When I was in uni some friends and I went to see a truly dreadful play called “The Son, The Lover, and The Holy Spin,” It starred two people, a young blonde woman with the emotional articulation of a sea sponge but far less absorbing, and a young man in a wheelchair. I’m not sure what ailment he suffered from, but it wasn’t that his legs just didn’t work or were amputated, they were small and misshapen. He spent the play both in the chair and hand-walking on the floor with impressive agility, and saying “cripple” every other word. The play was an example of Physical Theatre, which in my opinion is the lowest run on the live performance ladder, just under Mimes.
My problem with Physical Theatre is that it seemed to me, a drama student, like a get out of jail free card. Any of my peers who couldn’t act, or wasn’t creative enough to come up with complex stories could simply gyrate abstractly on the floor for ten minutes and say it was about racism, and get an instant A. All our lecturers adored physical theatre because there’s nothing easier to watch and pretend to understand hidden meanings from, in order to appear more intelligent or cultural or sensitive. It seemed lazy and counterintuitive. Theatre Tech students and tutors also loved Physical Theatre as it gave them ample scope to show off their skills in lighting and sound beyond a simple blackout. It was frustrating because it’s abundance amongst fellow students and enthusiastic support from lecturers made me, and other like minded students who prefer dialogue driven theatre, look unimaginative, boorish and tediously conventional. I still hold that language is far more flexible and diverse then the human body. At least mime has an actual school of skills that must be learned and mastered first, as base as it must seem to intellectual snobs.
But I’ve gotten side tracked. The reason I mention this play is that it sparked quite the debate. From what we could tell about the theme of the show, religion seemed to be central. Whether it was a critique of religion or not was unclear to me, it just seemed to be jumping on the bandwagon of the very trendy book of the time, The Da Vinci Code. But because it mentioned religion and had swearing in it, most people assumed they were supposed to be offended. In the Q and A held after, when someone brought this up, the actor (who also “wrote” the play) couldn’t wait to not care about any offence caused, as is an artists prerogative, which only (and probably intentionally) caused even more offence.
The debate that arose in our next lecture, “Is it OK the offend religion?” was used by myself as an opportunity to bad mouth the play. After all, anyone who supported censorship on a very liberal arts course wasn’t going to last very long, so why debate them seriously? Nonetheless, I ended up causing fresh controversy by always referring to the actor in the wheelchair as “the cripple.” Now before you judge, remember that the man himself in his own play demonstrated he didn’t care about the words usage, nor did he care about causing offence. But this aside, I genuinely didn’t use the word to attack. I don’t see what’s wrong with calling someone a cripple. It means disabled. I’ve never heard it as meaning disabled people are sub-human or useless to society or anything that it apparently now means, just that they are crippled.
It seems to me that every special interest group wants to have it’s own “N-Word” no matter if the word means anything offensive in the first place. Words like Nigger and Faggot are taboo for a reason, they are words that have been used as weapons for a long time. Too many people have had these words shouted at them while being beaten, degraded and oppressed for them to mean anything other then aggression (even though I believe they can be used non-aggressively, that is the connotation these words hold). This is a connotation that just isn’t there for cripple. Sure, I’ve heard the word used to hurt feelings before, but never to strike out at or oppress all crippled people, just to hurt one individual's feelings. Like calling someone with glasses “four-eyes” doesn’t mean you hate all people who need glasses, you just picked something you think might hurt the individual, it’s called a fight, people do it, it’s normal.
It’s like the word “actress.” Since when was it bad to call a female thespian an actress? That’s all it means, female thespian, as opposed to actor which means male thespian. I thought feminism was about women being equal with men, not identical to them. If there’s nothing wrong with being a woman then what’s wrong with being an actress? Actress isn’t worse then actor, it’s just different. By the same standard everyone, men, women, boys and girls should be called men, as to not impose connotations of inferiority on any group, right? Wrong! By insisting on being called an actor when you’re an actress, it is you that implies the male version is superior.
The more words they make “not okay” to say, no matter what context they are used in, the more they control how we speak, and ergo how we think. It’s all about control. You may think rights are being defended when someone get’s fired for uttering the wrong word at the wrong time, they aren’t, they’re being ignored. Every group wants an “N-Word” because then they can wield it like a sword to gain political and social power. Control and power is all they desire, not freedom. Are you free in a country were you can loose your job for telling a joke? Think about that, FIRED over a JOKE. Whatever happened to sticks and stones may brake my bones? That’s what we tell children for fuck’s sake. The more power we allow these hypersensitive babies the more the few shall control the many. No one can tell you how to think, and if you happen to have racist thoughts, well you’re an idiot, but free to think what you think and indeed say what you think. By making it illegal to express such views you force the racists to disguise their prejudice in more creative language, you’re literally asking to be lied too.
Language is a beautiful and dangerous tool, but it can‘t be sterilized. “Nigger” is an ugly word, but I have heard it used in poetry and music that’s sole intention is to dissolve the racist dogma the word represents and embolden those it traditionaly degrades. You should be allowed to say ANYTHING you want, but you must accept the consequences of the words you choose to use and take responsibility for them. With this in mind, does it really matter if I say cripple rather then disabled, or differently-abled, or handicapped, or handicap-able, or any daft new way we can dream up to say the same fucking thing?