Let’s talk about silly words that are nonetheless super important.
Let’s talk about silly words for important things, and how their perceived silliness doesn’t make the concepts they’re talking about less important.
Pretty much all of us grew up hearing about “those people.” The only difference between us all, as a people, is who “those people” were for us, as children, adolescents, teenagers, and sadly, still, adults.
Who did our parents, and television, and movies, and teachers, and every authority in our lives, tell us to be scared of, or derisive of, or just outright not care about?
The words “social justice” are divisive. Why is that? Well, they sound silly. They’re a new, weird term for a thing that makes a lot of people uncomfortable.
And immediately, the term was used, outside of academic context, to mock a stereotype of a multiculturalist. For more on this, see our long-form analysis of otherwise pretty funny 90s comedy PCU.
So why do these new words make people uncomfortable and open themselves to immediate dismissal and mockery?
Well, because a lot of people don’t want to hear about how maybe they’re terrible without realizing it, and a lot of my positions are very reactionarily about that.
I have no respect for a lack of introspection. It’s not because I’m better than anybody. It’s because I eventually woke up to how screwed up a bunch of my thoughts and feelings were, and, quite honestly, I’m angry at myself.
So when you see me yell into my camera, more often than not, I’m not yelling at an imagined other, or a straw man. I’m yelling at me.
I hate myself, for getting it wrong. And now, in a textbook potential overcorrection, I use academic terminology and am very careful when I speak, to the detriment of what used to be my sense of humor. Because accidentally making somebody feel bad feels worse to me than using what some consider to be pretentious academic terminology.
And to many, “those people” use that terminology.
But what of me ten years ago? What of the guy who would eventually come to fight, such as he eventually could, for social equity and change, but just wasn’t quite there yet?
That guy was scared. And calling him names for being scared, as I likely would today, would probably prolong his journey into wanting to help.
And using words that sound ridiculous would send him into a place where he wasn’t willing to listen.
Social justice. Heteronormativity. Rape culture. Triggers. Cultural appropriation. These are all words people came up with to describe very real problems that have far-reaching effects to the marginalized.
But, to those who have spent their lives being told to feel guilty, but not quite why, as I was, they sound like this:
“You’re bad, and you should feel bad, and here’s a new, stupid term to describe a thing you don’t understand, and why it should make you feel bad. Because you’re bad. And you should feel bad. Keep feeling bad.”
And who wanted us to feel bad?
“Y’know. Those people.”
And as much as I want this not to be true, it is. I felt this. I did this. That is how people, afraid of being terrible, as I was, make ourselves feel like the reasonable adult in the room.
We see the message as something that it isn’t, and then we get angry. And the language is a big part of that.
Now really, what I needed to do was grow up, realize that it’s my viewpoints, not my personhood, being attacked, and grow a thicker skin and learn to listen. But I was unwilling to do this, because the words sounded stupid, and I liked my comfort zone to be comfortable, thank you.
But the irony is, the people with the thinnest skin always tell others to have thicker skin. “C’mon, man. Just learn to take a joke.” But gold help me if I suggest to those same people that maybe their joke sucked. They go on TEARS.
But for Young Joe, I want to try to squeak just this one lesson through:
Hey. You from ten years from now.
–Are you drunk again?
Yes, but I promise I’m not going to yell at you about embarrassing things you said on the internet again. I’m making a video this time.
–Whoa. We still make movies?
Um… sort of? We were Assistant Director on a feature a couple years back.
–Years? Dude, I just wrapped a feature we shot on actual film. We co-wrote it. We must be super successful by now.
Um… if you count making Youtube videos in a homemade green screen studio in dad’s garage for like, a hundred and fifty people successful, sure.
–Wait. Wait. DO WE LIVE WITH DAD WHEN WE’RE 34?
Let’s just leave Ten Years ago Joe alone for now.
This one is for all the would-be Young Joes.
I want to explain what triggering is. Because I’ve seen it used, far too-often lately, as a joke to describe “I didn’t like a thing,” not really understanding that people who get triggered, are responding to trauma. They’re not wusses who just can’t take it. They’re not teenagers lying about a disorder to avoid talking to you. They’re people asking to be warned before they’re re-exposed to further trauma.
A “trigger” is code for anything that activates somebody’s post-traumatic stress disorder. This condition, most know, used to be called shell-shock, because it was most-often experienced by former soldiers who had been at war. It still is, by the way. So next fourth of July, when explosions are happening everywhere, remember that a ton of former soldiers are mixing a drink, putting in earplugs, and trying their best not to freak out.
Does this mean I think fireworks shouldn’t be a thing? No. But it does mean courtesy should also be a thing.
When somebody says “trigger warning: I don’t like Harry Potter,” there isn’t really a joke there, beyond “Isn’t it hilarious that I think people who suffer from PTSD don’t matter?” And, in my humble opinion, that’s not really a joke. That’s lazy. There’s no deconstruction there. It’s just “those people are different. Ha, Ha.” Be better at comedy than that, you lazy turd. Try. Come up with an actual joke.
Anyway, let’s put you, my viewer, in a terrible situation. I don’t usually do content warnings, for various reasons I won’t go into, but content warning, we’re ‘bouts to talk about sexual assault.
Here’s your chance to get out. Skip to this timecode if you don’t want to hear it.
You, my viewer, are raped. You are forced to have sex that you don’t want to have. Next to you, is a potted mint plant. You get over what happened. You do your best to forget it. But even years later, after therapy, and processing and unpacking your trauma and confronting it and getting over it, every time you smell mint, you feel what happened to you. You heart rate goes up. You don’t feel safe. Your breathing gets harsh and shallow. This is now a crisis for you.
You are triggered.
Does every victim of sexual assault get PTSD? No. Does everybody beaten by their parents feel powerless and frightened every time they hear certain sounds from their childhood? No. But we’re talking about the ones who do. You, now, and your mint.
When you smell mint, you get uncomfortable, and you want to leave the room. This isn’t mere discomfort. This often take the form of panic attacks, another oft-mocked medical condition that, I assure you, can feel quite a lot like a heart attack.
Now, is it okay for strangers to rib you about this? Because, no, it isn’t. But ask yourself that question. Is this okay?
And, weirdly, it seems, most everybody thinks it is. Countless folk seem to think it’s okay to joke about trauma, sexual or otherwise. Because words are weird. And saying “trigger” elicits a cheap laugh. An easy laugh.
Internet message boards are awash with jokes about trigger warnings:
Ha ha, right? Those stupid kids and their triggers, right? Grow up. I was treated like shit, therefore anybody asking to not be treated poorly must be lying to get special treatment, right?
People get SO MAD about that word, and I just want to be like, “I’m sorry the word trigger is triggering you. Would you like a trigger warning the next time I’m about to use it?”
And that really is the argument.
“PEOPLE WHO WANT ME NOT TO USE A WORD NEED TO STOP USING A DIFFERENT WORD THAT BOTHERS ME!”
But it’s only the terminology that’s new. Be it triggers, social justice, size acceptance, Heteronormativity, rape culture, cisgender… They sound ridiculous to many who just want to believe the world is good. And that is what I truly believe people are doing.
I remain, contrary to popular belief, an optimist. I believe that people who laugh at these things aren’t evil. They’re not terrible people. They just don’t want to believe that the world can be so screwed up that anything that bad could actually exist.
Ignorance and stupidity are not the same thing. And I believe that those who deny just want to live in a good world, where this doesn’t happen on a daily basis, and jokes shouldn’t be a big deal, because we all joke about our trauma to get over it, right? And there’s a valid point there, with several key counterpoints I couldn’t possibly compress into a video I want to be this short.
But for those of us who know that these things do happen? That this does happen every day? And it does. We come up with terms to describe them. And sometimes those terms don’t land right away.
But, and if you’ve been tuning me out, now’s the time to tune back in, there was a time in American history that racism was talked about the same dismissive terms.
The mere word “racism” was divisive. It still is, but, and here’s the difference:
It’s 2016 at the time this video was shot, and anybody under 40 who attended school grew up learning about how racism is wrong.
Now, we didn’t solve racism. People of color are still being murdered for pretty much no reason, seemingly daily, and I could easily make a ten-part miniseries on how instead of solving racism, we just agreed that it was wrong, then went on to redefine what it was to the point that yelling racial epithets at somebody “might not necessarily be because the yeller was racist,” and yes, I heard this argument THIS WEEK.
But we mostly all agree that this once silly-sounding term, is not only not silly, but is unequivocally bad.
So remember the times that “those people” were black people, and those fighting for civil rights, and let’s not make the same mistake our parents and grandparents’ generations did when these conversations start.
Every term invented to speak about a problem that makes us uncomfortable was laughable when it was invented. Let’s remember that, and not mock new language just because it sounds weird to us.
We’re not gonna’ solve the underlying problems society has by agreeing on the terms we use to talk about them, but it’s a damn sight better than not having any words at all.
And maybe start asking yourself who “those people” are, and why they’re so mockable to begin with.
For Sofa Justice Warriors, I’m Joe. Thank you everybody, goodnight.