Saturday, June 10, 2006

That ringtone is so chrismoyles

Chris Moyles is a Radio 1 DJ who referred to a mobile phone ring tone as "gay". He was using it in that very playground way where gay now means lame. A viewer complained about it and the BBC apparently acknowledged that the word could cause offence to some listeners but he was not being homophobic in his use of the word. They said it would be advisable to think more carefully about the use of gay in its derogatory sense in future because of the words potential to cause "unintended offence".

This is very disappointing - you'd think the BBC's Board of Governors would be more sensitive to this issue. Imagine you are a 13 year old child at school - you're starting to have feelings for people of the same sex, and are terrified about it. It doesn't help that the only word you know to describe how you feel: "gay" is only ever used to refer to things that are bad. And not only are all the other kids using "gay" to mean rubbish, but Radio 1 DJs are doing it too. It's hard enough to get through your teens when you're gay - but at least when I was growing up, "gay" just meant fancying people of the same sex. Now there is no word which means that and has a positive association. We no longer have a word left that isn't tainted in some way ("homosexual" has a criminal-medical-condition etymology, we can discount the hundreds of words like "faggot", "batty-boy" and "puff" which are straight-forwardly derogative an even the reclaimed "queer" is still used negatively by many people). How are gay people supposed to forge a positive self-image it there are no good labels?

Imagine if the same thing was done on race rather than sexuality. Imagine if people decided that "African-American" meant "crap" - "Oh I don't want that mobile phone, it's really African American"... The cries of outrage would be huge - people would rightly lose their jobs over it. There would be campaigns and demos. But because it's "just" gay people, Chris Moyles is vindicated. Well if that's the case, then I'd like to suggest that from now on we change the meaning of the phrase "Chris Moyles". How about "Chris Moyles" now means bigotted and unthinking? Or "Chris Moyles" could be the new "gay/lame". Or better still, Chris Moyles could refer to homosexuality - as in "I had some great Chrismoyles sex the other night". It could catch on.

5 comments:

Olaf said...

I agree with you whole heartedly, but I don't see this changing. Women have been putting up with this for years: "you throw like a girl, you drive like a woman, etc." Feminism was unable to stop people from associating female with weak. The one tool that was useful -- political correctness -- has been denigrated to such an extent that to mention it now is to invite derision. The BBC should have known better. I'm not surprised that no one did.

Still, as Dan Savage showed with his santorum campaign, appropriating someone's name can be quite successful. You should fully stick with using "Chris Moyles" in the context you described. Maybe he'll get it.

Castle of Stink said...

There is a difference. African-American has always and only meant African-American. Jew has always only meant Jew. Of course, I'm talking denotative meaning. But, "gay," though so thoroughly connected with being homosexual today, has not always meant being homosexual; and, in the big picture, has meant so only a small part of the word's history.

I'm not saying that I disagree with the sentiment of your post, I think the dj's choice was in very poor taste.

On the other hand, the sense that "gay" means lame is extremely recent... even as a homosexual, I will frequently say, "You're so gay," or "That's so gay," and mean what? Lame? Gaily lame? I don't know... at least, that they are making choices that sacrifice individuality for a cultural statement or for some reason (not that there's anything wrong with that). How different is that from African-Americans using the "n" word and feeling justified to do so but angered by others doing so? I guess it is, in that the "n" word was has a longer history with a more direct connection to a specific race. Even then, though, in the South there was been an attempt to excuse the "n" word by saying it refers to a certain type of African-American rather than the entire race--but that attempt seems merely an opportunity for racists to justify their continued use of an offensive term. It seems to me that the new use of "gay" is not much more than an attempt for those who once used the term in an offensive manner to justify the continued use of the term by altering it's slang use to be more politically correct. Language flows and ebbs in just this manner, and it's not always pretty...

Ultimately, I think the shift in the use of the term "gay" means a more aware society, so it's not necessarily a bad thing... on the other hand, that shift is happening because people like you continue to remind people like Moyles that he should think more about what he's saying...

matty said...

I agree with you. Sadly, despite all the gains made in recent years --- we've a long way to go!

William John said...

I think most likely the use of phrases such as "that's gay" grew into being because whoever it was directed against didn't want to be associated with being... well... gay. It's more about the negative association with being gay that made people shudder and spurred on uses of these phrases. Just like the F word used to shock, now it is meagre. Shame, really. I sort of really liked the G word, despite it being hard for me to utter sometimes.

William John.

DazPaz said...

A word from the front line - according to the 10/11 year olds I teach, nobody describes rubbish things as 'gay' anymore.