Offense of the Month, August 2020
It’s been remarked (in these pages, at least) that the wages of giving offense are often worse than actual harmful behavior by the offender. A case in point: Jerry Falwell, Jr., who from 2007 until a little more than a month ago had been president of Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. During his tenure Falwell sinned in matters big and small and several stories of rascally behavior have pointed to corrupt practices, but despite growing evidence of his illicit conduct, Liberty’s board of trustees showed no inclination to investigate, admonish, or reform its CEO. Then Falwell posted to Instagram a janky photograph of himself partying on a yacht, and within three weeks he was out—from king to clown, the emperor ejected from Eden. Continue reading
Whether or not the spring and summer of 2020 will be seen in hindsight as a Great Tipping Point, it is already clear that we are witnessing a remarkable popular revulsion against a major strand of offensiveness in American life. All around us are the signs that public patience with the display of phony heroes and false icons has worn out. We are surely not done with the impact of offensive speech and behavior in the public sphere, but we are living through the consequences of rising disgust at our tradition of amiably countenancing monuments to a past age’s sins. Continue reading
At least four times a week for the past several months I’ve had phone calls from Robogal.
“Hello, it’s Linda,” she begins, in her unvarying, always perfectly inflected voice. Not tremulous or saccharine; not overbold or tentative; not gruff or timid; not hesitant or strident; not cheerless or giddy; not glum or lighthearted; not solemn or mirthful, but easy, tranquil, matter of fact. Just Linda, calling to help out.
Linda is obviously much too busy to call me personally, so she has thoughtfully recorded her perfectly inflected voice to let me experience the thrill of its perfection every time she calls. Continue reading
Let’s get serious. For four years I’ve been commenting on a range of behaviors, most of them verbal outbursts, that everyone seems to agree were offensive. These have included insults, put-downs, verbal wounds, snubs, slights, and other sorts of humiliations; disdainful, derisive, scornful, and contemptuous slurs; disparaging, discrediting, disrespectful, belittling, and derogatory snubs; jibes, affronts, barbs, contumely, rudeness, and outright insolent indignities.
But why? What makes them offensive? Continue reading
Several hours ago as I write, the Supreme Court knocked out the Scandalous Clause in the Lanham Act, the federal trademark statute, as predicted here last January, though by a smaller margin than I expected, and with a loophole that could but is unlikely to be exploited, at least not soon. The vote in the case, Iancu v. Brunetti, was 6–3. Continue reading
It seems I overstepped nineteen months ago in claiming that in a unanimous ruling involving disparaging trademarks, “the Supreme Court, presumably once and for all, has green lighted offensive speech.”
In Matal v. Tam, you may recall, the Court struck down a law that banned registration of trademarks that disparage people, institutions, beliefs, or national symbols. Continue reading
The sense of offense is finely calibrated. It can detect an insult in a nanosecond and score it as a vile disparagement or a brilliant riposte, as contemptible or courageous, as harmful or enlightening, as doleful or droll, as wretched or risible, all according to the recipient’s sense of identity, community, and ideology. Such is the curious case of Sarah Jeong, Continue reading
Contrary to the fears of some, the little house on the prairie has not vanished. Well, perhaps the house itself, but not Little House on the Prairie, or any of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s other prairie books. What’s missing, as you may have read fleetingly a month ago, is her name, Continue reading
The interesting thing about ABC’s defenestration of Roseanne Barr two weeks ago when she gratuitously tweeted a racist remark about President Obama’s senior advisor Valerie Jarrett, is that it wasn’t the first time the comedian let loose. Her reputation preceded her. Why was she hired in the first place, only now to be fired because of a single short tweet? Continue reading
The Mum in this case is Barbara Bush, who died April 17. The word, in case you’ve already forgotten, was “racist.” Continue reading