Friday, October 26, 2012

Don't tell me what to say

Kudos to Little People of America Lifetime Member Bob Levine. He recently approached Little People of America about a Saturday Night Live Skit he found offensive.  I don't know much about Saturday Night Live these days, but evidently the skit included a recurring character of cast member Bill Hader.  The character used the word "midget." This wasn't the first time the character had used the word.  In the past, I've heard from at least one other member about the character's use of the word.  In this case, Levine wondered if LPA would reach out to Saturday Night Live and ask the show to stop using the word.  For a number of reason's, LPA typically does not respond when the m-word is used in popular culture.  This is because the organization feels effort is better spent proactively raising positive awareness rather than reacting to negative language.  The hope is that positive awareness about dwarfism will eventually convince people to decide for themselves not to use the word.  Exceptions are made sometimes.  Last month, former Florida Governor Jeb Bush used the m-word on MSNBC.  Because Bush was a former elected official speaking on a news program, LPA sent him a letter.

In the case of Saturday Night Live, LPA decided not to respond.  Instead, we encouraged Levine to share his concerns directly with the show.  To Levine's credit, he wrote a letter and it was published on the RivertownsPatch website.  The letter was from the heart.  In the letter, Levine reflected about how SNL helped him through difficult times, as a young boy, and in high school.  Now, because of the show's use of the word, he is reconsidering whether or not to watch it again.  As is the case with most online news publications, Levine's piece was open for public comment.  And, as is the case with many online comment sections, the comments were primarily unsympathetic at best, and brutal at worst.  So much so, RivertownsPatch eventually shut down the comments.

Unfortunately, the comments that Levine's piece garnered are typical of any piece that calls for the end of a particular word.  No one wants to be told what he or she can or can't say.  That's another reason why LPA traditionally doesn't respond to negative use of language.  If we call on people to stop using language, then the issue quickly gravitates, fairly or not, toward political correctness and the 1st Amendment.  These are issues of which LPA doesn't want to be a part.  That's why we focus on raising awareness.  Rather than tell people what they can and can't say, we should give people the tools to make the decision for themselves. 

Nevertheless, I admire Levine's decision to write the letter.  I am glad he spoke his mind.  No matter the response from anonymous people who comment on internet websites, I hope others speak their minds in the future.

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