Thursday, June 30, 2005

War of the Words: Losing Meaning and Impact

You know what I'm saying. Words like "extremist" or "Nazi" -- are bandied about by biased press, partisan politicians and everyday people like you and me -- used, or more likely misused, in a feeble attempt to make a point. And it needs to stop.

Take the wire services. They use of the word "extremist" when discussing Jews who don't want to be expelled from their homes and they use it to describe vicious terrorists who kill civilians. Does that really make sense? Are the two even slightly similar?

Friend to the Blogway, Tom Carter, did a terrific post about why using the word Nazi is ridiculous, whether it's you or Senator Dick Durbin spitting it out. His conclusion says it all:

Think about the American politician or public figure you find most distasteful. Assuming you know anything at all about World War II and the Nazis, there is no way you can intelligently characterize him or her as a Nazi or make a comparison to Hitler. Think about it. If you're guilty of doing it, you're making yourself look like an idiot. Cut it out.

He's right -- to make outlandish and inaccurate comparisons, to misuse words with intense rhetoric and hyperbole, doesn't bolster your argument. It deflates it.

I wish the media and people in general would do as Tom suggests -- and cut it out.


At 4:45 PM, Blogger JayM said...

how about the words, nigger or cracker?lol arent they similar to that idea? or kkk and mormans..hmm i can go on and agree!

At 5:24 PM, Blogger Tran Sient said...

What about the Soup Nazi?

At 6:56 PM, Blogger Mark said...

"how about the words, nigger or cracker?lol arent they similar to that idea? or kkk and mormans..hmm"

Jason - You have obviously missed the point. All racist terms are reprehensible. The point here is that to characterize anyone in the US government as a Nazi is an absurd comparison. Nothing in this country, up to and including our treatment of Gitmo prisoners and Abu Ghraib, is even remotely close to the incredible suffering and destruction of twelve million at the hands of the nazis during WWII.
The point you are trying to make about the use of the terms you mention is peripheral at best.

And Trans Sient - I hardly think that tongue-in-cheek comments are appropriate to the subject matter at hand. There are many who take the Shoa to heart as the most descipable act of the Twentieth Century. Comparisons to the perpetrators of that horror are a serious abuse of freedom of speech and the responsibility that goes hand-in-hand with that freedom.

At 7:08 PM, Blogger Esther said...

Mark, as far as TS's comment, to be honest, I didn't have a huge problem with Seinfeld doing that. I don't think that's the same as what you explained to Jason about people comparing members of our government to Nazis. Humor has to have a place. I know Mel Brooks got a lot of grief over The Producers but that's how he dealt with it. He felt it was his mission to make people laugh at Hitler. To belittle him that way. While people might do things in bad taste... maybe I'm way off base but it doesn't grate my nerves like Dick Durbin, etc... Sort of like apples and oranges. What does to entertain...the other to divide this country.

At 7:48 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Esther - To clarify, I don't have a problem with the Soup Nazi character on Seinfeld, the Producers, or whatnot. In fact, it was I that realized there was no "humour" category at The Jewish View, so I added it. Humour plays a huge part in Jewish life, as well it should. My issue with Tran Sient's comment was that it was, in my honest opinion, somewhat in poor taste given the serious nature of the subject matter. Context is everything. When I turn on Seinfeld, I expect humour. When I watch a Mel Brooks film, I expect humour. When I am discussing a subject as grave as the Holocaust and comparisons of modern-day figures to the Nazis, I find it a litle disturbing that others respond with levity.
Hey, I'm not trying to cause any problems with your readers, but I do feel a duty to try and point out the gravity of the subject matter. No harm intended.

At 7:51 PM, Blogger Esther said...

Mark - no worries. :) This is discussion -- the whole purpose for even having a blog. Bring it on. I feel I now know your position much better, and I think that's great!

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Mark said...

Cool. I don't mind being reined in. I have a tendency to get a little carried away over things Shoa. It got me into a little hot water with Meryl a while back, althoough I honestly think I was nowhere near out of line.
I took one of her readers to task for commenting on Yom Hashoah that Israel and Jews had a duty to the world to hold themselves to a HIGHER Standard than the rest of the world because of the Jews' Holocaust experience. His bitch was that Israel hadn't officially recognized the Turkish massacre of Armenians at the beginning of the 1900's. I felt he at least could have waited until after Yom Hashoah to take Israel and the Jews to task for what I felt was a preposterous proposition. Things got a little heated and, well, all's well that ends well. I still get to blog at Meryl's sister site, so I guess I wasn't a complete troll! LOL

At 8:11 PM, Blogger Esther said...

Oh you are a riot! Yeah, I can understand why that would bother you. Pretty much, I try to not stifle any discussion. I want people to feel comfortable leaving comments. Feel free to discuss something intensely, but do it with respect of the other person posting and all will be fine. Disagreeing is perfectly acceptable -- otherwise things would get pretty boring with a bunch of "I agree" action.

At 8:14 PM, Blogger Mark said...

I agree! Sorry, couldn't resist. So, Jason, Tran Sient, what are your thoughts about what I said?

At 8:19 PM, Blogger patrickafir said...

Yeah, this has really been bothering me lately with the Guantanamo situation and the orange group activity in Gaza. American servicemembers are Nazis for trying to get life-saving information out of rank mass-murderers on a mission from G-d, while still treating them infinitely better than Americans captured by their holy warrior homeboys. Noncombatant Jews who hole up in an abandoned hotel trying to hold on to Jewish land are called extremists, while Allah's serial killers are called activists..

This is the result of unchecked postmodernism, relativism, and moral equivalence. And bigotry.

At 8:21 PM, Anonymous Felis said...

All papers this morning greeted me wish "extremists" headlines referring of course to the poor settlers.
Yahoo News (I Ithink)added heavily armed extremists.
I haven't seen the term extremist used to describe Hamas for a while now.

I thoght that TS question was in fact genuine.
I don't think it was meant as a smart alex remark (didn't appear to me as such).
Some people probably did find "the soup nazi" expression offensive and so it would be a legitimate thing to ask whether making this king of jokes is in fact acceptable.

At 8:52 PM, Blogger Tran Sient said...

I was serious. Based on the above post, Soup Nazi seems to fall under that catagory. Not being Jewish myself, I've often wondered how that was received, and this seemed like the post to ask.

Mark: You need to relax. The post above mine could be construed as much more offensive than mine was, but I guess that would depend on what part of history you descend from.

At 8:54 PM, Blogger Batya said...

I'm so disgusted about the attitude/coverage of the brutality against Jews by Jews. These big bullies attacking young Jewish kids in the name of democracy.

At 8:58 PM, Blogger Tran Sient said...

OK, now that I have read actually read Tom Carters Blog, I suggest you take a look at how I have blistered Durbin over those comments and then come back and lecture me.

At 10:55 PM, Blogger JayM said...

if im a black the word nigga could mean to me the very same hate the word nazi mean to someone else. i dont mean here to downgrade the evilness of the word nazi. no! no! no! i do understand the post thank you very much.

who is mark anyway? arent you the same mark at ruth's blog?

At 11:45 PM, Anonymous Rachel said...

by golly, I stumbled upon a minefield here... and I think Esther and I have had this conversation before about the infuriating comparison some people make... it just goes to show how stupid they actually are, and more often than not exposes covert anti-semitism, Reuters is rife with this bullshit

At 4:05 AM, Blogger Mark said...

Trans Sient: First of all, I apologize for misconstruing the tone of your original remark about the Soup Nazi.
Having said that, I think I went to great lengths in my subsequent exchange with Esther to explain my reaction and whence it originates. Had I understood your question as a serious one, I would not have reacted that way. Such is the nature of the written forum. It is easy to mistake context in a non face-to-face exchange.

As far as relaxing goes, I have seen too much hostility towards Jews (experienced this personally) and Israel and too much hatred and bigotry towards others to relax entirely when discussing the subject of the Shoa and racism.

In addition, because of the Shoa, I have relatives I will never meet, friends I will never have, we have lovers we will never meet, doctors who will never cure illness, scientists who will never find cures to diseases that ravage the globe - I can go on, but I think you see the point. It was a personal tragedy for me and my family and a global tragedy in terms of the loss of brilliant minds.
Call me jaded, but as Esther said, it's a discussion and as long as it is respectful, I don't think there's anything wrong with a heated exchange, which is inevitable in discussions of this nature.

As far as the Soup nazi goes, to answer your question, I and other Jews don't find that kind of humour offensive, as I explained in my exchange with Esther. On the other hand, jokes like "How many Jews can you fit in a Volkswagen...." are liable to result in a bloody nose for someone. I don't think it takes a genius to figure out where the dividing lines of tastelessness are in humour.

Jason: Small world, isn't it?? ;o)>

At 9:30 AM, Anonymous Rory said...

On the Ynet News site there's a very good example of that double standard employed by the media in almost any situation involving Israel. While the settlers demonstrating against the disengagement are referred to as "right-wing extremists," a mob of stone-throwers protesting the security fence were described as a group of Palestinians and left-wing Israeli "activists." Worst of all is much of the Israeli media is as guilty as Reuters and the AP.

At 10:03 AM, Blogger Tom Carter said...

Thanks for the link, Esther.

Reading over the comments to this post, I keep coming back to the idea that words matter. Describing any American or group of Americans as Nazis marks the speaker as both ignorant and extremist. Calling people highly offensive names like "nigger" is just as bad, although it doesn't have the same meaning. Ideologues also understand that words matter. The press, for example, knows the difference between words like "activists" and "extremists." They pick the word they use because it contributes to their agenda. We shouldn't let them get away with it.

At 12:58 PM, Blogger Sergeant America said...

"The right word may be effective, but no word was ever as effective as a rightly timed pause."

~Mark Twain~

At 9:26 AM, Blogger Gindy said...

"They use of the word "extremist" when discussing Jews who don't want to be expelled from their homes and they use it to describe vicious terrorists who kill civilians. "

That's the part that always bothers me ( I have a thing about that). All too often the word settler and extremists are the same thing to the MSM. Yet, not often enough terrorists that murder women and children are called militants.


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