Nov 05 2009

Did South Park Miss The Point?

Published by at 9:00 am under Columns,Reviews,Television

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South Park, perhaps more than any other show on television, is current, topical, and presents social issues in a humorous light just about every week.  Some have complained that the show has been running out of ideas, but with South Park in its 13th season, that’s to be expected.  Trey Parker and Matt Stone are known for pushing the envelope – sometimes maybe too far – and for making their opinions on a topic known.  The show is unapologetic when it comes to opinion, and most of the time, it’s dead on.  I don’t think anyone is going to argue, for example, that Kanye West isn’t a douchebag.  With last night’s episode “The F-Word,” however, I think South Park may have missed the point.

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If you watched South Park last night, you know that “The F-Word” didn’t refer to “f*ck.”  No, it referred to “fag,” and the entire premise of the show was pretty much that the definition of “fag” has changed and that the term isn’t necessarily a gay slur.  A bunch of annoying Harley Davidson riders make their way into South Park, pissing everyone off with their loud motorcycles and need to draw attention to themselves.  The boys, and Cartman in particular, tell the Harley riders that they’re being annoying and, quite frankly, are a bunch of fags.  People across America are furious, not understanding that the boys didn’t mean to insult gays.

The timing of last night’s episode was perfect.  It seems as though the F-word is the new N-word, a taboo, unspeakable word that can destroy the reputation and standing of anyone who dare mutters it, regardless of their intention.  There’s been an uproar in the real world over the use of “fag” lately, as Chiefs running back Larry Johnson has recently been suspended for using the term on his Twitter account.  NBA player Drew Gooden looks like he may be in some trouble, too, for using the F-word…when referring to a group of straight guys.  So what’s the deal?  When did the word “fag” become such a horrible, unspeakable term?  And more importantly, when did its meaning change?

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Larry Johnson will be missing time due to using the F-word

Matt and Trey put forth a pretty convincing argument – one that I myself have used in the past – but it may miss the overall larger point.  South Park points out that “fag” has been around for centuries, and only recently has it been used as a gay slur.  The term used to apply to fat people, the elderly, bundles of sticks, and cigarettes.  The term, South Park argues, is simply changing again under a new generation: instead of being used as a slur for homosexuals, the F-word is used to refer to anyone who is annoying or acting like an idiot – like loud, obnoxious Harley riders.  There’s not hateful intent toward gays whatsoever, and so everyone should just accept the fact that the word’s meaning has changed and move on.  They bring up a good point: I’m pretty sure most of us have used the term to describe someone we didn’t like, with no attention paid to our targets’ sexual orientation.

Like I said, Matt and Trey make sense, but I also think they’re missing the larger point.  This isn’t as black-and-white and simply changing the definition of a word.  The reason the N-word is so off limits is because of the horrible history of racism associated with it.  Even though the N-word has changed a bit, too (just listen to a hip hop album, any hip hop album to see how), its ugly history prevents it from becoming part of acceptable lexicon.  The F-word, on the other hand, is today used to describe someone who is annoying and pissing you off.  The problem, though, is that it’s still being used with a negative connotation.  Even if it’s not intentional, the speaker of the term “fag” is essentially taking a gay slur and using it to encompass anything and everything negative about a person.  It’s still used to describe negative, undesirable traits, and the fact that the term is still somewhat associated with homosexuals implies that being gay is negative and undesirable.  And I think that’s where South Park missed the point.

Should everyone get over it and move on?  That’s not really for me to say.  It’d be nice, because I think that Matt and Trey were correct about one thing: our generation and the ones that follow don’t use the term to insult gays. They use the term in a new meaning and it’s become such a regular part of our vocabularies that it’d be a lot easier to acknowledge its changed definition than it would be to fire, suspend, or ridicule every person who uses the term.  I think it’s safe to say that even with all the public outrage, the term isn’t going away anytime soon and the definition itself will change.  Ridding the word from everyday speech entirely is simply unrealistic.





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44 responses so far

  • Drew Dickinson

    Fag!

  • Madison

    @ Drew Dickinson

    That’s it. You’re suspended.

  • Jake

    @ Drew Dickinson – I understand you’re point, but having said that, fag.

  • Kratos

    It’s actually pretty funny you should mention this in England if you were to ask for a fag you would be given a cigarette.

    Fag isn’t necessarily a gay slur.. well not outside of the US anyway.

    The gay slur is only a recent phenomenon but then again you could also say that about the word “gay” which didn’t mean what it is generally accepted to mean today.

    Having said that though the word does have an unpleasant history associated with it and gay people are still treated like second class citizens today so you can see why its a sensitive issue.

  • Nattyb

    I’m with Drew on this one. Definitely fag.

  • skikes

    Im gay and white and i use the word fag and nigger everyday… fuck it. If you use it everyday you take away any power it once had and it just becomes a word.

    It really doesnt bother me when people call me a queer or fag or whatever… they aint laying, i am a fag.

    It only means something if you take offence to it and why should you? Like if someone called a jewish guy a fucking jew… he is a jew!! Its not the word its the jerk off who cant think of anything better to say you should pitty.

  • Jake

    Madison, didn’t your mom ever tell you about sticks & stones vs. words, and their respective effects on the human anatomy?

  • Madison

    @ Jake

    No, my mother insulted me more than my peers did.

  • Bucky

    your such a fag for writing this

  • Madison

    @ Bucky

    It’s “you’re,” moron.

  • Bert

    This brings up an interesting point – what if at some point in the future, the word “douchebag” becomes associated with some kind of racial, ethnic, or other kind of slur? Would the fact that it is used with no particular connotations at this time be irrelevant?

  • Madison

    @ Bert

    I can’t think of any slurs – besides “fag” – that originated from a word thatmeant something entirely different. So it seems highly unlikely.

    That said, I’d be pretty upset if I couldn’t freely toss around the term “douchebag.”

  • LowSlash

    You’re kidding yourself if you believe that no one in our generation (by “our” I mean “mine”, and I’m 25) uses the word fag as a slur against gays. Sadly, homophobia is alive and well in the younger generations, even in Vancouver, BC where everyone is supposedly open to a variety of lifestyles (which, frankly, is a lie; they’re just too preoccupied with their own awesomeness to give a shit about other people).

  • Madison

    @ LowSlash

    I didn’t mean to imply that our generation (I’m 31) never use the term “fag” as a slur against gays. However, if “fag” is used 100 times, I’d say that at least 90 of those times, it’s NOT being used as a gay slur. I hear the word numerous times every day, and rarely is it used as a slur.

    Thanks for reading.

  • jacefont

    But the word “gay” is also used now for anything or anyone considered lame, square, stupid etc. Does that constitute a pattern of homosexuality= bad?

  • ant

    Thanks Madison!
    Fantastic review, I’ve been reading reviews all day and yours is the only one that understands what’s going on.
    you got it perfect, absolutely spot on, thank God there are some people with a bit of ‘nous’ (no it doesn’t mean ‘we’ in French)
    The rest of you, the detractors and the unenlightened are just a load of FAGS!!!
    Unless of course you’re gay in which case you’re GAY FAGS!!
    hee hee
    I’m a British person and have never heard the word used in connection with ‘gays’ (as an insult) we don’t really use the word except to refer to cigarettes so of course I just assumed it meant something similar to ‘wanker’ or ‘twat’ anyway, which as outlined in the episode is how the young children took it.
    Anyway people should lighten up a little, all this ‘PC’ business just makes people over-sensitive and on the defensive

  • Madison

    @ jacefont

    Yes, it’s pretty much the exact same thing. The only difference is that “gay” isn’t a hateful slur. The association is still there, though.

    @ ant

    Thanks! I thought the distinction was and is pretty clear, and the show did a terrific job of outlining the distinction. It’s funny, because I’ve definitely had that conversation before.

    Thanks for reading, and of course I agree about the PC BS. All it does, for the most part, is increase tension.

  • http://nerdaverse.com theButterFly

    An interesting article Madison. I find language issues like this fascinating. We’re in the same generational fold, and I think I need to disagree that “fag” as a slur has connotations outside of it’s associations with being queer in our current vernacular. As much as I would like to pretend otherwise, I struggle to imagine scenarios where this term can be used without there being an implied queer context to it. Even as you claim in your previous comment that 90 out of 100 times the word is not being used to directly insult someones sexual orientation at it’s time of use, I think that it’s use as an insult in our current vernacular is explicitly tied to something being “gay”. While I suppose as Matt and Trey propose, the word could be expanded to apply to “anything annoying”, the words use as an insult rests in its association with being queer.

  • Madison

    @ theButterFly

    Well, I suppose the intent lies with the user of the term, no? I think what Matt and Trey were trying to say is that people need to settle down. Not because of hateful or insensitive attitudes, but because “fag” has been stripped of its old meaning and replaced with a new one. The problem lies in the fact that both the older and new meanings are used in a negative way, NOT in a neutral way for something like cigarettes.

  • ant

    To Madison and Butterfly
    Very valid point Butterfly.
    I live in Spain and just realised that the most common insult in Spanish is ‘maricon’, it’s used like ‘wanker’ asshole’ dickhead etc and you hear it all the time
    Well its true meaning is homosexual and is also used in this concept daily.
    It too is a slur when used like this, it’s a common not very nice word used to mean ‘gay’
    Well whaddya know I just looked up in the official Spanish dictionary and there are two definitions:
    maricón
    m. vulg. marica.
    vulg. Hombre malintencionado o que hace daño a los demás.

    1 gay, homosexual
    2 malicious person (man) or one who causes harm to others

    I would put it to you both that we have an identical case here that the word is freely used in both ways without reference to the other meaning.
    Which should also be quite evident too in the case of ‘fag’
    A more clear-cut example I don’t think you could have

  • ChristianH

    Actually, I think you’ve missed the point as well. “Fag” is still very much a gay slur. True, often people don’t refer to each other as “fag” specifically on the notion that the other person is gay, but the very use of the term that is a homophobic slur in any negative context is offensive to the gay community. Essentially, by calling someone a “fag” in any negative fashion, you’re bashing homosexuals by equating a term used to identify them in a negative light. Plus, it’s still very much in use by the anti-gay crowd. Look at the assholes in the Westboro Babtist Church, who regularly wave signs at soldiers’ funerals proclaiming “God Hates Fags.” They’re obviously not just referring to anyone they don’t like, but clearly stating their hatred for homosexuals.

    So, basically, ‘the f-word’ IS the new N-word, especially since the homosexual community is in the midst of its great civil rights movement as we speak, and until people realize that acceptance of homosexuality is no different than the acceptance of someone of a different race, “fag” is still a hateful, terrible slur, and should not be used in any context whatsoever. There is no justification for it, I don’t care how it’s being “transformed.” “Fag” is, and probably will be for some time, an offensive slur, and it needs to stop now.

  • Sarcastos

    If anyone lets themselves get offended by a word, then they are FAGS.
    In the sad excuse for a world we live in today, with people being overly sensitive about the littlest things, someone needs to drop a bomb so we can start over without all the wastes of human life.

  • ant

    Hi
    Me again – hoping the point is not becoming laboured
    I have two problems
    I can’t ‘hear’ the word ‘fag’ meaning gay because I’m British, so I don’t understand the fuss
    I hate PC fags
    No seriously, look at this:

    Slang Dictionary
    fag [fæg]

    n.
    a cigarette. : Hey, pal, gimme a fag.
    n.
    and faggot. a homosexual. (Derogatory.) : Who’s the fag with the fancy hat? , Who’re you calling a faggot?
    n.
    a repellent male. (Rude and derogatory.) : You creepy fag. Stop it!

    Dictionary of American Slang and Colloquial Expressions by Richard A. Spears.Fourth Edition.
    Copyright 2007. Published by McGraw Hill.

    Now it would appear that ‘ a repellent male’ is a valid use of ‘fag’
    Why did they then suspend that player?
    Why all the fuss? Many words have multiple definitions
    I’ll tell you why, it’s this bloody PC lark creating shit about everything.
    We don’t have PC in Spain and everybody’s very happy calling each other fags all day long
    I don’t know where this PC is going but it’s becoming very disproporcionate. I remember reading about a 14 year old Moroccon boy who was sentenced to 2 years imprisonment for writng Love live Allah, the country and ‘FCBarcelona’ instead of ‘the King’
    And in England a woman had to go to court far having an old golliwog rag doll in her window, and another for calling her Irish neighbour a Leprechaun’
    Are we heading towards Moroccon type punishments?
    Sportsman suspended for using the word ‘fag’ as listed in an, I suppose, accredited American slang dictionary?
    There’s something very wrong somewhere.

  • http://edopeno.com Ed Penano

    Interesting review. However, I think all this wordplay is hodge-podge, nonsensical banter. I am going to come up with a new word for fags (cigarettes). Call them “stoges,” perhaps. Now excuse me while I go to the loo…

  • http://nerdaverse.com theButterFly

    I think that intent of the user is secondary actually. According to Wikipedia’s history of the word it’s earliest use as an insult may have been first associated with old women, and speculation is that it grew into a homosexual slur in a similar fashion as words like “queen” or “nancy” have because of there association with the effeminate. As was stated the word fag has had other associations especially in England where it can relate to things such as sticks, cigarettes and even being tired from strenuous work. The problem here, is that these alternative meanings are not associated with insults. If the term is being used in an insulting fashion, it carries the baggage associated with it’s use as an insult. Which sadly, in the case of fag or faggot is directly tied to homosexuality and I think always shall be. In your article you mention the case of Drew Gooden. Even though his comments may have been directed towards straight individuals, if it was used in an insulting manner the underlying insult is that these straight people may not be quite as straight as they lead us to believe. I don’t want to go on to much, but thought I would share a story of my own to illustrate my point that intent of the user is secondary.

    My first exposure to the term fag was through the film “Stand By Me” when I was in elementary school. I picked up the insult because it was used by the characters in a rather jovial and playful ribbing manner in the movie unaware as to what it’s true meaning was. A few days later in school, I loudly called a classmate a “fag” in a manner similar to it’s almost jovial use in the film. I was over heard by a teacher and was given a nice trip to detention. (Ah Catholic School.) So while I may have been ignorant of the insulting nature of the word I chose, and it certainly was not my intention to call my classmate gay (I am fairly certain I wasn’t even aware of the concept of gay at that point.) my playful insult carried it’s homophobic baggage with it even though I was unaware of it. So I can not agree that the intent of the user carries much weight in this debate, because if the word is used as an insult it’s origins as an insult are always in play.

    Okay. One final point. Fag, is another one of those words which has now entered into that very unusual area of our language that are only useable by the group it originally set out to insult. It’s very similar to the “N-word” in this fashion. Which as you’ve pointed out among the black community the term has come to have a second definition that only members of that community have the right to claim use of. I’ve heard fag used in a similar fashion by gay friends as almost a term of winking solidarity exactly as how the “N-word” has come to be used by blacks. One thing I do find interesting about terms like this, is that provided that are a member of the target group you actually do have an apparent right to use the term and choose which definition you are applying to it. I’ve heard gay friends use fag as often to describe another gay person they dislike as they do as a jovial ribbing term. I can make the same claim regarding the “N-word”.

    Okay. I’m done.

  • Madison

    @ ChristianH

    How did I miss the point? Your argument echoes precisely what I had written:

    “The problem, though, is that it’s still being used with a negative connotation. Even if it’s not intentional, the speaker of the term “fag” is essentially taking a gay slur and using it to encompass anything and everything negative about a person. It’s still used to describe negative, undesirable traits, and the fact that the term is still somewhat associated with homosexuals implies that being gay is negative and undesirable. ”

    How is that any different than what you’re saying? What South Park, and myself, have recognized, is that the word is used more often than not without any intention of hurting the gay community.

    ****************************************

    To everyone else:

    I really appreciate the dialogue we’ve had today and it’s nice to be able to discuss something like this without resorting to personal attacks. It’s refreshing, actually.

    To kind of piggy-back what some of you have said re: PC, read Ray Bradbury’s Farenheit 451. It’s spooky how dead-on he’s been with a lot of his predictions.

  • zzk2001

    Anyone who thinks FAG is a unspeakable word is them their self’s FAGS lol

    It’s just a word.. get over it fool, If your some loud asshole with no regard to other people then your a fucking FAG, the word fag has nothing to do with gay people anymore.

  • http://onefiveseveneight.blogspot.com Ryan

    i was hoping for Michael Biehn talk today….

    I’m 31 and used to use the word many times a day. Then, people close to me came out of the closet.

    It offends them when people use the word, so I don’t.

    Straight people talking about how word is perceived/received is like white people talking about how the N-word makes black people feel.

  • Madison

    @ Ryan

    Agree. Which is why I said that it’s not for me to say if people should get over it and move on.

    Thanks for reading, appreciate the comment.

  • http://onefiveseveneight.blogspot.com Ryan

    FastForward just took it up a much needed level.

  • Drew Dickinson

    @Madison…. Seriously though nice article….Fag!!

  • Lurker

    Fuck it. I’m going to try to incorporate Nadsat (Burgess’ Clockwork Orange slang) into my daily dialogue.

  • Madison

    @ Lurker

    Shut your rot, or I’ll smash you in the glozzies real horrorshow.

  • http://www.gotjee.blogspot.com gauthier

    @Madison; second time I’m posting on this blog today :)

    But I have to say, I’m thankful for people like you who make the effort to understand the implications and the nuances enfolded in the slang used commonly today. Especially words that carry such an ambiguity as the word fag.

    And should I be completely honest? I am a Belgian, but English is one of my mother languages, and I immediately understood the connotation for the word, from when I was very young. But that was ten years ago or more, and as I stated in my other post, a LOT of things have changed since then. Nowadays I find it very hard to see when that word is used by people to describe a douche, and if they mean it in a demeaning way, as in, “Quit being a fag, you biker, you’re really annoying because you are actually a ridicilous pussy and possibly a closet case because you want to emphasize your masculinity in such a moronic way”, or if they just use it in a new composite, like “You’re such a fag because this term is offensive on its own, no gay implication intended”..

    It’s like the question of the chicken and the egg, it just keeps turning back on itself.. And that’s why I think maybe South Park DIDN’T miss the point, because they also realise that the nuances are too complicated AND it’s impossible to banish the word from our language altogether, so let’s just get over it and start from scratch; let’s give a new meaning to the word. And I can only hope it catches on.

    When I was younger I used to hate South Park because it was crass and vulgar, and sometimes vicious. But it’s always had a moral kernel (however well disguised under all the crudeness) and I think in the latter years, while maybe having lost some of it’s originality, it has certainly gained very much in growing into an accurate and almost moral cultural satire. There have been moments in this series, I’d even say a good few ones in this new season, where they hit the nail squarely on the head. For example in the Pirate episode, never mind they killed them all of at the end (that’s just South Park, they can’t be ALL goody-goody moral guardians, it’s just their edge), when that one pirate made the speech about how horrible it is to live the life they way they have to, I actually felt my stomach knot up. That was ON IT, man.. And especially compared to Family Guy, where however awesome the animation can be sometimes (the Disney rip-off with the pie-song? Already a legend), that series never has a leg to stand on because they don’t give a crap. About anything. Exhibit A; the fact that Macfarland wanted to use an abortion storyline in the series. Because, uh, he felt like it.

    no thanks.

  • Aaron

    wow
    way to look too deep into a subject…..

    to be perfectly honest i think that anyone who gets so worked up over one little word which really doesnt mean anything any more is… welll… a fag

  • Madison

    @ gauthier

    Thanks for the comment…some context really goes a long way. And thanks for reading.

  • Ms. J

    Madison, I love your articles. You always remind me that there are people out there who are capable of rational, thoughtful thinking on subjects generally disregarded by many. You take things that many people don’t notice due to “social blindness” and bring them to the surface, make people aware. Perhaps there are a few readers that read one of your articles and think “Huh, I never noticed it, but yeah, Nintendo characters are mostly white!”

    As a school teacher, I hear idioms that came from derogatory terms all the time . “Alex is being Jewish (stupid).” “He gypped me on that trade (Cheated).” “You fag (idiot).” “Don’t be gay (stupid).” “Indian giver.” I doubt you would be surprised at how many kids do not know the origin of the phrases. If I mention that the phrase was an insult towards a specific group of people I always get the response of “Oh, I didn’t mean it like that.” I don’t punish the students just for using the phrases, but I will generally let them in on the secrets of their origin.

  • Madison

    @ Ms. J

    Thanks a lot. My girlfriend is a schoolteacher, so maybe that rubs off on me a bit. Kids always repeat what they hear and often don’t know the meaning or the origin of what they’re saying, as I am sure you know. So punishing them isn’t fair, since they weren’t trying to be mean…educating them is the way to go. If they do it again, then I guess a punishment is appropriate!

    Thanks for reading.

  • Matt

    No, you missed the point. The word isn’t being used as a slur for gays for the most part anymore, even more so after this episode. The word’s use is not going away, so rather than try to impress your own personal agenda on the mass, just accept that people are not trying to be offensive towards gays and stop acting like a fag about it.

  • Madison

    @ Matt

    You either didn’t read the article, or you have poor reading comprehension skills. Did I not acknowledge that the word isn’t being used as a slur anymore? Did I not also state that it’s unrealistic to try and remove the word from everyday speech?

    But yeah, make blind assumptions.

    And it’s not being used as a slur anymore “even moreso after this episode?” Wow. So less than a week later, and you can determine that the use of the term “fag” has changed because of an episode of South Park. Amazing. One of the more outlandish things I’ve read recently.

    Thanks for reading. I think.

  • sturan

    you said how the word is still being used in a negative way so therefore its still being offensive to homosexuals, but i think that’s the wrong way around, its not a bad term for gays thats been changed to a general bad things definition, its a term for various things considered bad over the years so really it was always being used to describe something/someone that one doesn’t like and of course things that people don’t like change over time, and i can agree with southpark that the term is losing its specific usage towards homosexuals just as it did cigarettes and the eldery and finally becoming more general so as to equally put every kind of person down when theyre being annoying

  • Topher

    I call people fag all the time and I simply mean they are a douche bag. Fag is simply far to much fun to say to simply go away. I mean I’m 13 and I have never ever heard anyone use the word fag to refer to a homosexual now sometimes they say gay fag which is like saying gay douche.

  • Topher

    But all in all the meaning has changed and I am certain by the time the generation the follows me reaches maturity fags meaning will change.

  • J.D.C

    Im 16 and the word fag for me is just not the word my generation would use to call someone gay we just say that guy is gay rite their and move on ….and it’s not like ppl just run up to anyone and call them a fag me and my friends call each other fag all the time but not cause were doing anything that sexual in a gay way but because were bothering each over which we do a lot but if someone gay is present we do say any thing we still bothers each other but we dont say gay we dont want to offend that person…so gay ppl shouldn’t take it like fag is me cause im gay but that fag means any one thing u want it to be like how south park put it

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