Amanda Barber

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The Barbarians

06 November 2014

I had intended to write another of “My Favorite Nonfiction” articles this week. My book of choice was Ideas Have Consequences by Richard Weaver. I read this book for the first time last year and ate it up. While I was refreshing my memory on the main points of Mr. Weaver’s arguments, I came across several quotes which unfortunately brought a video to my remembrance. Probably most of you have seen the video or something about it, Potty-Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism, floating around Facebook or making the evening news. When I saw something about it the first time, accompanied with the usual rhetoric of “empowerment and equality,” I just rolled my eyes and kept scrolling. One gets tired of having one’s eyes assaulted with sensationalism. Using six-year-olds to get attention albeit for a “worthy cause” seemed an all-time new low. I fully intended to put it out of my mind and go about my business. I realized today that I kind of have to say something about it. So, here I am, late to the party as usual.

Potty Mouthed Princesses Drop F-Bombs for Feminism

Unfortunately, I watched the clip and now wish I hadn’t for reasons I will explain below. But since I have, I’ll give you a few initial comments on the video itself. The things I’m going to list next are what I consider side issues. The main problem runs far deeper.

  • First of all, I find it interesting that in a society where the only thing that makes sexual acts with children illegal is a child’s inability to give informed consent, little girls were given scripts containing the frequent use of the word “f–k”*(in case you didn’t know, this word is a vulgar expression for sexual intercourse), gestures that indicate sexual intercourse, and discussions of sexual assault. Somehow, that just doesn’t seem right to me.
  • Secondly, the first point voiced in the video is so illogical that it borders on absurdity—namely that somehow we find profanity more offensive than sexual assault and wage inequality. I think pairing profanity with sexual assault and then describing both as offensive is a bit insulting to those who have experienced sexual assault. Profanity is offensive. Sexual assault is far, far worse than offensive. Besides that, I don’t know anyone who finds sexual assault and wage inequality less reprehensible than little girls spewing profanity. But I do know a lot of people, including myself, who find sexual assault reprehensible, wage inequality unfair, and little girls spewing profanity as offensive. I do not need to applaud filmmakers who put filthy words in little girls’ mouths to find rape and sexual abuse wicked and perverted.
  • Third, the claims raised and the statistics used to bolster the claims regarding sexual assault and wage inequality are not entirely accurate. See here and here and here. This is not to say that there is no problem, but inflating the problem doesn’t help anyone.

For argument’s sake, let’s suppose that the video’s claims are entirely factual. The bigger problem remains. And here is where Richard Weaver comes in. In his book, Weaver takes us all the way back to where the problem began—William of Occum. He says, “It was William of Occam who propounded the fateful doctrine of nominalism, which denies that universals have a real existence [read: transcendentals and ideals]…The issue ultimately involved is whether there is a source of truth higher than, and independent of, man; and the answer to the question is decisive for one’s view of the nature and destiny of humankind. The practical result of nominalist philosophy is to banish the reality which is perceived by the intellect and to posit as reality that which is perceived by the senses.”

Weaver then lays out the logical progression from that point forward, a progression which modern civilization has dutifully followed, “The denial of universals carries with it the denial of everything transcending experience. The denial of everything transcending experience means inevitably—though ways are found to hedge on this—the denial of truth. With the denial of objective truth there is no escape from the relativism of ‘man the measure of all things.’ The witches [referring to Macbeth] spoke with the habitual equivocation of oracles when they told man that by this easy choice [deny transcendentals] he might realize himself more fully, for they were actually initiating a course which cuts one off from reality. Thus began the ‘abomination of desolation’ appearing today as a feeling of alienation from all fixed truth.”

Because of this lack of fixed truth, Weaver says society is gradually but surely losing grasp of any concept of propriety. And yes, I mean, propriety, not prudery. Propriety is the fading notion that some topics and some situations must be handled with more care and sensitivity than others. The opposite of propriety is sensationalism, shock value and a general disregard for time, place and method. My parents, grandparents and their parents simply did not speak of certain topics within earshot of children or in mixed company. This is not because these topics were inherently wicked or taboo. It just meant that some things like sexuality were too precious and too important to be bandied about lightly. It also meant that children had not reached the mental or emotional maturity to treat those topics with the care they deserved.

But so often, that kind of discretion towards important topics is considered inauthentic by the barbarians as Weaver calls them. The barbarians want to strip everything of its symbolism, its ritual, its protective coverings, and make it bare. The barbarians think themselves very brave and original for doing so and getting to the dirty truth. “Forms and conventions are the ladder of ascent. And hence the speechlessness of the man of culture when he beholds the barbarian tearing aside some veil which is half adornment, half concealment…His cries of abeste profani are not heard by those who in the exhilaration of breaking some restraint feel that they are extending the boundaries of power or of knowledge…Every group regarding itself as emancipated is convinced that its predecessors were fearful of reality. It looks upon euphemisms and all the veils of decency which things were previously draped as obstructions which it, with superior wisdom and praiseworthy courage, will now strip away. Imagination and indirection it identifies with obscurantism; the mediate is an enemy to freedom.”

You see, there are ways to address issues like sexual assault and wage inequality, one of which is not coaching children to be profane. The cause simply does not justify the method.

At the beginning of this piece, I mentioned that the problem goes deeper than profanity and you’re probably wondering when I’m going to get around to telling you what it is. It is this: That there is any debate going on about the appropriateness of this video. There should be no debate. It should be roundly and uniformly condemned by culture as a disgraceful example of sensationalized junk. It should be tossed out by feminists (I’m pretty sure Susan B. Anthony with her eloquent speech is rolling over in her grave at such an exhibition), anti-feminists, conservatives and liberals, to the man and to the woman. To be fair, it has been in some corners. But in other places, it’s been praised as brave, bold, and empowering.

So, how do we bring this kind of tripe to an end? As a society, we’ve already followed Weaver’s progression from denying universals down the line to embracing the sensational. Is it even worth fighting? I say yes. And the most effective way to begin is to stop being a consumer. Don’t hit the play button. Don’t share it. And while we’re at it, let’s do our best to stop the spread of other kinds of sensationalism. For instance, when that pastor of a mega church stands up on his stage with a big bed up there as a prop and with a mischievous glint in his eye says, “Now we’re going to talk about sex,” as if he with “praiseworthy courage” will now get more real and transparent than all those prudish Christians huddling under their hymn books in embarrassment, don’t buy it. Turn it off. Walk out. There’s as much grace, beauty, and discretion in that as there is an earring in a pig’s snout. Other examples of sensationalism are as follows: News (perhaps not all, but quite a lot of it is); political ads with dark, eerie music (can I hear an amen?); a lot of movies; reality TV shows (yes, even Duck Dynasty and 19 and Counting, though I cringe at the thought of the trouble I’m going to get over this one); those idiotic “camp gyno” commercials, and the list goes on. Of course, these are all sensational to greater and lesser degrees, but I believe the principle still stands.

Anything that smacks of shock value, sensationalism and desperate publicity stunts doesn’t deserve our attention. Anything that offers the “inside scoop,” headlines that blare “well-known personality tells all,” anything that handles a serious, beautiful or sensitive topic in a flippant and disrespectful manner is not fit to be seen. So, what happens when we stop paying attention these stunts? Well, like that silly boy on the playground who teases people to get a rise out of them, the barbarians just sort of give up and go home when we stop adding fuel to their fires. Of course, it’s better when everybody stops being a consumer. But one person at a time is better than no one. Little drops of water make up an ocean and so on and so forth.

Speaking of which, don’t watch that stupid F-bomb video.

*Please don’t try to argue that this word no longer carries an inherently sexual meaning. I often hear people say that this word is a general term to express disgust or strong emphasis. The point is, it is a disrespectful term for the sexual act and that’s what gives it its shock value, even when it is divorced from its original context.