Where Special Needs Blvd. Meets Religion Road
Tony Peyser writes in the New York Daily News:
Timothy Shortell, now sociology department chairman, wrote in an online academic publication that the devout "are an ugly, violent lot. In the name of their faith, these moral retards are running around pointing fingers."
The term "moral retards" didn't sit well with a lot of people. "He's intolerant," fumed Alex Selsky of the school's Hillel chapter, a Jewish campus organization, in the Daily News. "With this kind of unreasonable thinking, I don't know how he can be elected to head of a department."
Kevin Oro-Hahn, director of the school's InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, was quoted as saying he hoped the university could "move beyond mere rhetoric in the pursuit of truth."
Astonishingly, these students didn't find the use of the word "retards" objectionable.
Tony writes me: "Sarah Silverman talks in her comedy act about her grandmother having been a "survivor." When in fact her grandmother was never in a concentration camp. It just proves to me that it's easier to shock than it is to be clever. And shock is rarely as funny as funny is."
In January of 2004, I did a Counterpunch piece in The L.A. Times' Calendar section about The Black-Eyed Peas party anthem, "Let's Get Retarded."
Those of us with kids in the special needs population found this, gee, just a bit much.
I wondered why this was OK but songs called "Let's Get Kike-y" or "Let's Get Nigger-y" surely wouldn't be released by a major label like A&M Records. (I know those words are horribly inflammatory but I do feel they're crucial to making my point.) (And I am Jewish, thanks for asking.)
Cutting to the chase, Black-Eyed Peas --- without admitting the title was in any way wrong --- changed the title to "Let's Get It Started" several months later and the single became an even more enormous hit. It was even played at the Democratic National Convention. Fat lot of good it did John Kerry.
Although I did try, I was unable to convince L.A. Times music editor Robert Hilburn to have someone on his staff mention the song's title being changed. He kept saying, "I don't know what the story is."
I let it go because I didn't want to be a pest. Actually, I'd already passed the pest point but I digress.
That sound was me 24 months later kicking myself for not having sooner thought of a better way to frame this issue.
Several times a year, a school somewhere --- high school or college --- is forced to change its name because there's some alleged American Indian slight involved, i.e. Redskins, Braves, etc. I know you've read and heard about these conflicts.
Regardless of whether you think this is political correctness run amok or a legitimate complaint, these stories got covered.
There weren't sports page or city editors saying, "What's the story here? Why should we write about it?"
And that's precisely what I should have said to Hilburn. If similar stories get printed in other sections, why not his?
Armed with clips of Times articles about these kinds of school name changes, I was all set to call Hilburn.
But my greatly delayed inspiration was so late that Hilburn had already announced he was leaving The Times after a very long stay there.
Nonetheless, I tucked this realization away and will trot it out the next time I'm writing about these issues.
I'm sure that time will not be too far off.
And if any of you are writing about other topics close to your heart, you should bear in mind that the most persuasive arguments for your cause don't have expiration dates.