Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Even Punk Is Fallible: A Commentary on Language

Punk's comments aren't the issue as much as people defending them are
Photo Credit: WWE.com
For those who didn't catch wind of it yesterday, CM Punk caught flak for being videotaped calling hecklers in the front row of an Australian house show "homos". This was the third time in calendar year 2011 that someone has used homophobic language in the company to great fanfare, with Punk joining John Cena and Michael Cole as the other two. It was a dumb thing of him to do, and he realized it, as he took to Twitter to apologize yesterday. To me, all is good on that front, especially considering the circumstances.

For one, apparently Punk was being heckled with similar terms by the crowd. We also all also know he's not a homophobe given that he posted four tweets in support of New York State approving same-sex marriages the night it happened. It's clear he feels strongly about equal rights for everyone, and it makes sense that people using those slurs would get under his skin to the point where he'd flip out. People have bad moments, they make mistakes. Nothing really excuses the comment from Punk, but at the same time, he deserves forgiveness if he owned up to his mistake, just in the same way that Randy Orton deserved forgiveness for his transgressions against Kelly Kelly when he apologized.

If that were it, then I wouldn't be writing this blog post. However, there's this insidious undercurrent of people who are bemoaning the fact that this was even picked up by TMZ and made a big deal of. He's just being a heel, they say. Well, here's my problem with that line of defense... Punk can be a heel in several different ways other than calling someone a homo.

It's 2011. We're supposed to be more enlightened as a society to the point where we don't discriminate based on race, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. The fact that we're still embroiled in a civil rights debate concerning the rights of homosexuals to get married speaks to how far we still have to go, but the awareness is there. That's why using homophobic slurs, even when the intent is implied to be something different, is wrong. Certain people took to Twitter yesterday to defend what Punk was saying because the word "homo" had different societal meaning apparently. Well, if that's the case, and if Punk meant to call the guys in the front row to be something other than gay, then there are a ton of other words that imply idiot, loser etc. He could have called them assholes, motherfuckers, shitheads, fucksticks, assweasels, bottomfeeders, mongoloids, sub-mongoloids, assbastards, smegma shovelers or any other portmanteau of the seven dirty words, animals or other words that don't have the connotation that gay is bad.

That's why what Punk said was so bad, not that we can't handle this kind of talk anymore, not because the art of the heel is being dominated by political correctness, not because of straight people white knighting gays because we feel oversensitive. It's because homosexuals don't have the same rights as heterosexuals do, and thus words hurt more than if it were two guys in an accepted class trading barbs with each other. PC isn't here to make sure that we all make nice with each other; it's something that is reluctantly necessary to make sure that we don't start ripping into each other for our inherent differences until everyone is equal. That's when slurs become jokes. And furthermore, I'd say that the people who can't handle this kind of attention aren't those who are offended by the speech, but those who suddenly can't belittle an entire group of people with impunity. Those are the people I don't really have sympathy for here.

I get that we all have First Amendment rights. As someone who holds freedom of speech as the most important right we have as men and women though, that right works for everyone. Just as Punk has the right to say dumb shit without the government cracking down on him, people have the right to express their displeasure with the choice of language he's using. This isn't a free speech issue in the least. It's an issue between one group of people and another who have differing viewpoints. That's what society is built upon, people airing grievances and settling them like human beings through public channels, not going to the authorities to prosecute or persecute someone for having an unfavorable opinion, whichever one that may be.

That's what's happening here. It's discourse, although with Punk coming out and admitting he made a mistake, it's unnecessary. What Punk said wasn't the end of the world, but I can see how it'd be damaging to people who are trying so hard to lift the stigma of "gay = BAD" from society. I don't think it's too much to ask that maybe we cool it on using those kinds of words as insults until everyone is on an equal footing in the eyes of the law. When that happens, then yeah, rip into each other, but we're still a long way away from that point.

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