Deep Thoughts and Faggot Jokes

Andrew Sullivan begins a somber discussion of the implications of using anti-gay slurs as fodder for jokes with a pretty good line:

I watched Ann Coulter last night in the gayest way I could. I was on a stairmaster at a gym, slack-jawed at her proud defense of calling someone a “faggot” on the same stage as presidential candidates and as an icon of today’s conservative movement.

Indeed, I often find humor works best when actually funny.

Her defense, however, is that she was making a joke, not speaking a slur. Her logic suggests that the two are mutually exclusive. They’re not. And when you unpack Coulter’s joke, you see she does both. Her joke was that the world is so absurd that someone like Isaiah Washington is forced to go into rehab for calling someone a “faggot.” She’s absolutely right that this is absurd and funny and an example of p.c. insanity. She could have made a joke about that – a better one, to be sure – but a joke.

Quite right.

This, though, is a harder sell:

But she didn’t just do that. She added to the joke a slur: “John Edwards is a faggot.” That’s why people gasped and then laughed and clapped so heartily. I was in the room, so I felt the atmosphere personally. It was an ugly atmosphere, designed to make any gay man or woman in the room feel marginalized and despised. To put it simply, either conservatism is happy to be associated with that atmosphere, or it isn’t. I think the response so far suggests that the conservative elites don’t want to go there, but the base has already been there for a very long time. (That’s why this affair is so revealing, because it is showing which elites want to pander to bigots, and which do not.)

While I essentially agree with his larger point, I would demur on the specifics. First, Coulter’s remark was meant to be outrageous and draw attention to herself; in that, she succeeded. The idea that the crowd’s instinctual reaction to that outrage was “designed to make any gay man or woman in the room feel marginalized and despised” is, however, ludicrous. It wasn’t designed at all, let alone aimed at gay audience members. Indeed, my guess is that it would never occur to most CPAC-ers that any gays would be in the audience.

The immense popularity of Coulter’s books and the fact that she drew far and away the longest book-signing line are surely signs that a substantial part of the base finds her appealing. Then again, by her own admission, that phrase was a schoolyard taunt; indeed, that could be said of her shtick, generally. She’s not appealing to the intellectuals with that nonsense but rather those for whom “sophomoric humor” is named.

Much of the rest of Sullivan’s piece is poignant, if hard to (metaphorically) hear.

What Coulter did, in her callow, empty way, was to accuse John Edwards of not being a real man. To do so, she asserted that gay men are not real men either. The emasculation of men in minority groups is an ancient trope of the vilest bigotry. Why was it wrong, after all, for white men to call African-American men “boys”? Because it robbed them of the dignity of their masculinity. And that’s what Coulter did last Friday to gays. She said – and conservatives applauded – that I and so many others are not men.

While most college-educated conservatives have come to accept homosexuality as a normal variation of biology morally indistinguishable from having green eyes or red hair, we are culturally hard-wired to view effeminacy as the antithesis of masculinity. Intellectually, Sullivan is right. It’s going to take a long time, I think, to change the culture of our locker rooms.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Companies to pull ads from c*nt’s websiteAt lea…… QandO – Free Markets, Free People: You know, sometimes its better to just shut up:”’Faggot isn’t offensive to gays; it has nothing to do with gays,” [Ann] Coulter said on “H… More Blogs: » Outside The Beltway | … | Outside The Beltway | OTB | PoliPundit.com | Yeah, Right, Whatever | 2 Political Junkies | FREEDOM EDEN | Conservative Cat |

  2. Rodney Dill says:

    Note to Ann Coulter:
    “We’ve upped our standard… so up yours.”

  3. Caliban Darklock says:

    I don’t believe that the insult in calling someone “faggot” is in asserting that he is not a real man because gay men are not real men.

    I believe the insult is saying “you are not what you pretend to be”. It is saying “you are not one of us”. When Ann Coulter says Jon Edwards is a faggot, she is claiming he is a hypocrite. When Isaiah Washington calls his colleague a faggot, he is claiming T.R. Knight is not really one of them.

    It’s no less offensive, but it’s certainly not because of any perception that gay people aren’t masculine or that masculine men aren’t gay. That myth is long dead, and deservedly so. The myth which persists is that non-masculine men are gay and conversely that straight men are masculine.

  4. Tano says:

    “it would never occur to most CPAC-ers that any gays would be in the audience.”

    huh? really?

  5. Pamela Fiore says:

    Please don’t shut Ann Coulter up. Let Americans see her and those like her for what they are: people without the strength of their convictions. They can’t win on the merits of the issues, so they resort to inane arguments, all sound and fury signifying nothing. Does Ann Coulter speak for most of us? November 2006 seemed to be a pretty clear NO!

    So please, Ann, Sean Hannity, et al keep talking. The pathetic nature of your commentary is becoming clear…

  6. legion says:

    Caliban,
    I can see the logical path you took, but you are completely and totally wrong in your conclusion. Calling someone a ‘faggot’ is, in fact, a direct shot at their masculinity. Look at the environment: Coulter was at the CPAC – a convention of conservatives looking for red-meat speeches to fire them up, and Coulter gave them exactly that. To simply say “John Edwards isn’t one of us” in a room like that would have been insanely redundant – nobody there would have ever confused Edwards for part of that group, and it makes absolutely no sense to claim that that was the point of her joke.

    She was calling him gay to make her audience laugh. Period.

    And they did.

    As some have commented, CPAC knew what they were getting when they signed her up – a rabble-rouser. I don’t know if Coulter holds those bgoted beliefs or if she just said it for the shock factor, but the CPAC very clearly doesn’t care if it’s painted with that brush.

    Every single time a conservative complains about the GOP being labeled as intolerant and bigoted, this is one of the things that need to be shoved in their faces.

    And by the way, as for not thinking anyone in the audience might be gay, I point you here, courtesy of Atrios. A veritable laugh riot.

  7. Tlaloc says:

    I think we’d all be well served to ignore the demagogues. In that list I most assuredly include Coulter and Limbaugh but also lefties like Olbermann.

  8. Tano says:

    “And by the way, as for not thinking anyone in the audience might be gay, I point you here,”

    Gee, legion, that doesnt make him gay – he just played a gay guy in the movies! 🙂

  9. legion says:

    Tano,
    Point taken. But since Coulter only plays a woman on tv, does that make them an ‘item’?

  10. floyd says:

    “While most college-educated conservatives have come to accept homosexuality as a normal variation of biology morally indistinguishable from having green eyes or red hair”

    As a society, we still find “elitism” acceptable, while any form of traditional morality is found to be reprehensible. It is a fact,however,that iconoclasm simply for the sake of iconoclasm is both childish and intellectually dishonest.

  11. Patrick T. McGuire says:

    Personally, I found Ann’s remark funny. Maybe that’s because I don’t have a thin skin. What I do find really offensive is that the homosexual community has hijacked the English language to suit their own purpose by calling themselves “gay”. I am as heterosexual as they come but even I have been gay occasionally. To this day, a child in a school is subject to suspension for simply saying “that’s so gay!” which loosely translates to “that’s so pathetic!”.

    Suddenly the simple word “gay” has an entirely new meaning, presumably because the homosexual community doesn’t want to face reality by referring to themselves by what they really are. So much for “gay pride”! If they are so proud, why can’t it be “homosexual pride”?

    I am sick to death of everyone dancing lightly around this subject because someone might get offended. And I am even sicker of those who feel the need to apologize for the remarks of others as if they are an appointed spokesperson for all conservatives, or condemn those who make offensive remarks as if they are some high moral authority.

    Disagree if you want, perhaps even return a caustic remark of your own if you want. But get off the high pulpit and quit your damn preaching.

  12. carpeicthus says:

    Can I catch stupid from reading Patrick’s post? Hey Pat, do you think “that’s so gay” stemmed etymologically from gay=happy and then the homosexual community said “Look, there’s a word that means pathetic! Let’s claim that!” Is that how the world works for you people?

  13. floyd says:

    Carpeicthus; what do you mean by saying,”YOU PEOPLE”?? [lol]

  14. Jim Henley says:

    I am sick to death of everyone dancing lightly around this subject because someone might get offended.

    You said “dancing lightly.” That’s awesome.

  15. spencer says:

    She is just another so called Christian preaching hate.

    Does she really represent what your truly believe

    That is why she is always at Republican events, right?

  16. “While most college-educated conservatives have come to accept homosexuality as a normal variation of biology morally indistinguishable from having green eyes or red hair,”

    I think that’s wishful thinking on your part. Considering what the traditional Judeo-Christian view on sexual morality is, and that conservatives almost by definition are people who give a lot of weight to tradition, it seems unlikely that most conservatives — even those with a college education — no longer see any moral significance to homosexual conduct.

    To put it another way: It’s one thing to preach and practice tolerance, and respectfully disagree with homosexuals about the morality of their sexual conduct while accepting their worth as human beings, as friends, or as political allies. It’s quite another to preach that their sexual conduct has no moral significance. I think it’s plausible that a majority of college-educated conservatives subscribe to the first view. I’m skeptical they subscribe to the second.

  17. James Joyner says:

    It’s one thing to preach and practice tolerance, and respectfully disagree with homosexuals about the morality of their sexual conduct while accepting their worth as human beings, as friends, or as political allies. It’s quite another to preach that their sexual conduct has no moral significance.

    Sure. Although I only said they have come to “accept homosexuality as a normal variation of biology,” not homosexual conduct. For some, that’s a distinction without meaning, I guess.

  18. Caliban Darklock says:

    > Calling someone a ‘faggot’ is, in fact,
    > a direct shot at their masculinity.

    I don’t know how you define masculinity, but I largely define it by penis size and how much weight you can lift, and I know plenty of faggots who have big numbers on both scales.

    So if you think “faggot” impugns someone’s masculinity, you’re just ignorant.

    Terms like “faggot” and “nigger” and “infidel” are used to exclude, to identify the “other” in our surroundings and push it to the side. Their actual meanings are not important. Ignorant people take offense because they think the meaning matters. Intelligent people take offense because they see the ignorant being misled.

    Look at the anti-Muslim sentiment in this country. Ignorant Muslims are offended by it because they think we object to Islam. Intelligent Muslims are offended by it because they see that ignorant non-Muslims are being told to object to Islam.

    The problem here is twofold. On the one hand, we have tried to label Edwards as the “other” using a label that does not really belong to the “other”. It belongs to an entirely different group. When we call that group the “other”, we are just lying.

    The second problem is that we have simultaneously expressed an expectation or desire that this group is not part of our own. When you say “he is not one of us, he is a faggot” you also say “a faggot is by definition not one of us”. You insult all the faggots in the audience. You say that you want them not to be there. Even if there are only a few, even one is too many. It is rude and inconsiderate. We have told everyone under that label that they are unwanted here.

    You can rationalise this all you want with claims that Ann Coulter didn’t think that much about it. You’re right, she didn’t – but this is still what she was doing. She just didn’t know it. That’s the nature of cognition; we often don’t know why we’ve done things, but that doesn’t stop us explaining our reasons.

  19. floyd says:

    **Wow; “faggot” means homosexual??
    I thought it meant a lit cigarette!**

    While the former is now acceptable, I hear the latter can now get a movie rated “R”!![lol]**
    What a country!!

  20. Sean Malroy says:

    The idea that the crowd’s instinctual reaction to that outrage was “designed to make any gay man or woman in the room feel marginalized and despised” is, however, ludicrous. It wasn’t designed at all, let alone aimed at gay audience members. Indeed, my guess is that it would never occur to most CPAC-ers that any gays would be in the audience.

    this sounds a lot like before you tell a joke, “no one here is jewish, right?” You seem to think that is far less offensive than telling a jew joke to an actual jew, which I don’t get at all. The only reason her comment was “I’m one of you” is cuz “we all hate faggots together.” Sure that wasn’t her main point, but it was the context without which her comment wouldn’t have made any sense at all.

  21. Lee Gilbert says:

    Below the Beltway,

    Right. When we accept queer as normal, then we’ll be queer by definition. Thanks, Ann, for reminding us that queer is abnormal, by using as a slur one of the common, ordinary, everyday epithets for the perverted. As a schoolyard taunt, it is still very serviceable.