someone a nigger" in the post.
posted by idiopath at 10:54 PM on September 8, 2009


The Father of a Boy Named Sue.
posted by team lowkey at 10:57 PM on September 8, 2009


PS. If you make too many ignorant comments the Lefty Thought Police will take away your license to think. And if you continue to make ignorant comments after that, you may just get your brain impounded.
posted by idiopath at 10:58 PM on September 8, 2009


On day Zero, my first executive order will be to have the lefty thought police ground into a fine paste and used to feed those interned in the resettlement camps. Posture and preen while you can, as your days are numbered.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:24 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


also

Gamien Boffenburg: "It's very otherizing."

No, otherizing you would be talking to each other about you as if you were not even there, and not even caring what your opinion might be about the subject; treating the very mention of your existence as if it were a joke and a punchline all wrapped up in one; having universal theories about what it means to be human that treat people like you as an anomaly or a bit of trivia. The word exists because it distinguishes a specific kind of behavior, and if you mean alienation, just use the word alienation. Because otherizing is a thing that happens, and it deserves its own name.
posted by idiopath at 11:38 PM on September 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


tic toc, idiopath, tic toc.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:43 PM on September 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm not quite sure why you quote that here,

Solely because the sentence I quoted in my comment reminded me of it.

but I can't count how many people I've met who believe Elvis was a racist because of that lyric- when he life and actions demonstrated over and over that he was quite the opposite.

The rumor that Elvis was a racist has been going on since the 50s. PE was just saying what a lot of (black) people already thought. These articles are helpful in dissuading people of that:
How Did Elvis Get Turned Into a Racist?
Elvis and Racism - Elvis Presley Legacy is cloudy through lens of race

P.E. made some great music but some of the lyrics have not aged well.

True if you view the lyric as an attack on Elvis the man. I've always seen it as an attack on Elvis the icon. From the second article:

"Raging against gang violence, poverty and inequality, rapper Chuck D of Public Enemy shouted what have become some of the group's most enduring lyrics.

'Elvis was a hero to most / but he didn't mean (expletive) to me you see / Straight up racist, that sucker was simple and plain / Mother (expletive) him and John Wayne / Cause I'm black and I'm proud, I'm ready and hyped plus I'm amped / Most of my heroes don't appear on no stamps'.

Recently, Chuck D explained that his attack was against the Elvis whose roots were whitewashed by his legacy.

'The Elvis that died wasn't the same Elvis that was coming up', Chuck D said. 'They said he was king. Based on who and what? Based on the quality of the people judging or the quality of his music? What does 'King of Rock and Roll' mean growing up in a black household? My Chuck Berry records are still in my house. Little Richard is still in the house. Otis Redding and James Brown. The King of what?"


Unless you still think Farrakhan is a prophet I oughta listen to?

I have never, ever thought Farrakhan was a prophet. Or that he was worth listening to. Well, except for the Million Man March. That was pretty decent.
posted by nooneyouknow at 11:50 PM on September 8, 2009


There have always been some kind of standards for public discourse. There's stuff you say in public, and stuff you should only say if you are ready to take some heat about it. Most of the complaining I hear about political correctness sounds to me like grouchy entitled people who miss being able to use certain insults with impunity. Up until a certain time in modern history, it was OK to insult someone in the US for not being white. The people who were offended had so little political or social power, you never heard much complaining about it. Same thing with gender, ability, sexuality, etc. etc.

Calling someone "the thought police" if they ask you not to use insulting language is petty. You are standing your right to speak freely up against someone else's desire not to be slandered. Yeah you have that right and I have the right to say "hey it offends people when you say that".
posted by idiopath at 12:04 AM on September 9, 2009


But they're really making it mild on kids now... And I guess now Goldilocks, instead of just running out, will become a friend of the three bears – they'll all be buddies.

Shel definitely called that one right.

Then again, there's also Goldilocks as dopefiend, which he probably would've enjoyed.
posted by Ljubljana at 12:16 AM on September 9, 2009


The key phrase there is "it seems to me".

idiopath, please reread Gamien's comment without your educator hat on. You might be right, but you are shrill and incessant, and it is tiring to listen to it indefinitely.

Even if someone did fart, we don't want to keep being told to smell it, and to admit that it really is stinky. People with a sense of proportion, and social grace, reach a point where we all agree to just move along.

"Why are you always on about women, Stan?"
posted by Meatbomb at 12:26 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Metafilter: someone did fart
posted by PeterMcDermott at 12:42 AM on September 9, 2009


Category A. Posts from Thought Police wanting to censor or 'lynch' Silverstein: Zero.

Category B. Posts from people uncomfortable with the language: Numerous.

Category C. Posts attacking the above for being censorious lefty thought police: Also numerous.

Sometimes it feels like we can't have any nuanced opinions on gender, race, et al without being jumped on just for raising the issue.

I'm enjoying reading The Realist. Thanks for the link. It's fascinating, but there's almost a desperate hetero quality to the articles. The faggor comment fits right in. I'll find the link tomorrow, but there was a 1967 issue I saw where the Mattachine Society called them on it. They were objecting to the tone of a piece on gays in the military, but I haven't found that article (strangely, MS said it was NOT a Civil Rights issue).
posted by kanewai at 1:54 AM on September 9, 2009 [2 favorites]


Metafilter: Let's be existentialists this week
posted by bicyclefish at 2:15 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sometimes it feels like we can't have any nuanced opinions on gender, race, et al without being jumped on just for raising the issue.

If it was a post ABOUT gender, race et al it would be appropriate and welcomed. But at this point I'd be afraid that if I started a thread about Red Leicester cheese it would devolve into a race to see how quickly someone to take offense to something. It's really, really tiresome.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:41 AM on September 9, 2009


When I was in college in the late 80's an out gay friend let me know that I was the only one of his het female friends who DIDN'T call him "fag". As far as I'm concerned one doesn't say these kinds of things to one's friends.This was at a place in New England.

The cyclops picture in Uncle Shelby's ABZ book scared the shit out of me when I was a kid....and my father wouldn't tell me any of the travelling salesmen jokes he knew when I asked about that part of the book.
posted by brujita at 5:11 AM on September 9, 2009


I'll find the link tomorrow, but there was a 1967 issue I saw where the Mattachine Society called them on it.

Is this the link you were referring to? (That is, the letter titled "Letter from a Homosexual.")

That does put a slightly different spin on things, as does the editor's response to it. But again, this was 1967. Three years before "Boys in the Band" came out. Depictions of homosexuals in the mass media in general at that time were not exactly rosy. Take a look at movies from the time. When gays were not invisible, they were almost always objects of ridicule and/or scorn. Don't believe me? Watch "The Celluloid Closet."

I don't think the quality is as much desperate hetero as a reflection of the day and age. This is a representative of the Mattachine Society of New York, pleading not to lumped in with the anti-war movement. The editor's response talks about anti-war homosexuals "exploiting their deviation" in order not to be drafted. "Deviation" was an accepted and commonly-used word to describe gay people in the era before the American Psychiatric Association declared homosexuality not a mental disorder in 1973. Ugly, the term is, there is no doubt. But it was used, constantly. That's part of gay history too, as well as all the positive shiny things.

There's another letter on the same page purportedly from a sociology prof at the U of Alabama joking about homosexuals needing to compose a "Ballad of the Pink Berets." Something like that might be seen as slightly outdated camp humor today, out of context. In this context, it seems somewhat jarring, maybe -- but then again, not really, given the times. But do we dig up this prof's corpse (presuming he's long gone) and read him the riot act as well?
posted by blucevalo at 5:28 AM on September 9, 2009


Shame that this thread had to be completely about…this, instead of actually being about the interview.

Thanks for the link, geoff, I enjoyed the interview.
posted by paisley henosis at 5:29 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm willing to forgive him using the word faggot in 1961 in exchange for that song he did about the girl who wouldn't take the garbage out. The sad fact of the matter is that looking into some of the political views of your favorite famous folk is often a discouraging thing to do. I'm not sure why this should come as any surprize in 2009, but I'd guess that it's probably a good thing that it does.
posted by metagnathous at 5:56 AM on September 9, 2009


This interview did nothing to convince me that The Giving Tree is not a really awful book. Using a tree as a proxy for a child's mother, and then slowly chopping it down to a stump? "Here, take my apples and leaves and chop down all my branches. I just want you to be happy." This was nearly as traumatizing as The Velveteen Rabbit. Our version of the book has a giant picture of Silverstein's mug on the back, and he looks like he just escaped from a mental institution. Perhaps it was taken around the time of this interview.
posted by A Long and Troublesome Lameness at 6:42 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


All this talk and no link to the 'The Giving Tree' post?
posted by tellurian at 6:52 AM on September 9, 2009


Great and funny interview. Had me chuckling.

Gaiman: The fag-bomb was already weaponized when I graduated from high school two decades ago. So I don't see a point in complaining about shifting standards in this case.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:55 AM on September 9, 2009


Mayor Curley: If it was a post ABOUT gender, race et al it would be appropriate and welcomed.

True. But in this case, the opening post is ABOUT gay men and women because geoff presented quotes about gay men and women rather than quotes about baseball, hotdogs, traveling by bus, beards, becoming famous for a single cartoon and missing an interview. Complaining that people are talking about the issues that the OP chose to call out by quoting seems a bit odd.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 7:15 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Pretty sure GeckoDundee nailed that one on the head. Thanks for that.
posted by lazaruslong at 7:48 AM on September 9, 2009


KirkJobSluder: "The fag-bomb was already weaponized when I graduated from high school two decades ago."

gay bomb
posted by idiopath at 7:52 AM on September 9, 2009


I am grateful to MetaFilter for unveiling Silverstein as the hateful scourge of homosexuals that he was.
posted by everichon at 8:00 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'll echo what kanewai said. What gets tiresome and starts most of the derail is the complete stubbornness to accept the reasonable position that otherwise good and decent people may sometimes fall short. That criticism of a person's words in one particular case is not a guns-blazing broadside on that person's character, talent, or quality of work.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:31 AM on September 9, 2009


Um. I enjoy the guy's poems and all, but to everyone who is up in arms about the unfairness of judging his comments by modern moral standards, well... so what?

If we're not going to hold historical figures accountable for their questionable worldviews just because they were alive at a time when homophobia, racism, sexism, etc were all more readily accepted, then how are we supposed to discuss where institutionalized homophobia, racism, and sexism come from, or the impact of these things on our culture and our selves? Is it pointless to say that it was wrong to enslave countless Black people, because white people considered it to be par for the course at the time? Is it taboo to suggest that denying women the vote was sexist, because men at the time didn't feel that this was problematic? I do believe that in a hundred years time, my siblings' children's children's children or whatever will judge the prominent members of my generation for considering recycling to be optional, and eating factory-farmed meat. I'm fine with that, because that's how it goes: values change and progress with the times, hopefully towards a society that is less oppressive and more sustainable. Discussing the homophobia of otherwise-beloved writers who lived decades ago is part of the dialogue that encourages that shift.

Not to mention the fact that, um, not everyone was homophobic in the 60's? There were lots of people who tried to understand and promote queer-posi values. Things like Stonewall did not occur in a vaccuum. There were gay people who were negatively affected by the widespread derogatory use of the word "faggot" even in the 60's. So who even says that being pro-gay is a "modern" moral stance?

BUT WHATEVER. It's really not my intention to derail here (I swear!). Thanks for the article, geoff. I liked the part where he called the interviewer on the "people, not just girls" remark. I question whether or not it was necessary to use the "faggots!" quote as the opener for this post, though.
posted by ellehumour at 8:37 AM on September 9, 2009


GeckoDundee: So does his choice of words tell us what he wished he could have said in the joke but felt unable to? His secret, *real* feelings? Of course not, he's putting in the terms he thinks these "out of town readers" would understand.

That's how I read it too.
posted by ericost at 8:47 AM on September 9, 2009


In other news, Abraham Lincoln was a racist, Washington owned slaves, &c. Historical context, people.
posted by Halloween Jack at 8:57 AM on September 9, 2009


"I think it's a lot of hype. I like 'Honky Tonk Women', but I think Mick's a joke with all that fag dancing; I always did. I enjoy it; I'll probably go and see his films and all like everybody else, but really, I think it's a joke."
—John Lennon on the Rolling Stones

posted by Atom Eyes at 9:07 AM on September 9, 2009


Atom Eyes: In spite of the pretty music and ideals, John Lennon could be a raging asshole at times. Given that Lennon assaulted a club owner for possibly, maybe, implying that he and Brian Epstein were doing it, I strongly suspect that he did have a few issues regarding homosexuality. (But of course, I still admire him as an artist.)

I don't get the same vibe from Silverstein. Shock at having unintentionally blundered into a haven for gay men is worthy of an eye-roll. But I don't consider it that big of a deal.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 10:04 AM on September 9, 2009


then how are we supposed to discuss where institutionalized homophobia, racism, and sexism come from, or the impact of these things on our culture and our selves?

I think the point is, ellehumour, that there are quite a few of us who are tired of discussing that ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

I love MetaFilter, I love singing kumbayah with all of my brothers and sisters here, but I would love it even more if the racism/homophobia/sexism awareness lectures were only, say, 9-5 instead of 24/7.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:47 AM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Discussing the homophobia of otherwise-beloved writers who lived decades ago is part of the dialogue that encourages that shift.

Sure, discussing it is valuable and valid. I don't think that discussing is what's going on in this thread. Neither is dialogue.
posted by blucevalo at 11:01 AM on September 9, 2009


When Village People's "YMCA" came out, I was living at he YMCA. Sadly, it was not as the song described, in my specific location. Am I entitled to some kind of refund?
posted by Goofyy at 11:08 AM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love MetaFilter, I love singing kumbayah with all of my brothers and sisters here, but I would love it even more if the racism/homophobia/sexism awareness lectures were only, say, 9-5 instead of 24/7.

Well, maybe if there were less racism, homophobia, and sexism we could shut up about it.

"Whoever smelt it dealt it" is not the way adults conduct communities. If you don't want people smelling it, stop fucking dealing it so often. It stinks.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:37 AM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Well, maybe if there were less racism, homophobia, and sexism we could shut up about it.

What percent decrease would result in a reduction of lectures from 24/7 to just 9-5? I think if we can set a goal, we can work toward it!
posted by The World Famous at 11:41 AM on September 9, 2009


Meatbomb: I think the point is, ellehumour, that there are quite a few of us who are tired of discussing that ALL THE FUCKING TIME.

I love MetaFilter, I love singing kumbayah with all of my brothers and sisters here, but I would love it even more if the racism/homophobia/sexism awareness lectures were only, say, 9-5 instead of 24/7.


I count more than a dozen front page posts right now that have nothing to do with racism/homophobia/sexism.

But come on here, isn't it obvious which direction the discussion will go when the OP uses a quote about gay men on the front page? And is it too much to ask that since the topic of the discussion is fucking obvious from the quote selected, that you entertain yourself in one of the dozen other threads rather than repeatedly shitting in this one?
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:41 AM on September 9, 2009


Isn't Shel Silverstein that guy who skipped out on a radio interview?
posted by exogenous at 12:12 PM on September 9, 2009 [4 favorites]


I love MetaFilter, I love singing kumbayah with all of my brothers and sisters here, but I would love it even more if the racism/homophobia/sexism awareness lectures were only, say, 9-5 instead of 24/7.

Unfortunately, the only way that shit will ever be dealt with will be to recognize it wherever it occurs and to see it as the human weakness that it is. Silence wont do anything to improve the situation, here on Metafilter or anywhere else.
posted by metagnathous at 12:12 PM on September 9, 2009


But come on here, isn't it obvious which direction the discussion will go when the OP uses a quote about gay men on the front page? And is it too much to ask that since the topic of the discussion is fucking obvious from the quote selected, that you entertain yourself in one of the dozen other threads rather than repeatedly shitting in this one?

I would like to point out that I didn't intend this to be the topic of discussion and I deeply regret that it detracted from what was an interesting interview. When I was going back through to pick out a quote it struck me as amusing due to the naivety of a young Shel Silverstein going to a YMCA and expecting it to be some sort of Harvard yard. Also to us, a modern reader, the description is so euphemistically gay ("he-man" "YMCA" etc.) that further description is not really required. I don't think he meant it to be so heavy with innuendo but that's how it sounds today, even without the comment at the end.

I didn't think that the usage of faggot was derogatory in the context of the article and I think he used it in a colloquial fashion, saying homosexual would have been very dry and clinical. In fact this has been reaffirmed by others in the thread (Arlo Guthrie, Faggots And Their Friends Between Revolutions). This, coupled with the meaning of the anecdote not as a joke or slander against gays but of an out of his element Shel Silverstein, reaffirms that he wasn't using it in a derogatory manner.

But I will admit, that faggot is much more of a loaded term than I realized and that choosing that quote so far out of context and plopping it on the front page with the word faggot waiving out at the end that someone could easily interpret the comment as a snarling Shel Silverstein doing his best Roy Cohn exclaiming that on his first day in New York he spent it in a degenerate bath house.

So the little logic part of my brain that says, "Hey, they didn't just read the article and if you're randomly going to pull a succinct quote from the article try not to use one that has a loaded term and will totally derail the thread," that little part was taking a break.
posted by geoff. at 12:17 PM on September 9, 2009 [5 favorites]


KirkJobSluder: But in this case, the opening post is ABOUT gay men and women because geoff presented quotes about gay men and women rather than quotes about […]

Yeah, all those gay women at the YMCA.

Yep.
posted by paisley henosis at 12:19 PM on September 9, 2009


@ MeatBomb: I would like it if the racist/homophobic/sexist commentary could occur only, say, between 9-5 instead of 24/7, myself. Alas, you can't always get what you want. Would you believe that some people are not white/queer/women, and that it's impossible for these people to just stop being affected by racism/homopbia/sexism? So inconsiderate!

But, seriously, KirkJobSluder is absolutely right. If you're so averse to being reading some comments that essentially boil down to "homophobia kind of sucks", maybe you should stay out of the thread that started with a famous writer's homophobic comments.
posted by ellehumour at 12:19 PM on September 9, 2009


When Village People's "YMCA" came out, I was living at he YMCA. Sadly, it was not as the song described, in my specific location. Am I entitled to some kind of refund?

If you're talking about dudes getting together with dudes, you may have been talking to the wrong dudes. I stayed at the Tulsa Y for about five weeks in the mid-nineties, and was led to believe that, if I stayed on a particular floor, I could have about as much action as I was interested in. I wasn't, but I still had that song running through my head all the time.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:22 PM on September 9, 2009


. Silence wont do anything to improve the situation

Wait, silence in response...what? A decades-old quip that doesn't align with contemporary consensus about speech norms? Or were you referring to the huge, vocal homophobe constituency within Metfilter?

Thank you for taking such a brave grating and condescending position.
posted by everichon at 12:25 PM on September 9, 2009


metagnathous: Silence wont do anything to improve the situation, here on Metafilter or anywhere else.

ellehumour: If you're so averse to being reading some comments that essentially boil down to "homophobia kind of sucks", maybe you should stay out of the thread that started with a famous writer's homophobic comments.

Isn't there a fundamental disconnect between "Silence won't do anything to improve the situation" and "Maybe you should stay out of this thread"?
posted by blucevalo at 12:38 PM on September 9, 2009


paisley: Ohh, I knew there was something wrong with the way (gay men) + women translated into text.

blucevalo: Not really.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:00 PM on September 9, 2009


If you're so averse to being reading some comments that essentially boil down to "homophobia kind of sucks", maybe you should stay out of the thread that started with a famous writer's homophobic comments.

Did you read any of these things, upthread?

I didn't think that the usage of faggot was derogatory in the context of the article and I think he used it in a colloquial fashion.... This, coupled with the meaning of the anecdote not as a joke or slander against gays but of an out of his element Shel Silverstein, reaffirms that he wasn't using it in a derogatory manner.

Did you read Gecko's well written and thoughtful comment, in which he explains that this actually isn't an example of homophobic hate speech? I know, it is complex and nuanced, and it is easier to go into righteous educator mode. The word "faggot", regardless of context, must be purged from the mouths of the outsiders.

Is it thread shitting to try to push the zealot off of the soapbox when he (or she) is braying in such a manner that any other discourse is impossible? Maybe if you weren't constantly carrying that soapbox around, if you stored it out in the hall, you wouldn't feel so tempted to jump up on it in every place you see the horrible words?
posted by Meatbomb at 1:01 PM on September 9, 2009


OH AND ALSO: Cool post, geoff.
posted by everichon at 1:14 PM on September 9, 2009


If we're not going to hold historical figures accountable for their questionable worldviews just because they were alive at a time when homophobia, racism, sexism, etc were all more readily accepted, then how are we supposed to discuss where institutionalized homophobia, racism, and sexism come from, or the impact of these things on our culture and our selves?

Let us stipulate that belief X is loathsome, and that at a given time, the vast majority of people believed X. Does it then follow that the vast majority of people of that era were loathsome? No. Because the predjudices of our time are something the vast majority of us do not escape, precisely because they are unthinking, unexamined, the air you breathe and not a decison you make. It takes great struggle and fortuitous circumstance to change them. So the point is not, "Should the belief be condemmed?" It should. It's "should the person be condemmed"? No, most of the time. If one persists in benightedness even as society changes that's one thing, but to share the common predjudices of one's time is the fate of almost all men. You can't damn them all for not being saints. And so with this --- at the very beginning of the thread someone suggests that this might be worthy of a FPP for the shocking incongruity of mellow, beloved children's book author uttering a homophobic slur. But it only presents a shocking incongruity to our eyes; in 1961 it was SOP, and Silverstine's intent was almost certainly not either to shock or to slur. He is not loathsome, and we could all do with a little more Captain Renault in out lives.
posted by Diablevert at 1:15 PM on September 9, 2009 [3 favorites]


Meatbomb: Did you read Gecko's well written and thoughtful comment, in which he explains that this actually isn't an example of homophobic hate speech? I know, it is complex and nuanced, and it is easier to go into righteous educator mode. The word "faggot", regardless of context, must be purged from the mouths of the outsiders.

My goodness, where to start? First of all, sure, I think that Gecko has a good point, but it's not an all or nothing sort of thing. The whole trope of straight guy entering a gay world and feeling like he's just been launched to an alien planet isn't particularly hate speech, but it isn't all that positive either. It's worthy of an eye-roll and an awareness that the fag-bomb in rhetoric should be used more cautiously.

Meatbomb: Is it thread shitting to try to push the zealot off of the soapbox when he (or she) is braying in such a manner that any other discourse is impossible?

Well, half of this discussion has involved you (and others) demanding that no one else talk about Silverstein's possible heterosexism. In the process, you've grotesquely exaggerated the relatively mild criticisms presented her to a level of pure %100 ready-to-spread-on-your-garden bullshit.

Meanwhile, if you want to talk about Silverstein's views on hotdogs or barfing bus passengers, you can certainly do so, and I dare say that much of the discussion of heterosexism would end if you just stopped shitting in the thread about it.

Diablevert: It's "should the person be condemmed"?

Certainly, and most of us who find Silverstein's anecdote questionable are not condemning him as a person.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:28 PM on September 9, 2009


Yeah I saw Gecko's posts, and he articulates it much better than I ever could. Some people were questioning my intent in using that quote, which could exist independent of Silverstein's usage. In fact if you read the first comment about it, vitia's, he doesn't even argue that Silverstein was using it an offensive manner but that it is offensive and loaded in today's usage and why would I even go there. He's right and my first mea culpa was to the effect of, yeah, would have chosen any other quote if I had been thinking and if I could edit it now I would because it is immaterial to the interview, but as someone once said, trainwrecks don't stop stop, they kind of slowly, at their leisure begin the process of not moving.
posted by geoff. at 1:31 PM on September 9, 2009


If only there was some way to communicate with one specific individual with whom you have a disagreement outside of the thread.
posted by Astro Zombie at 2:23 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well, I liked the interview and thought it was funny. I'm hesitant to jump on this trainwreck, but:

The interview was actually a hip bit of improv comedy. Now (you may ask) what's hip about using a word like "faggot"? Well, it's because, at the time, conventional mores insisted on certain evasions or euphemisms when speaking of people who were objects of discrimination. This didn't mean that discrimination wasn't practiced by the people using the euphemism, but that the word covered it up and disguised it. So, for instance, a racist might say "colored person" instead of any number of hateful terms he might be thinking. Hipsters didn't buy into that. The polite word here would have been "homosexual", which just doesn't work. (It actually sounds worse to me than "faggot" in this context, but maybe that's just because I'm an old guy who used to enjoy hip comedy.)

However, the post above that mentioned a tone of "desperate heterosexuality" was accurate, too. And that also was part of hipsterdom at the time. Guys like Mort Sahl who remained stuck in that mindset made themselves the joke a few years down the road from this interview.
posted by CCBC at 2:57 PM on September 9, 2009


Diablevert: please point out where in my comment I - or anyone! - has condemned Silverstein himself.

Also, blucevalo, way to hold me accountable for someone else's comments!

Is it really so offensive to suggest that someone attributing their "horrendous" experience to the "faggots" at the YMCA because, being faggots, they weren't Good Christian Manly Men of Decency, might be kind of rooted in homophobia?

Yeesh.
posted by ellehumour at 4:39 PM on September 9, 2009


I wasn't "holding you accountable" for anything, whatever the heck that means. I was genuinely wondering why you felt it necessary to suggest that someone "stay out" of a thread. "Yeesh," indeed.
posted by blucevalo at 5:02 PM on September 9, 2009


please point out where in my comment I - or anyone! - has condemned Silverstein himself.

Okay. A random sprinkling:

Q. For the Benefit of our out-of-town readers, could you be more specific? A. Niggers!"
Works on so many levels. Truly a national treasure.

This would make for a great children's book, about a cranky old man trapped in a young man's body, quietly disliking everything around him. We could call it Where the Tolerance Ends. At first I thought he was kidding, but if so, he's like ... Andy Kaufman good. Yet another reason why I make it a point to avoid knowing too much about people whose work I admire.

The faggots slur really bother me. I don't think it's fair to forgive someone for being homophobic just because of the time era they lived in.


Looking back at the thread, its clear to me that the initial wave of "I find myself wounded and upset to know that this man once said this, and think less of him" was quickly swamped by the wave of "oh, cram this PC shit down your piehole, it was 1961 for chissakes" which then descended into bickering, and I think my own contributions were not as helpful as they ought to have been.

But I think the underneath my own (and perhaps some of the other counter-revolutionary's) too-spirited reaction is the sense that to castigate the people of the past --- to hold them accountable, unforgivable, a disappointment --- merely for having the prejudices of their contemporaries is a little inhuman. What he said was certainly homophobic. Homophobia, I believe, is irrational and wrong. But I doubt I'd have felt that way in 1961, coming up in a world where the vast majority of homosexuals were closeted and the being homosexual was considered a disease of the mind. And I don't know how you can avoid condemning the person for holding the belief if, every time the belief is mentioned in the context of the past, it must be ritually condemned and denounced. The disgust is bound to spatter.
posted by Diablevert at 5:30 PM on September 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Diablevert: And I don't know how you can avoid condemning the person for holding the belief if, every time the belief is mentioned in the context of the past, it must be ritually condemned and denounced. The disgust is bound to spatter.

It's called, um, recognizing that people are human, and come with their prejudices and flaws? Perhaps it's just that I'm used to unconscious and unthinking heterosexism and anti-gay prejudices from people I love deeply. Most people don't want to live in a rural commune of like-minded people, and cringing at mild anti-gay behavior from people we otherwise love and respect is, to use Dan Savage's phrase, the price of admission for having careers, friends, and extended family in the larger world.

So I just don't see a conflict between finding that anecdote unfortunate, and enjoying the rest of the interview. And I don't see a conflict between disliking his use of "faggot" in this one case and respecting his body of work. Perhaps I'm just not interested in seeing the world through a dualistic lens of identifying assholes vs. good people.

"The disgust is bound to platter," sounds to me like, "Snow falls up Charlie Brown, it falls up." It's an argument that makes perfect rhetorical sense but is practical nonsense.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 8:24 PM on September 9, 2009


You do something, you make it simple, and everyone starts loading it up with deep meanings. Which is okay by me, if they want to do that. Everyone loves Rorschach tests.

Metafilter: Everyone loves Rorschach tests
posted by blasdelf at 1:17 AM on September 10, 2009


I apologize for having started this. It has nothing to do with my perception of whether or not Silverstein's opinions were in line with his time. I was just like, as geoff. points out, kinda like, "Wow, 'Faggots!': is that really something to highlight in a FPP?"

Sorry for the call-out, Geoff: it was a distraction from what was clearly well-intended.
posted by vitia at 9:18 PM on September 11, 2009


I'd also like to apologize for getting my panties all bunched up and throwing fuel on the fire.
posted by Meatbomb at 10:02 PM on September 11, 2009


Faggot here.

This quoted usage is totally cool, guys. Really.

Silverstien's not using the word as an anti-gay slur per se, but rather an anti-"out of towners" one, where "out of towners" are naïve squares who don't quite know just what exactly this homosexuality is that they've heard about, but they know they hate it.

And, y'know, sadly, that's still an accurate representation of an awful lot of people.

Also, I like to read that punchline as if it were a manifestation of utter delight. It helps.

"Faggots!"
posted by Sys Rq at 5:15 PM on September 13, 2009 [1 favorite]


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