• May 25th, 2017 • Posted in All posts, Audio delights

A Canadian student group apologises for including he Lou Reed song Walk on the Wild Side in a playlist, on the basis that the lyrics of the song are transphobic and therefore ‘problematic’.   Transphobia seems a pretty weird charge to lay against this particular song -a song which actually celebrates a transexual character in its opening verse- but let’s leave that aside.  What I find actually creepiest about this story is the use of the word ‘problematic’.

To be clear about this, I don’t mind people strongly objecting to what other people say.  ‘I find X’s views utterly obnoxious’, is fine.  So is ‘X’s views are racist” (and indeed so is ‘ X’s views are transphobic’, whether or not it happens to be a reasonable charge in this particular case).   But ‘X’s views are problematic’, which in a way sounds more polite, less confrontational, I find quite nauseating.

I’m trying to figure out why.   I think in part it’s the very politeness that I object to, the tight, anal, priggish, self-control that is implied. But I think perhaps also it’s the implication that there exists a single correct account of the world, which the speaker possesses and others do not.

Thus, while ‘I find X’s views obnoxious’ is a good strong statement about X’s views, it’s also a statement about the speaker, an implicit acknowledgement that the speaker is a particular human being with a specific viewpoint.  ‘X’s views are racist’, while it makes no statement about the speaker, at least lays out a specific charge which defenders of X may if they wish challenge or refute.  ‘X’s views are problematic’, on the other hand, suggests that the speaker knows for certain how the world ought to be described, and is therefore able, in almost clinical way, to identify even small deviations from the true path, in order that they can be nipped in the bud.

Human beings have been trying to describe the world for several hundred thousand years, for Christ’s sake!  No one has finally reached some sort of perfect understanding.  Not even you!  In fact, there isn’t even such a thing, only a series of approximations, each of which, in its way, is problematic.


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