A female friend of mine, who shall remain unnamed in this public space, is a public school teacher. On Hallowe’en this past week she wore to class an outfit consisting of a black garbage bag, on which was pasted various bits of white-coloured garbage. Her costume? White Trash.
Here’s a pic of her outfit, with her face removed to conceal her identity:
She was told by some co-workers, and by some folks on Facebook, that her costume was offensive. What do you think? Was it offensive?
Do you think it matters that she’s a public school teacher? Does that make the outfit more or less offensive?
Do you think it matters that she herself is nonwhite? Do you think it matters than last year she wore a costume that was the equivalent of “White Trash” for a particular non-white demographic, yet no one complained then?
Do you buy the explanation that this is not a mockery of a particular demographic, but a celebration of language? It’s playful to present trash that happens to be white. It’s a kind of living pictogram. I buy it. Do you?
Let me know your thoughts in the comments section…. and be respectful, fuckers.
Offensiveness is something that concerns me greatly these days, as my retreat from most social media was spurred by the many accusations I fielded of my own offensiveness. It would be really helpful if there was consensus on what truly constitutes “offensiveness.”
For example, apparently the young lady in the following photo was suspended from school for the offensiveness of her costume:
Get it? It’s an image of Trump deporting her, because she is (I assume) Mexican. Deportation is indeed offensive. But how is a mockery of deportation offensive? Or do you somehow think it’s a celebration, not a mockery?
How about this one? Aren’t celebrities fair game? Or is sexual assault so offensive that nothing evenly cursorily related to it should not be presented in a humourous context? Keep in mind that the butt of the joke is the assaulter, not the victims:
That one doesn’t trigger you? Well the following costume is actually quite clever, but I think it’s clear why it would run some people the wrong way. But is it not possible to view it more as a statement of irony rather than mockery of a disabled person? It’s ironic that Christopher Reeve –Superman– couldn’t walk, no?
Then there are costumes designed to offend, like the following depiction of Chris Brown and Rihanna:
Is it offensive to make light of domestic abuse? Or is it biting satire or meta-commentary to point out the tension between intolerance of domestic abuse on one hand, with mindless celebrity adoration on the other? One could argue that there is something brilliantly transgressive about these costumes.
Is it offensive to dress as a firefighter, soldier, police officer, priest or nun? These aren’t cultures, after all; they’re choices. We’re allowed to be playful with people’s choices, no?
But what about sexy firefighter, sexy police officer, sexy priest, or sexy nun?
Hey, sexy nun is a staple. It’s almost mandatory at every party:
So religion is fair game, right? Sexy nun is a-ight. But what about sexy burqa? Nooooooooo:
What about sexy other things? Earlier this year, there was an uproar when someone released a costume for “sexy Handmaid’s Tale handmaid”:
The costume was pulled because too many people found that it disrespected…. a fictional character in a work of fiction.
So, um, what are the rules?
I don’t know. I am certainly not the arbiter of what is proper. Jimmy Carr once told the following joke: “I’ve created a foundation for battered women. It hides the bruises.” I repeated that joke once (with full attribution to Carr) and the world exploded around me. Now, I saw the joke as one about language: “foundation” has two meanings. Others saw the joke as making light of a serious situation.
Both sides were right, whether you can accept that or not.
By the same token, my friend who wore the “White Trash” costume was wrong, in that clearly some people can be offended that the costume seems to make light of a negative term for a demographic of people. But she was also right because she actually meant it as a play on language, not as a mockery of a group of people.
How do we balance the two truths? Common wisdom would hold that we take the conservative path: if it can be seen as offensive, then it is offensive, and therefore should not be worn or said.
But I prefer to give extra weight to intent, something of which we don’t do enough in modern times. Things don’t offend people, people offend people. The costume or the joke was not offensive; the person wearing the costume or telling the joke was offensive. Costumes and jokes can’t have intent, but people can.
So what was the intention of the wearer or teller? Was it to play with language, or was it to diminish others? In almost every circumstance, it was not the latter.
By seeking intent, and assuming the best of intents, I find that I am offended much less, and entertained much more. This, my friends, is a path to happiness. I urge you to consider it.
As for Hallowe’en, I wear the same costume every year. I go as the Invisible Man, and just stay home.
Overly Complicated Breakfast
And we’re off. The last few days have seen a certain sameness in my meals…
Well this is new
I received this email:
World Famous Epidemiologist
Kindly please assist me.
i got your address from your website.
my name is <REDACTED> and live in Jaipur, INDIA.
i am a very poor person living in Jaipur.living in very worst condition here in Jaipur, i have heard your name that’s why i am writing to u
i want to start my own business of real estate but my financial condition is not good.
i need 3 Million CADD to set up my bussiness
would u like to help me of 3 Million CADD to set up my business ?
Kindly please help me of 3 Miilion CADD
I m sending the scan copies of my passport with this e-mail , kindly please find.
So what do you think? Should I send this fellow $3 million? I mean, he seems deserving.
What Should I Leave You With?
How about these questionable photos of me with my brother Bhash?