Starting a commentary with “back in the day” is sure to make people groan, but here goes.
Back in the day, when I still rode motorcycles, I was a volunteer moderator for a motorcycle safety web site. My main responsibility was to keep offensive, argumentative, or unsafe posts in line.
There was only one word on the strictly forbidden list: “hate.”
Other words could be substituted. Detest, abhor, dislike — all OK. Hate? No.
These days I follow a train spotting website on YouTube. The site has an active chat group. Moderators and a software program control the language. The controls are much tighter on the train spotting site than they ever were on the motorcycle site. Only the moderators know exactly what words are forbidden on the train spotter site.
I’m not a moderator there. I once got put in time out for using a forbidden word. The forbidden word? “Meditate.” Honest. I was so surprised, I used it a second time, which triggered the software ‘bot. Apparently, someone, somewhere thinks meditate is a pejorative term, demeaning to navel gazers. I previously got in trouble for using the word “foam” on that site. Apparently some railroad people use the term “foamer” to denigrate those of us who like to watch trains.
What other words may be banned on the train spotter site? All the common ones, I’m sure. But for some reason “fart” is not. Huh? What’s up with that?
Fast forward to now, and maybe into our future. School districts all over America are looking at the literature used in school classes, the idea being to “cleanse” curricula of “offensive” material. “To Kill a Mockingbird” by Harper Lee, and several works by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) use the N-word. They are on the short list for being dropped. Never mind that the authors were trying to show the bad side of hateful language. I imagine “Catcher in the Rye” by J. D. Salinger is on that list. And maybe “Mein Kampf.” Adolph Hitler wrote that last one.
How, I ask, are young people supposed to learn about bigotry, hatred, teenaged angst, and just the general nastiness of the world if works revealing it are hidden to them? Doesn’t it make more sense to have a robust discussion about the origins of the N-word than to pretend it doesn’t exist? Or would you rather have your innocent go out into the world and be overwhelmed by all the things he or she never learned to deal with in Jordan?
I assure you, young people will find — and use — anything we want to keep hidden. And I don’t mean that last Snickers bar either. I assure you that if young people think anything is forbidden, they will use it gleefully, and surreptitiously. We may not use bad language in our homes, but that won’t stop young people from hearing it. Far better to give them an understanding of why those words are toxic, than to pretend they don’t exist.
The Quote: “There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.” -Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain)