Saturday, June 1, 2013

Just Stop Being Offended.

I have some useful advice for basically everyone that will make their lives a lot easier and less stressful. Here it is: Just stop being offended.

Now, this may seem impossible to some of you... and I understand that it might be difficult, but I assure you, it is both possible and necessary if you no longer wish to have your mental and emotional well-being constantly compromised by other people whose words and actions are beyond your control.

What's more, I've found over the years that some people are not just offended by things intended to be offensive, but instead, seem to be looking for reasons to take offense to anything and everything that anybody does.

For example... Just today, one of my favorite Facebook friends posted a Salon article about the supposed homophobia present in Disney movies: "Why are there no gay Disney characters?"

And sure... There aren't any gay Disney "princesses", and no sweeping same-sex love-affairs in their whole universe really. Perhaps that's a tragedy... But I actually have far too many other (and I think actually much more substantive) criticisms of most of the messages contained in Disney movies to spend a ton of time on why there aren't any overtly gay characters.

However, that article did have a lot of linked content, and one of those links took me to another article about the supposed "gay slurs" and perhaps nascent homophobia found in Disney Animation Studios' wonderful film, "Wreck-it Ralph".

Here's the thing, though... I loved Wreck-it Ralph and noticed absolutely nothing in it that could be remotely described as "homophobic". In fact, to the contrary, the film has two central themes (first, that you get to choose who you want to be and don't need to be stuck in the roles society has defined for you... and second, that you're ok as you are, even if people think you're a little weird) and both are - or conceivably should be - inspiring to anyone who is a little outside the norm.

Gay people obviously included.

That said, of course I'm not gay, so perhaps I just wouldn't ever be able to pick up on the kind of homophobic references someone who's been attuned to it his whole life might more easily recognize. So... Here's what author, Chris Bogia, had to say in "They Wrecked It: Reflecting on Homophobia in Disney's Wreck-It Ralph":
"I was crestfallen when the game's villain turned out to be yet another mincing gay stereotype. At first I let it go -- I really wanted to enjoy Wreck-It Ralph.

That's when Ralph, the lovable hero (depicted perhaps uncoincidentally as an exaggeratedly tough masculine guy), quips about the King of Candy's palace color story, pink. A gag is had at the defensive king's lispy expense: "IT'S SALMON!" Pink would have been a bad choice for a palace made of candy?

Then it gets much worse.

After some limp-wristed gesticulating by our villain, Ralph grabs him, shakes him, and calls the confectionary monarch a "nelly wafer" (it's like Nilla Wafer, get it?)

"Nelly."

That word is hardly thrown around these days, and I'm sure most young kids seeing Wreck-It Ralph wouldn't know what it means. However, when entered into Google for anyone that didn't already know it's definition, here it is:

"Offensive Slang: Used as a disparaging term for an effeminate homosexual man."

There's very little grey area here. The hero of the Disney animated movie I just saw shook the mincing, effeminate villain and called him a homophobic slur (after already insulting his decorating taste!)."
Ok. I think I see the problem now. Maybe Bogia just doesn't know anything about the history of film, and perhaps he was actually looking for something to be offended by.

First of all, King Candy (not "The King of Candy"... an error that makes me question whether or not Mr. Bogia really paid that much attention to the film) isn't actually a "gay stereotype" at all.

He might be lispy and effeminate in certain ways, but he is - in fact - a virtually spot-on impersonation of 1930s-1950s comedian and character actor, Ed Wynn, as voiced by the utterly fantastic Alan Tudyk.

Ed Wynn started in Vaudeville in the 1920s, and became a well-known radio actor by the 1930s. And of course, the film & television industry grew directly out of those two traditions by the 1940s... and some people, like Wynn, stuck around.

Although you might not have seen Ed Wynn's performances on "The Twilight Zone" or "What's My Line?", I can pretty much assure you that you do, in fact, know his work as the Mad Hatter in Disney's classic 1951 animated feature, "Alice and Wonderland":



Wynn certainly isn't mocking gay people, he's doing Vaudeville schtickle while voicing one of the most absurd characters in Disney's pantheon. And of course, the fact that Wynn's voice is so heavily tied to Disney feature animation, and the fact that the King Candy character is based almost directly on Wynn's Mad Hatter, makes it hardly surprising that Alan Tudyk would be doing a ridiculously over-the-top lispy homage.

Also, on a purely aesthetic note, I'd simply point out that there's just nothing about Wynn's lisp or inflection that is stereotypical "gay man". Not all lisps are created equally.

Compare Wynn's Mad Hatter (which is basically just... Ed Wynn), to say... Mario Cantone (a little NSFW):



Also... Try to forget that Mario Cantone is actually a gay man, thus rendering the whole notion of this lisp as an inherently insulting stereotype a bit weak.

The point here is that when people do the "gay lisp" to mock (or celebrate!) gay people, they're doing Mario Cantone, Nathan Lane, or maybe Harvey Fierstein... They're not doing the Mad Hatter.

These are different things.

So... Right out of the gate, there's probably nothing intentionally homophobic or offensive by the vocal character of King Candy. To me, Bogia's interpretation of it as homophobic strikes me as at best a simple misunderstanding of the characters being referenced and an ignorance of cinema.

No crime there... But.... It's hard for me to imagine getting offended by that.

And, fair enough, Mr. Bogia says that didn't bother him that much, but that what really got to him was Ralph's use of the word "Nelly" in the phrase, "Nelly Wafer". Yet, curiously, Mr. Bogia leads his explanation of why this is offensive by noting that "the word is hardly thrown around anymore". As far as I'm concerned, that's a massive understatement. Except through extensive Googling, would you have ever assumed that word to be a gay-slur?

I've heard the word "Nelly" used in literally only one context - and it's an ancient one: "Nervous Nelly".

My guess is that your experience lines up with mine pretty closely. Furthermore, in the context of "Nervous Nelly", there's  really no sense of sexual orientation being involved. Effeminate, sure... Wimpy, definitely... But...... Gay?

Not really.

But even if it did have that connotation, it's a connotation that absolutely no one in the audience - and I'm guessing on the writing team - had any knowledge of. Instead, while I was reading Bogia's article, I suspected that what was more likely was simply that sometimes writers are looking for unique, silly or clever ways of working dialogue into the story that both fits the tone and makes sense.

The character's name is "King Candy". He's surrounded by candy. He has two donut guards named Wynnchell (*cough* Wynn *cough*) and Duncan. The entire universe being inhabited is filled with puns!

Beard Papa was a security guard.

Speaking as a scriptwriter, I would be looking for every available opportunity to cram another candy-related pun into the movie. So to assume that "Nelly Wafer" is a gay slur, you really have to assume quite a bit else as well.

Namely, that:
  1. The writer had ever heard it used as such (which, I seriously doubt, as it's incredibly obscure)
  2. That there are literally no other possible interpretations (obviously false),
  3. That the writer was to some extent deliberately sneaking in homophobic or anti-gay messages into a movie about being true to yourself and accepting yourself you are.... even if you have giant hands or glitch all the time.
See?
None of those things seem especially likely to me... And what's more, I went looking on Disney's wikia about Wreck-it Ralph, and curiously enough, instead of "Nelly Wafer" being listed under the "other names" section, the word is actually "Nilly Wafer". They also directly confirm my observation that the character is based on Ed Wynn's Mad Hatter.

What's more, I also looked at a copy of the screenplay. Here's the scene [emphasis mine]:
RALPH
Well, maybe I’ll just have to have a little talk with the winner then.

KING CANDY
Is that a threat I smell-- beyond the halitosis you so obviously suffer from?

RALPH
Listen Nillie Wafer, I’m not leaving without my medal.

KING CANDY
Yes, you are. Wynnchel, Duncan, get him out of that cupcake and on the first train back home. And if I ever see you here again, Wreck-it Ralph, I’ll lock you in my fungeon.

RALPH
Fungeon?

KING CANDY
Fun Dungeon. It’s a play on words.... Nevermind. Now, I’ve got a glitch to deal with, thanks to you. Goodbye Wreck-it Ralph. It hasn’t been a pleasure.
Nillie/Nilly (as in... "Nilla", obviously). Not Nellie.

So it's even more likely that Mr. Bogia is getting upset because he heard something in John C. Reilly's performance that merely sounded to him like something that virtually no one else in the world would even know was insulting.

And again... It's just a pun.

Is there any reason to believe for a second that it's some covert slight against gay people? A secret homophobic slur or a gay-bashing "dogwhistle"? Really?

Can common sense enter into the picture at some point? For some people, the answer to that question is unfortunately.... No.

Far too many people I encounter on a regular basis seem to be looking for a fight or to get their feelings hurt. Maybe I should be more sympathetic to people who grew up as victims of frequent insults and bullying, but this really brings me full circle.

It's up to Chris Bogia whether or not to be offended by things that happen in life. It's up to all of us to choose how to react to the world outside our control. And spending your life on constant high-alert that people might sometime... somewhere... be saying hurtful things about you as an individual or as part of some specific group just isn't healthy.

It leads people - like perhaps Mr. Bogia - to see insults and offenses where none truly exist. For those of you who will yell at me about being white, straight and male... I'm guilty as charged. I don't know what Chris Brogia's life has been like (neither does he know what mine is like... I've been "bullied" and mocked too, you know), and I cannot judge the way he feels about anything. His feelings are his own. But I can say that regardless of how he felt, the offenses he's reacting to are imagined.

The solution to this is to remember a few things about life.

  • First: Nobody thinks about you as much as you think about yourself. The world doesn't - contrary to every feeling you might have - revolve around you. So don't assume that everything is some secret coded message designed to make fun of you or make you feel bad.
  • Second: The only person you can control is yourself. So get a grip. Unless someone actually means to offend you, try not to be offended. In spite of what you might wish to believe, it's not actually everyone else's responsibility to know in advance what may or may not hurt your feelings and tip-toe around them at all times. It's not fair or even possible to expect others to read the minds of every person they meet and avoid every touchy area for each and every one of them. You can't and don't do it for them... Don't expect everyone else to do it for you.
  • Third: When someone does say something actually offensive, and they mean for it to offend you, take a step back and ask yourself whether or not the source or the content of the offense is even worth the headache. Is the offending person someone whose opinion you actually care about? Was this person just lashing out in anger during an argument? Did they know you would be offended by what they said and say it anyway? Are a few words you didn't want to hear worth ruining your day over?

In short. Just STOP being offended so much.

If you do, you'll make the world a much better and less stressful place for yourself, you'll avoid assuming the worst in everyone else, you'll also reduce your level of narcissism, and you'll completely dis-empower everyone who seeks to get under your skin by saying mean things to you,

9 comments:

Chris said...

I agree with this article in many ways.

The first three lines pretty much says what I've been saying since I stood up to my bullies and name callers.

Showing a couple videos and giving a background in this situation was a great way to get your point across.

And the solution list is great advice for every one.

Thank you for writing this article and saying, in a much better way than myself, what I've been saying for a long time.

I'm glad I shared this and I'll never forget the rhyme I learned as a kid, "Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me."

Thank you again.

casus fortuitus said...

Wow. There's a lot wrong with presuming to tell people what they should be offended by (especially if they're a member of an historically oppressed minority group, and you're a member of the group that has traditionally done the oppressing), but probably the most egregious theme in this rant is that someone's intent actually matters when they give offence.

Here's a tip that will help you stop being such a condescending douche (on the assumption you care about being a decent person): intent isn't magic. (http://genderbitch.wordpress.com/2010/01/23/intent-its-fucking-magic/)

Sean W. Malone said...

Casus,

1. There's far more wrong with presuming you know what's in someone else's heart and assuming the worst.

2. YES, of COURSE INTENT matters when it comes to being offended. As I said throughout this "rant", the expectation that someone else has to just know what you are or are not offended by is a ridiculous and impossible expectation. You cannot control the rest of the world - only yourself. If someone says something that hurts your feelings, it matters a hell of a lot whether or not they meant it to be offensive. And personally, I think that it would be you - or anyone who assumes the worst motives of another person - who is being indecent as a person. Not to mention the fact that that those kinds of assumptions are actually condescending, as opposed to what I wrote here.

3. "Groups" aren't oppressed nor do they do any oppressing. Individuals are, and do. Spare me the ludicrously sloppy - and frankly insultingly broad - thinking that goes into assuming that just because you know the barest and most superficial traits about someone (skin color, gender, etc.) that you know what their life experiences are or what harm they should be held responsible for.

Even where its useful to generalize about "historical oppression", that abstraction doesn't override individual cases. There's little I could think of that is actually more condescending than the idea that a person in minority group is automatically a victim, or one in a majority group is automatically a tyrant. You're skipping over a lot of important information there.


Lastly, I would say - as I said in the piece - you can be offended by whatever you'd like to be offended by. It's your life. I'd merely suggest that living your life worried about what other people are thinking and being on constant high alert, ready at a moment's notice to police what everyone else has to say - as you did here in your comment even - must be exhausting. There are some pretty heavy trade offs to being bitter and petty.

Anonymous said...

But it isn't about being offended, is it? Neither does it mean that they have a secret anti-gay agenda if they use these stereotypes and slurs. It is just that homophobia is so strongly ingrained in our society that it can even pop up in works of well meaning yet uncaring people. That is the sole point of it.
I also don't believe that people who made films such as Beauty and the Beast were sexist. Their intention was to make a beautiful fairy-tale. But since sexism is an important part of many of these stories, they just unthinkingly put it in the film. Doesn't mean they have an agenda. Also doesn't mean we can't criticize it.

Sean W. Malone said...

Absolutely, you can criticize it. But you should probably be more aware of the subject matter and film history if you're going to do that.

In this case, I do suspect it's about being offended.

Anonymous said...

Let me guess... You're a white male (and as stated, heterosexual). I would suggest you look up the term "white privilege" to understand the lens that help you ward off offense so easily.

Sean W. Malone said...

Sure... It's definitely easier not to be offended when people aren't routinely saying deliberately offensive things to you. But this post isn't about those kinds of things, is it? It's about not taking offense to the imaginary slights you experience thanks to your own assumptions and insecurities.

Besides, if it was merely "white privilege" that made it easy for people to go through life controlling their emotional reactions to the dozens of things we all encounter per day that we could take offense to, then it would be reasonable to expect to see offense normally being taken almost exclusively by non-white, non-straight, less-privileged people.

But that's not actually what I see at all.

A huge percentage of the perpetual outrage types I encounter today, and have encountered since I was a kid, have been white, straight, and generally wealthy. You know... Privileged people.

I grew up with mostly straight white people. Some were capable of coping with the world without breaking down every few minutes because of something someone else said that they took offense to. Some weren't, and found themselves spending day after day angry and outraged at things they couldn't control. I also have a bunch of friends and co-workers now who are not white or straight, and yet who are competent adults who handle the world rationally and don't fall to pieces or make wild assumptions about other people's intentions.

And if you look at the places on the internet where the privilege narrative is the most prominent - Facebook and Tumblr, etc. - you'll see that demographic data on those sites skews white and wealthy, and since the vast majority of the world is straight, everything skews that way.

So, while "white privilege" is a conveniently bias-confirming grand narrative for a lot of people, it's pretty bad at actually explaining the world if reality enters the picture.

This issue is fundamentally about philosophy, not privilege.

Every one of us has choices to make every day as to how we're going to interact with other people, and with our own emotions.

In my experience, the people who go through life perpetually outraged or offended set themselves up for perpetual failure, while the ones - of any race, gender, sexual orientation, etc. - who have a thicker skin and a better handle on their emotional reactions set themselves up for success.

Take from that what you will.

JACK WILLIAMS said...

Being gay is a sin. I do not like gay people.

Sean W. Malone said...

Jack Williams' comment above reinforces the point of the post... Disney, and Alan Tudyk, are not being anti-gay by referencing the Mad Hatter/Ed Wynn in a film with a very similar character. Jack Williams' "I do not like gay people" is anti-gay.

Different things.