Showing posts with label words and language. Show all posts
Showing posts with label words and language. Show all posts

Friday, August 14, 2015

Relationships that end ≠ relationships that fail

I don't like how we say that any relationship that ends is one that failed. 

Because, seriously, if you helped each other be less alone and lonely for a while, or if you helped each other love more deeply or meaningfully, or if you helped each other become stronger, kinder, more thoughtful people — I mean, it sucks when a relationship ends because you couldn't make a long distance thing work, or you just didn't have a lot in common anymore, or someone was stunningly mediocre in bed1, but it's hard to characterize a relationship like that as, all things considered, a failure.

The relationships that fail are the ones that leave its members more thoughtless, more jaded, more isolated, more cynical, and crueler to themselves and others. Or, in other words, the relationships that fail are the ones that leave its members worse than if the relationship never happened.

We often don't have any control over whether a relationship ends, but we do have a lot of control over whether it fails. We should all try harder. 


Tuesday, July 28, 2015

“Perfect Vodka”? Yeah, no — let’s just keep calling it Coral Sky Amphitheatre

The former Coral Sky Amphitheatre—previously Cruzan Amphitheatre, Sound Advice Amphitheatre, Coral Sky Amphitheatre again, Mars Music Amphitheatre, and Coral Sky Amphitheatre the first time—has another new name: Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre. None of us should call it that.

Don’t get me wrong. I’ve got nothing against Perfect Vodka, and, frankly, the next time I make the decision to morosely nurse a broken heart with liquid therapy, I’m pleased to know that I’ve got a local, non-GMO, gluten-free option to fuel some inevitably pathetic texts imploring girls from yesteryear to take me back I didn’t mean it I’m so lonely [crying cat emoji]. And really, it’s not like “Coral Sky” is a particularly inspired name.

But companies regularly spend billions to influence what we think, say, and write, and we should stop being complicit in it.

This, first and foremost, includes news organizations. No honorable journalist would do pro bono shilling for a company, and no dishonorable journalist would do so without getting paid. Yet both are more than happy to drop a company’s name in an otherwise unrelated news story about a concert or sporting event or political rally, completely free of charge, because that company paid someone else for naming rights.

Some reporters may argue that they have a journalistic responsibility to properly identify the subjects in their stories using their self-declared names. For example, UNC-Chapel Hill announced in May that a building on their campus, Saunders Hall, would be renamed Carolina Hall. Nobody would quarrel with reporters using the new name because the new name reflects the evolution of race relations, respect for the school’s diverse student population, and the general notion that it’s not a keen idea to have school buildings named after Klansmen in the 21st century.

When Coral Sky becomes Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre, however, the only thing it reflects is the gaming by marketers of what constitutes a “name.” And when a venue runs through so many “names” based on who’s giving its owners money at the moment, it cedes the right to have a name; it instead becomes an unnamed venue that has very prominent ad space available. To put it more simply, if Live Nation insisted that the formal name of the amphitheatre was “Coral Sky Amphitheatre Sponsored By Perfect Vodka,” there isn’t an editor who wouldn’t zap the last four words. How is instead calling it “Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre” any better?

This is more than an inside-baseball, ethics-in-naming-journalism issue, however. It’s about reclaiming the way we think, the way we talk, and the way we view the world around us.

It’s not a coincidence that we think we need to go to “Publix” as opposed to “the grocery store,” or that we say we’re buying “Kleenex” instead of “facial issue”; it’s a part of a concerted effort to embed brands into every aspect of our conscious life. Try going a week without using brand names in conversation. Or even a day. It’s difficult, and even if you can do it, it’ll sound very unnatural to both you and those listening to you. That, too, is not a coincidence.

What makes venue sponsorships particularly egregious is that the companies involved are asking—nay, telling—us to use a brand name for no reason other than they say so. Dennis Cunningham, the president of Perfect Vodka, is quoted in the press release announcing the name change as saying that “[g]reat music and our smooth vodka are sure to make perfect memories,” which is revealing: they’re not just buying naming rights. They’re trying to buy a space in our memories—a space that they did not earn and have no business occupying.

There’s also something very worrying about getting accustomed to viewing everything around us as a medium for advertising. When we see that even things as fundamental as names are for sale at the right price, it trains us to view the places—and, by extension, the people—around us as mere commodities to be exploited then disposed of rather than things that have value, merit, and beauty beyond generating wealth. And South Florida—which, at its worst, is marked by conspicuous consumption, bulldozers, cosmetic surgery, and McMansions—doesn’t need any help fostering a culture of disposability.

To be fair, the venue at 601-7 Sansbury Way isn’t the Grand Canyon, and “Perfect Vodka Amphitheatre” isn’t the abomination that “Arizona Presents Verizon Gorge” would be. But it’s not inconceivable that an ambitious marketing executive will see a compliant public desensitized to the banal horrors of omnipresent branding and find new, previously sacrosanct places to stick their brand names and logos. The onus is on us to head that off now.

Our thoughts, our speech, and our culture shouldn’t be for sale. Live Nation can call its amphitheater whatever it wants, and Perfect Vodka can pay whatever it wants to Live Nation, but we shouldn’t go along with it.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Running a kindness deficit

When people use the phrase “kindness deficit,” they usually mean “a lack of kindness”; e.g., “Our society is experiencing a kindness deficit.”

People are free to use the phrase however they want, of course, but I don’t like that definition. First, it makes the phrase kind of unnecessary (just say “a lack of kindness,” right?), but more importantly, it ignores some of the nuances in using the deficit analogy.

Here’s a better definition: Just like a budget deficit occurs when a government spends more money than it takes in, a kindness deficit occurs when a person gives more kindness than s/he receives.

This is a more serious problem than someone merely not getting enough kindness. When people realize they’re giving much more love than they’re getting, they regret it. They feel stupid. They correct it by slowly closing their heart. They swear to never make the same mistake again.

And then the world becomes that much shittier.

It’s our job—all of us, collectively—to do what we can to prevent each other from regretting being kind. Look, we’re not personally responsible for rescuing every single human being, but we need to catch people when we can—when we see that the universe is kicking someone’s ass who doesn’t deserve it; when we see someone normally prodigal with their love start to be stingier with it; when we see the spirit and warmth start to fade from someone’s eyes.

It’s easy to talk a big game about wishing the world was friendlier and kinder and more wonderful, but this is what we can do to make it so. It’s one of the worst things in the world to make some regret being kind; corollarily, it’s one of the purest, most genuine acts of love to make someone feel good about it.

So yeah. We don’t even have to make them break even or anything. Most people don’t mind running a kindness deficit just as long as the deficit isn’t large enough to make them throw up their arms and say fuck it all. We just need to catch people when we can: large things are nice, but small things—a compliment, a candy bar, a hug, a thoughtful note—can nudge a deficit towards manageable and buy enough time until someone else more qualified can take over.

Human beings are warriors against misery, and we should be on the same team.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The Jane Eyre Epiphany

"The Jane Eyre Epiphany":

Love is not a necessary component of respect, but respect is a necessary component of love.

Or, stated another way, you can respect someone without loving them, but you can't love someone without respecting them.

Many well-meaning people say things like, "You need a relationship based on love and respect." The sentiment is admirable, but it's not a good idea to separate out "respect" from "love." It implies that love can exist without respect, and it can't.

Love means different things to different people, and a universal definition is probably impossible to develop. But I hope we can at least agree that if you don't respect someone, you don't get to get to call what you direct towards them love. It may be fondness, or twitterpation, or horniness dressed up in flowery language, but it's not love.

If you don't trust them, it's not love.

If you control or manipulate them, it's not love.

If you dismiss their thoughts and opinions, it's not love.

If you don't care if they're happy, it's not love.

If you constantly belittle them, it's not love.

If you selfishly lie to them, it's not love.

If you knowingly waste their time, it's not love.

I agree that we should try to move beyond the idea of love as merely a fuzzy feeling, but we should be careful about uncoupling love and respect. It's not just a harmless pleonasm to say "love and respect"; it subtly changes the way we think about love.

Love should be observable and provable, and an "I love you" in its purest form shouldn't be some huge revelatory declaration, but rather a quiet affirmation of what your actions have already made clear.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

"Girls" versus "women"

The argument, made by many people, for why you should call an adult female person a "woman" instead of a "girl" is self-evident and compelling: The word "girl," like "boy," refers to a child, and an adult woman is not a child, and women have historically faced (and currently still face) discrimination from those who treat them as less than intelligent, autonomous, fully-grown human beings.

So why do so many people—myself included, admittedly—continue to call adult female people "girls"?

Setting aside the people who are indeed actively trying to undermine women by infantilizing them, the most likely explanation is just a failure of language. There's no agreed-upon female counterpart to the word "guy," and in the absence of a casual way to refer to a female person, "girl" has, for better or worse, wound up being the most natural-sounding alternative1.

For those who have issues with facing the realization that they are knee-deep into adulthood and getting older, referring to women who are their age as "girls," even if they're adults, may offer some reassurance that they're not old yet. (And I'm not sure why I used the third person here, because that's pretty much me. Maybe girls still refer to me as a boy! But I'm guessing many just refer to me as old.)

But I want to float another possibility: the idea of thoughtful people interpreting the word "girl" as a demeaning slur kind of sucks if you are, in fact, a girl.

I'm not suggesting that girls aren't able to hear "there's nothing wrong with being a girl, but women deserve to be called a word that accurately reflects their age" and understand it, of course. But our culture hammers home the idea that being a girl is bad, frequently and assiduously2: Bad at sports? You throw like a girl. Cowardly? You're being girly. Immature and petty? You're acting like a teenage girl. It's some pernicious stuff, and all sorts of people—from a tough-guy governor to a dweebish game show contestant—toss it around without a second thought.

It's not a coincidence that if you want to insult a boy, words like "bitch" or "pussy" are thrown around. Or, as Jessica Valenti wrote:

Royally fucked up indeed.

I don't pretend to know the answers here. Obviously, adults in a professional setting should be referred to using accurate terminology, which means using "women" to describe adult female people. And in general, I think we should call people what they want to be called, and if a woman wants to be called a woman instead of a girl, it's basic human decency to respect that.

But at the same time, as sound and logical as the reasoning may be, there's something optically awkward about saying that "Girls are amazing!" while saying that you really, really don't want to be called a girl.

The reality is that girls get so much shit just for being girls. Ours is a culture that does not foster respect for women, yes, but it seems to reserve a special contempt for girls in particular—the music they listen to, the books they read, even the way they talk. They're used as an antonym for brave or level-headed or strong or rational3.

And while they're probably used to hearing "girl" being hurled as a pejorative from the jerks in their lives, it's got to be a bummer to hear smart, confident women—the kind of women they might want to grow up to be like—seemingly considering it a pejorative, too.

1Even this flowchart created by Shawna Hein which suggests "lady-dudes" as an alternative doesn't really solve the problem. Even though she's joking, "lady-dudes" is arguably worse than "girls"—by appending "lady" to "dude," it's defining women in terms of men by suggesting that "dude" is the default setting and "lady" is an ancillary variation. I'll put away my women's studies-and-linguistics double-major now. (No, not really.)

2I remember a time when the kids in my neighborhood were playing in the streets, and one of the boys tried to insult a girl by saying, "Ugh, you're such a girl." That would have been disheartening enough, but then the girl replied, with great indignation, "Don't call me that!" This stuff's internalized pretty early, huh?

3I cringe whenever I hear people—particularly women—use the phrase "man up." I guess it's at least plausible that they mean to contrast "man" with "boy," but let's be real: the opposite reciprocal of "man" is "girl," and given how oh-no-terrible it is for a man to be a bitch or a pussy or otherwise girly, it's pretty clear what the subtext is.