Saturday, June 2, 2018

Is Ivanka Trump a feckless cunt?

"Five Antique Torsos" (detail) by Damien Hirst
    I suppose, this being my own personal blog, freed from the musty standards of decorum lingering around actual publications like the smell of sulfur at the mouth of certain caves, I should take a moment to dissect the controversy swirling around Samantha Bee's calling Ivanka Trump a "feckless cunt."
    First, let me say, up front, that I don't have a dog in this race. I am not leaping to Bee's defense. Though I've seen dozens of promotions for her program, "Full Frontal"—they run continually on TBS during "The Big Bang Theory"—I wince in expectation when they come on. Bee strikes me as both unsubtle and unfunny, her voice a monotone shout, and the promotions are anything but: they don't promote her, but undercut her, and never made me for a moment tempted to tune in.
     In other words, if she went off the air tomorrow I'd care not a bit. The program itself means nothing to me.
    Onward, to the matter at hand...
   "Feckless" is a good word, meaning,  when used in relation to things, ""ineffective, feeble, futile, valueless," according to my mighty Oxford English Dictionary and of people, "destitute of vigour, energy, or capacity; weak, helpless."
     "Feck" actually is a word, too, by the way, meaning: "efficacy, efficiency, value; hence vigour, energy." 
    I really can't judge if Ivanka Trump is indeed feckless because, in the continuous slow motion train wreck, the ongoing national disaster that is her father's administration, she doesn't merit notice. I can't tell if she is energetically pursuing some goal or sighing and puffing up her bangs and flipping through a shoe catalogue because I haven't been paying attention to her. Besides, nothing anyone could say about Ivanka Trump would make me cringe the way I already did when certain Jews, hopeful that she would counterbalance the Pandora's Box of hatred her father kicked open, hoped aloud that Ivanka, being Jewish, might be "our Esther," referring to the Purim story of the beautiful queen who interceded to save the Jews. Ivanka would protect us.
    Talk about feckless.
    As for "cunt"—sorry mom, no kindergarten asterisk in place of the "u" here, I need to reserve them for footnotes, like this one *—it remains "one of the few remaining words in the English language with a genuine power to shock," according to feminist Germaine Greer, who nevertheless deployed it in conversation as far back as the 1950s. 
    "On one occasion," Christine Wallace wrote in Germaine Greer: Untamed Shrew, "she walked into a Melbourne cafe and pronounced loudly, 'I'd like to wrap my big juicy cunt around ...' naming the man who was her current object of desire. To say this attracted attention in late 1950s Melbourne is a considerable understatement."
     I assume the hunky man fled from Greer as from a house afire. I certainly would. The word is not in my vocabulary, because of its blend of coarseness and sexism. I can call a man "a dick," if warranted, and often do, now that I think of it. But I can't see myself calling a woman a cunt, except perhaps under some extreme circumstance that I shrink from contemplating.   
     It is worth noting the full context of what Bee said, since the rondo of outrage typically divorces offenses from their frame. On Sunday, Trump had Instagramed photos of herself nuzzling her son, even as outrage over her father's policy of separating refugees from their children peaked.
      “You know, Ivanka, that’s a beautiful photo of you and your child,” Bee said, “but let me just say, one mother to another: do something about your dad’s immigration practices, you feckless cunt!”
    Right wing commentators thrashed like piranha in a pond. The White House denounced Bee's "vile and vicious" words. 
     Is the word "vile"? While the subject is open to debate, it seems to me the word is more taboo than what I'm required to refer to as "the n-word" which gets a surprising amount of play, both among African-Americans, and also in literature and the sincere use of odious bigots. "Fuck" is as common as breath itself. But "cunt" carries a sting of obscenity without much counterbalance of non-offensive use. Henry Rawson called it "the most heavily tabooed word of all English words" and I certainly would agree: I can't think of any songs that use it**, which can't be said for "fuck" or that other word.
    At least now. But these things change, and are subject to geographical differences and changes in fashion over time. In 2004, the Chicago Tribune, back when it had a woman's section, featured on its front page a story on the word, spelling it "C*NT" in the headline, detailing, if I recall correctly, its supposed acceptance in England.***
    Then editor Ann Marie Lipinski got word of the word being spotlighted, after the section had been printed. She ordered every available Trib hand dragooned and rushed to Freedom Center to yank 600,000 WomanNews sections out of the papers. They might have done too good a job: I could not find an image online, though I would love to see it and post it here, and briefly worried that perhaps it was a false memory. But Michael Miner described the incident in his Hot Type column at the time.
    Though if I had to rank the shocking facts in the above paragraph, I would order them 1) The Tribune had a Sunday section called WomanNews 2) the Tribune once printed 600,000 copies of its newspaper and 3) the Tribune came close to running a story on the popularity of the word "cunt." 
     This might be a topic where less is more. Time to wind up. If you just have to read more, Katy Waldman does a good job picking apart both the controversy and the etymology on the New Yorker's web site. 
     What this boils down to, in my mind, is a collision between the culture of grievance and the ever-changing realm of language. Democrats were nodding and laughing when Bee used the word. Republicans, so adept at equating unequal events, lunged at the crudity to balance out Roseanne Barr, even though calling Valerie Jarrett the daughter of an ape feeds into the worst racist negations of humanity, while Bee, being herself female, in a less culturally-roiled month could have defended tossing a sisterly c-word toward Ivanka without raising an eyebrow. To me, her groveling apology was worse than the crime itself. If you're going to take Vienna, take Vienna.
     But then again, I don't think Bee should be on television, based on all her words that aren't cunt. She just isn't good enough. Though to be fair, maybe the problem is that the person making her promos does a lousy job, picking the wrong bits to highlight. It could be a fantastic show—I've never watched it, so shouldn't judge.
     I wouldn't have touched this topic ... no, wrong word choice ... I would have let the matter slide ... no, I wouldn't have probed ... oh the hell with it. But I noticed a quip on Facebook that I felt duty bound to immortalize; alas the person repeating it didn't note the source. It observed that Ivanka Trump "is not deep enough or warm enough to be a cunt." I think that sums up the situation perfectly. 

I underestimated her. "Honey, I'm your mother. C'mon," she said, when I tried to warn her off. "Now I HAVE to read it. She said something true."

** On Facebook, a reader offered up Marianne Faithful's 1979 betrayed lover's lament "Why D'ya Do It?": "Every time I see your dick I see her cunt in my bed." Ah the 1970s, we were so forthright in those days. Another offered The Police's 1981 "Rehumanize Yourself," a song particularly apt in our era of resurgent nationalism:

          Billy's joined the National Front
          He always was a little runt
          He's got his hand in the air with the other cunts
          You've got to humanize yourself


*** Bill Savage, who gets around and is the platinum bar of veracity, confirms this:
     “Cunt” is indeed a commonplace and not particularly offensive word in the UK and Ireland, especially in Scotland and urban Ireland. Was talking with a friend who’s married to an Irish guy, about how she had to train him about how that word is heard in the US. In Dublin Irish, it’s practically a punctuation mark. They also use “whore,” pronounced “hoor,” in a way that grates on American ears. Also, on “feck”: that’s a common Irish dialect pronunciation of “fuck,” and someone might be described as a “feckin’ hoor of a cunt” in a pub discussion without raising any eyebrows. Two (three) nations, again divided by a common tongue, to paraphrase Churchill.

14 comments:

  1. I wasn't impressed. I don't mind such a sentiment, but it has to be backed up by some serious and well-sourced critiques. It came off to me as more of a jab that tried to one-up the female comedian (Michelle Wolf?) from the Correspondents Dinner. Our media is just melting into a mess of bombastic snippets in the exact style and viciousness of the president it decries.

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  2. Shakespeare used to play with the word, speaking of "country matters."

    john

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    1. He does -- Hamlet offers to lay in Ophelia's lap, and she demurs. He counters that he meant, lay his HEAD in her lap. "Or did you think I meant country matters?" he quips.

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  3. In Ireland, she would be referred to as a "feckin' cunt", which has nothing to do with feckless, and it would probably be received with nothing more than a double-take and a grin.

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  4. I’m no linguistics scholar—though if memory serves me correctly I did take about 15 minutes of a linguistics class at NU in 1978–I’m gonna guess Sam B’s use of the c-word was as much about alliteration as anything else. Contrary to Neil’s opinion of her, I think she is a brilliant comedian/journalist/activist and, along with Steven Colbert, Seth Myers and Bill Maher, one of the loudest and sharpest critics of the current administration. She is also a wonderful wordsmith and her monologues, though sometimes crass, are often genius. By choosing to use the word c*unt (sorry, Neil I just can’t bring myself to even type it) feckless is complemented perfectly, much better than what was might have been Ms. Bee’s alternative: bitch. Of course it also ups the shock value ten-fold. In this case both words (c & b) have similar meanings, c*nt just rolls off the tongue better (no pun intended)!

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  5. http://youtu.be/3GAbStTKFIw
    That video is part of a series called Susie Dent's Guide to Swearing, she's the lexicographer from the game Countdown, and in the videos she does a deep dive into the origins of six different swear words including cunt. It's a funny series.
    Samantha Bee's show is worth checking out, the content is better than those ads.

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  6. I have to agree with you about Samantha Bee. She was good on The Daily Show, and her heart is in the right place, but on her own, she just isn't funny.

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  7. I haven't seen this much uproar over the representation of the female sex organ since "The Dinner Party" made its debut. I don't much care for Bee and the insult was stupid, but the apology was worse. I don't think the people wearing T-shirts saying "She's (Hillary) a Cunt, Vote for Trump" during his campaign were really that offended.

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  8. For decades conservative political operatives have mastered the misdirection. They have a political world view that requires only two real initiatives. Less taxes for the wealthy, and less (or no) regulations on their business interests. That's it.

    But those two ideas, in and of themselves, would never win an election. So they misdirect away from those two ideas with self righteous detours into family values, gun rights, respect for the flag, and so on.

    With Trump in charge of the party, the charade has become less pure self interested cynicism and more demented narcissism. He and his sycophants spew more and more outrageous bigoted, misogynist, xenophobic nonsense (partly to keep the base stirred up and partly because they believe it). When sensible people finally snap and respond, Trump and the minions act shocked, play the victim, and convince themselves that their critics are lesser humans.

    They've mastered the logically fallacy. You can't ignore them, and if you challenge them they will crush you with a logical fallacy that would make a high school sophomore studying logic cringe.

    Trump has trained his followers to think as victims of a vast conspiracy. It won't end well when Mueller finally reveals his investigative results.

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  9. My wife loves Ms. Bee. She is as funny as hell, but a tad too loud and obnoxious, almost like a leftist Roseanne. Maybe that's just me. As the postal workers used to say, to each his zone.

    The message board I have been on for fifteen years (yes, they still exist, mostly to serve geezers like me) took a poll some years ago. The two most offensive words turned out to be the n-word and the c-word. I have seen other polls elsewhere, with the same results. The n-word will never become acceptable, but I think the c-word will eventually become as commonplace as the f-word, thus taking the sting out of the bee. Or the Bee.

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  10. So President Pussygrabber's daughter was called a cunt? Cry me a river.

    I've never spoken the word myself. Never written it before. I think because it devalues women who are the ones who have them. I like vaginas and think they should be championed rather than slurred.

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  11. I never speak that word as I believe its especially demeaning. But to me it's like the n word in that non-black people should never ever use it. Ever. Even when talking about not talking about it. Black people well, it's problematic for a host of reasons but thats the call of people who have been degraded by the word.

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