For any thesis, one can pretty much find an antithesis. For every cause, a reactionary. It seems that few things in this world can be pure joy: Harry Potter promotes anti-Christian witchcraft, Teletubbies will turn you gay (or is it the other way around?). And now apparently we have to tread lightly around the linguists.
Slate just published a screed against Gawker’s bid to crown America’s Ugliest Accent — not just because the author of said article is a linguist, but because it’s “mean.” The author contends that the “ugliest dialects” typically extend from low-economic income areas … basically, poor people talk like shit and Gawker is exploiting that.
It’s a valid point in that regard. It is culturally insensitive to pick on people because of their life station. Most people would be affluent and well-spoken if they had “a choice” in the matter (for reasons of brevity we’re not going to get into the “Land of the Free” argument). But does that negate an entire contest? There is a real problem with cultural sensitivity right now — and that is, essentially, that it doesn’t work. It’s a beautiful thought — like Ayn Rand’s Objectivism or even Friedrich Engels’ Socialism — but it doesn’t function right and it never will. See, there is no “across the board” for cultural sensitivity; there is no one right answer. Everything with cultural sensitivity has to be decided on a case-by-case basis. Remember when “queer” was a major no-no word? Now it is accepted as a self-identifying archtype within the LGBT community — but only by some of them. You essentially have to let them determine for themselves if they are offended by the term. But then others can be offended by your using the term even if the person who self identifies with it is okay with its use. See how screwy that is?
The same goes for accents. Some people might be offended, some people might not be offended. When did Slate become the moral voice of reason? Why should they try to get this contest flagged or aborted through public scrutiny just because of their flawed sense of cultural sensitivity?
Hell, I happen to hail from one of the cities (Los Angeles) that’s in the contest. And damn if I don’t want to know whether we have the ugliest accent in America. Really, we’re just a place filler on this list so I’m not worried, but even if I was from the heart of Chicago or Brooklyn, good luck trying to get me to join in your moral outrage.
Obviously the beauty of the democracy we have, which works for the time being, is that Slate is absolutely free to get fussy over this Gawker piece. And they can try to rally public support to have it excoriated. But NMR has the right to stick its nose into this fight and tell Slate to “quitcher bellyachin, brah’” (as we say in L.A.).
As the culturally sensitive LOVE to point out, a generalization does not speak for an entire population — stereotypes are lame because they take a facet of a population and make it the face of a population. Certainly there are folk who are well-educated and economically secure who speak with “dirty” Cajun accents, Slate. It seems culturally insensitive for you to assume that they aren’t capable of making up their own mind.
Of course, considering that Gawker gets on its high horse about cultural sensitivity plenty as well, probably everybody just needs to shut up. Except NMR.
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