Baldwin learns a lesson in language

Hateful speech brings us all down.

by Trent M. Kays

As a child, one of my favorite movies was “Beetlejuice.” The recently deceased Adam Maitland, played by Alec Baldwin, was my favorite character. There aren’t many Baldwin films where I don’t like his acting or character.

However, my love of the characters Baldwin plays and the real-life Baldwin often collide.

TMZ posted a video last Thursday of Baldwin calling a photographer a sexual and homophobic slur. The video caused a controversy and even caused MSNBC on Friday to suspend Baldwin’s late-night talk show.

This isn’t the first time Baldwin has spoken before thinking. He called his daughter a “thoughtless little pig.” He called a Daily Mail writer a “toxic little queen” and a “little bitch.” Sadly, I could go on. Baldwin seems to have a problem with properly expressing himself.

I’m not famous like Baldwin, and I haven’t had the luxury of his life. I can’t necessarily understand the reason for his behavior, but it’s unacceptable. Baldwin is a public figure and has been a phenomenal actor for a long time.

Though his critics may not know it, Baldwin even supports gay causes, so I find it perplexing that his seemingly go-to insults are ones dripping with hate.

Baldwin is a glaring contradiction, walking the walk but clearly not talking the talk. Not all people are contradictions, as some people just hate gays. That’s it. They hate gay people and use homophobic slurs to take power away from people.

I don’t think Baldwin actually hates gay people. Anyone who has seen his acting and understands his activism should know that such an accusation would be silly. However, I do think Baldwin misinterprets the power of some homophobic slurs.

Words have power, and when used, they elicit reaction. If Baldwin is using these words without thinking, then this is a problem. If you’re using a word as an insult, then you need to step back and examine the meaning of the word.

For example, there are many who use the word “slut” as an insult for promiscuity, certain clothing styles or other female sexuality issues. Rarely do you hear the word used to describe men in such an insulting manner. Instead, you might hear a homophobic slur used to degrade supposedly feminine or gay men.

This is disheartening. The pejorative use of these words is meant to hurt, to verbally stab one’s opponent simply because they are different.

Unfortunately, nothing will change as long as we allow people to continue to hurl slurs to advance agendas. In the same time little monsters adore gay icon Lady Gaga, fans adore Christian media mogul Pat Robertson. This is the same Pat Robertson who advised a man to move to Saudi Arabia so he could beat his rebellious wife.

The extremes of our time are insane. Still, people hear homophobic slurs thrown around and don’t do anything about it. Baldwin apologized only after activist organization GLAAD told him he had used a term for oral sex that’s insulting to the LGBT community. Baldwin certainly isn’t Lady Gaga or Robertson, but he is a high-profile figure. It concerns me that he didn’t know such a word could be used as an insult.

How is it that people don’t know some words are used as slurs? “Slut” and “fag” are slurs or can be used as slurs. Yet, the way these slurs so easily roll off the tongues of some bigots is shocking. When I’ve had to use these terms in academic discussions, I feel uncomfortable. I’m not using them in derogatory ways; I’m using them to discuss the power of words. I’m still uncomfortable.

This is a testament to the power of language, and perhaps this is part of the problem. Those who understand the hurtful nature of slurs are reluctant to drop down to the level of those who do use them.

Baldwin blames his anger and rage on the media and paparazzi that continue to follow him and his family. He further suggests he never used them in a homophobic way. This event even spurred Baldwin to threaten to leave his acting career behind for his family’s sake.

Sacrificing one’s career to take care of family is a noble ideal. Though it would be nobler if Baldwin weren’t already a successful and wealthy actor. His sacrifice would be a hollow one, and it detracts from the real problem: Baldwin’s inability to control himself.

I don’t know what it’s like for paparazzi to hound me. I assume it’s irritating, but an irritation is not an excuse to use language normally used to disparage an entire group of people. It’s not an excuse to assault photographers, and it’s not an excuse to use derogatory remarks against the media. Baldwin should know better.

Of course, if Baldwin should know better, then we should know better, too. Baldwin needs encouragement and support to change. This problem is bigger than Baldwin, but his case could affect others.

We need to change the culture this happens in. Otherwise, individual change will be for naught. These slurs shouldn’t be acceptable language anymore.