Friday, August 20, 2010

Jennifer Aniston, Star of "The Switch," Should Switch Her Choice of Words

I'm starting to sound like a broken record here, but here we go again with another trumped-up celebrity cavalierly tossing around the "R" word.

You know which one I mean.

In case you don't know which celebrity I mean, I refer to the incident with Jennifer Aniston yesterday on  one of the more annoying shows ever, "Live! With Regis and Kelly."  (I'm not much of a fan of Jennifer's, Regis's, or Kelly's.) 

Apparently, Regis and a guest host, a radio station personality, were chatting up Ms. Aniston about her fashion spread in Harper's Bazaar when the following exchange reportedly took place:

"You're playing dress up!" Philbin remarked.  (Oh, the man is so witty.)

Aniston replied, "Yes, I play dress up! I do it for a living, like a re[BLEEEP!!]!"

(Hey, I kind of like my little bleeped out word there. Can't we get the FCC involved in this somehow and get the R word added as one of the words not allowed to be uttered on TV or radio?  I'm rather quite serious about this request, actually.  Just thought of it now, but why the hell not?)

Back to the (same old, same old) issue at hand. 


Let's be clear in this case:  there's no mistaking here how Ms. Aniston was using the word.  None whatsoever.  Insert any other word here and the meaning is crystal clear.

"I do it for a living, like a moron."

"I do it for a living, like a stupid person."

"I do it for a living, like an imbecile."

"I do it for a living, like a person who one might assume incorrectly has diminished or lesser mental capabilities."

Furthermore, why didn't she IMMEDIATELY apologize right there on the spot?

There's only one reason, one possible explanation, why she didn't. 

She didn't know she was wrong. 

And that, my FRIENDS (pun absolutely intended), is at the heart of the matter.  When people cavalierly toss this word around and don't realize that in the very context you are using it that it is offensive and demeaning to millions of people and their loved ones, then we have a serious problem and we always will.

I've heard the arguments, the "real" definitions of the word, the champions of the First Amendment, the people who tell people like me to lighten up and not take everything so seriously and lamenting the fact that we all have to be so politically correct all the time. I hear all that. I even understand all that. But again, this is about being respectful of others (something we sorely lack in this society) and recognizing that this is an issue to a lot of us. Yes, we all have the right to say whatever we want, whenever we want. But can we understand and can we agree that our right to say anything can - and often does- hurt the feelings of many, many people?

Why can't we do this?  Why can't those who think nothing of using this word, who fervently clutch to their right to do so, why can't there be some understanding?  Some recognition that this isn't right, that it's hurtful, that the hurt that the word causes upon hearing it is greater than the right to utter it in the first place?

Would that be such a hard thing to do?

Sadly, I think it would.

Edited to add:  Here's someone who says this better than I ever will.  Read this piece "Why the Word 'Retard' Hurts People Like Me" by John Franklin Stephens, a Special Olympics athlete from Virginia and a Special Olympics Global Messenger.  An excerpt:

So, what's wrong with "retard"? I can only tell you what it means to me and people like me when we hear it. It means that the rest of you are excluding us from your group. We are something that is not like you and something that none of you would ever want to be. We are something outside the "in" group. We are someone that is not your kind.

I want you to know that it hurts to be left out here, alone. Nothing scares me as much as feeling all alone in a world that moves so much faster than I do.

You don't mean to make me feel that way. In fact, like I say in some of my speeches, "I have always depended on the kindness of strangers," and it works out OK most of the time. Still, it hurts and scares me when I am the only person with intellectual disabilities on the bus and young people start making "retard" jokes or references.

Please put yourself on that bus and fill the bus with people who are different from you. Imagine that they start making jokes using a term that describes you. It hurts and it is scary.

So why is this OK again?

copyright 2010, Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy, The Betty and Boo Chronicles) If you are reading this on a blog or website other than The Betty and Boo Chronicles or via a feedreader, this content has been stolen and used without permission.


Niksmom said...

This is such a loaded subject. I find that even some of my friends (with their own brand of SN child) will use OTHER disability-derived pejoratives like "spazz." It's so hard to explain to them why that's offensive to me as the parent of a child with cerebral palsy who DOES, infact, have spastic movements, when even the site doesn't mention the origin of the term until the FOURTH definition. (

It's one of those things I think we have to try to change one person at a time. Maybe they'll change someone who will change someone else...and so on.

Michelle (Red Headed Book Child) said...

She has indeed become less charming throughout the years. I blame it all on Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

I don't like the use of that word either.

Melissa (Betty and Boo's Mommy) said...

Guilty as charged, Niksmom. I know I've used the term "spazz" and I wouldn't have thought of the connotations (shame on me) or, if I happened to be in your presence, how it would be offensive because of Nik's issues. See, now I will think differently. Thank you.

And I do think you're right in this being a one-by-one person at a time education issue.

Yogi♪♪♪ said...

Well said.

I haven't really heard people use it commonly since I was in high school decades ago which increases the impact of it when people use it now. It has to be intentional rather than incidental.

Stimey said...

I think what really kills me are the comments on non special needs-centric sites that bring up this incident or ones like it. Even once they hear people say how it's hurtful and offensive, they don't care. They say "PC has gone too far," "I think it's funny," and other horrifying things. It makes me incredibly sad.

pixiemama said...

Thank you for this.