The Baystate Objectivist

The Baystate Objectivist

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

What's in a Word?

About three weeks ago I got the following email from Greg Saulmon, the multi-talented editor of Local Buzz magazine.

From : Greg Saulmon
Sent : Tuesday, June 19, 2007 6:04 PM
To :
Subject Excerpt for Local Buzz

Hi Tommy --

Greg Saulmon from Local Buzz here. First off, I wanted to say thanks for your kind words about me and about Local Buzz in your post "Labels." From reading your blog over the years, I get the impression we have a lot in common in terms of how we perceive this area -- so it's nice to hear a compliment from someone whose opinions I value so much.

Also, I wanted to ask if we could run an excerpt from that post in our next issue. I try to publish reader reactions whenever possible, and your post made some excellent points that really cut to the heart of what I'd hoped to do with "Right Angles." I've pasted the section I'd like to run below -- please let me know if you're OK with that, or if there's anything you'd like to modify.

Cheers, and I hope to catch up with you at some point.


Greg Saulmon
Executive Editor
MassPublishing Co., LLC

88 Front Street
Suite #1R
Holyoke, MA 01040
(413) 536-3497

If you do not wish to receive commercial e-mail messages from MassPublishing or its publications (Local Buzz, El Pueblo Latino, Girls Just Wanna Have Fun - The Magazine, Life After 50, or Pioneer Parent), please send us a message with your e-mail address to:

Proposed excerpt:

The article on local conservatives in its current issue is a good one, featuring the elegant Smith Republicans and righty firebrands like Larry Kelly and Mike Franco. I would have liked to have seen more about the UMass Republican Club, which from my perspective is the most vibrant of the local conservative groups, but overall it is a great piece about an oftenoverlooked aspect of our Valley. As for what it says about me, in total I receive all of a one sentence mention in the article:

And there's Springfield native Tommy Devine, more of a working man's intellectual, who runs an often-libertarian blog that pokes fun at war protesters, Springfield politics, and all the colorful expressions of the left you can find in the Valley -- and gets around 20,000 hits a month.

Actually, I'm little surprised to receive any mention at all. The truth is I'm not always included in discussions of Valley conservatives, my blog being considered by some to be too stoney and too gay to be regarded as right-wing, in spite of the fact that I am probably the Valley's foremost defender of the Iraq War and freemarket economics. But when it comes to the social issues I flunk the conservative test in a lot of ways. I have only this Springfield streetkid's warning to those conservatives who use my sexuality and my innerspace explorations to disqualify me from their ranks:

My gang will get you.

But why are we so obsessed with putting labels on people and putting them into categories? I think it's because we're intellectually lazy, and we believe that if we have little boxes to put people in, with a set of characteristics for each box, then we don't have to actually go through the difficult, and sometimes scary process of actually getting to know people as individuals. If we think we know the characteristics of those we put in the Jew Box, or the Gay Box, or the Black Box, or the Conservative Box or even the White Box, then all we have to know about anyone is what box they belong in and we think we know their major characteristics.

Except when we don't. For example it annoys me when people think, just because I'm queer, that I'm good at interior decorating or fashion. You want me to give you a makeover? Okay, just let me go get my fucking sledgehammer! Because I'm not swishy or feminine I don't fit comfortably into most people's Gay Box. In fact, I'm a mess of contradictions. I live in the richest community in the Valley (Amherst officially surpassed Longmeadow last year) but if someone thinks I'm rich the fact is I'm always on the verge of going broke. I'm constantly bickering with my partner, yet instead of splitting up we have red-hot sex. I'm a classic Valley slacker, but my ambition is to save the world.

Let's do away with these boxes and labels that confound and confuse us more then simplify or explain. Open your mind and your heart and expand your realm of possibilities. It's not that hard, just remember this the next time you're tempted to slip into your categorizing ways:

Labels are for cans.

Of course I was happy to let them print the whole thing, with no changes.

When I showed Saulmon's email to my boyfriend Andy and told him that I told Greg to print it as is, he questioned something I hadn't considered. "I wonder if they'll print the word "fucking" as in "Okay, just let me go get my fucking sledgehammer!"

Good question. This is after all not the Valley Advocate , which will throw in an obscenity or two if the occasion calls for it. This is an official Springfield Newspapers publication. Indeed, one might wonder whether the word "fucking" has ever appeared in any publication they have ever published in their entire history. Would my little rant be the first? One could almost imagine the ghost of Sy Newhouse or Charles Bellamy, reaching out from the grave to prevent the offending word from rolling off the press.

I don't swear much, in writing or in my speech. However, writing is a craft, and as a craftsman I have a duty to use any word, any word at all, if that word conveys most accurately the sentiment I am trying to express. Sometimes a swear word is the word that works best. That punchline doesn't have as much punch if you remove the word fucking.

We make certain words taboo so that we will have them in our arsenal when special circumstances call for them. You take them out when you have something you want to say with extra force. The words chosen as taboo are pretty arbitrary from culture to culture. I used to work with some Iranians and they were puzzled by why we chose sexual references as forbidden. They said their first reaction to someone telling them "fuck you" was, "Thank you very much, I will if my wife is willing!" They couldn't see what the basis was for being offended.

Sadly, we now overuse our swear words to the point where they have lost much of their power. If swearing is done everywhere in all situations, then what do you say when you hit your thumb with a hammer? Anyway, did the Springfield Newspapers wimp out and censor my article?

Well, you didn't think I was going to make it that easy for you did you? The Local Buzz can be picked up at these locations.

What's that? Oh you say you live in Timbuktu and can't come to the Pioneer Valley to get a copy? Well, okay, then yes, as a matter of fact they did print "fucking" and I think better of them for it.


Mary E.Carey said...

Sorry to hear about your split-up, Tom. This is a very good post -- especially the apt inclusion of the Jesus photos.

Mike Dobbs said...

Newhouse breaks the "F" barrier! Who would have thought that? David Starr would have his knickers in a twist if he knew that!

LarryK4 said...

In Cohen v California (1971) the Supreme Court decided it was within a protestor’s First Amendment rights to saunter into a California Courthouse with the words “Fuck The Draft. Stop the War” emblazoned on his jacket.

One prime reason for a municipality to have a private organization run a Parade (July 4’th or Amherst’s 250’th anniversary coming up in two years) because a private organization can keep out an anti-war protestor who wants to march with “Fuck the War” or any other despicable word.

A few days ago the NAACP ceremonially buried the N-word. Good for them! But I’m sure because of Cohen v California, the KKK could march in a municipal parade under their white sheets carrying a sign displaying the N-word as it was originally spelled.

And I think most editors at the Springfield Republican newspaper would distance themselves from ‘The Local Buzz’. But what the fuck do I know.