Figures of Speech

So, I’ve received (and removed) a handful of mostly off-topic comments on my post “How Privilege Proves Itself” that focus in part or in whole on my analysis of the use of the word “lynched” by the subject of the article linked in the post. This one point is coming up often enough that I’d like to address it.

The defense I keep hearing is “it’s just a figure of speech”.

The thing is, people offering a defense are missing the point to begin with. Sure, I did mention the problems of using this particular word as a figure of speech, in passing. Because hey… they’re kind of important, right? But the point of my post doesn’t rest on those objections, and even if they are thrown out, the question of, “What exactly did he mean by this?” still remains, as does the logic behind my answer to that question, and the implications I draw from it.

See, so many people use “just a figure of speech” as if to say “it didn’t mean anything.” Some people even make it explicit: “Sheesh, it doesn’t mean anything, it’s just a figure of speech!”

The problem with that is this is the exact opposite of what “a figure of speech” is. Figures of speech, by definition, mean something. A figure of speech—to put it very broadly—is when you say one thing in order to convey another thing. When you say one thing in order to convey nothing… well, that’s babble? Politispeak? Blog comments?

Figures of speech aren’t literal, but they do have meaning. It means something that he said the other person would be told to shut up, but he himself would be “lynched”. My question was what the intended message behind that word is. Saying that it’s a figure of speech is equivalent to saying that the message consists of words. It doesn’t actually tell us anything.

There are only two real possibilities. One is that he fears an actual worse consequence for himself, in which case we should ask what that consequence is. The other is that he wishes to paint the consequences to himself, however inconsequential, as being worse so he chooses to use an emotionally charged word. He’s gonna get lynched. Geez, they’re gonna lynch ’em. A guy can’t speak his mind anymore, he’ll get lynched by the feminazis, right?

The thing is, you can say things like that, and as soon as someone ask what those words mean… well, they don’t mean anything, do they? It’s a great rhetorical dodge. The emotional impact of comparing criticism to lynchings and feminists to Nazis is still there, always there, but you can insist that the words are “just figures of speech” and thus don’t mean anything, et voila… it’s your own instant Get Out Of Consequences Free Card.

But that’s ludicrous. Obviously the words mean something. I mean, this isn’t some weird postmodern experimental dada anti-conversation, right?

And so when the dude says that he’d be lynched if he spoke about feminism, my question—for him, or the audience, or anyone who cares—is, “Well, what actually does that mean? What exactly are you afraid of?”

My question is somewhat rhetorical, as I provided what I thought to be the most likely answer in the post. I’m open to hearing other answers. What I don’t have a lot of patience for is non-answers like “it’s just a figure of speech”. Yes, and this post is just words, and words are just sounds or sights that people make when they want to say something.

The question is, what do they mean?


Just Some Good Ol’ Boys

So, TV Land recently pulled re-runs of Dukes of Hazzard from its line-up.

They took a look around at the cultural landscape of the moment and made the decision that maybe it’s better to not be the network airing a show that prominently displays the iconography of the Confederate flag night after night right now.

In short, it was a business decision, made by a business, for business reasons.

For some reason, this nation’s cultural conservatives are up in arms over this. Conservative commentators on Twitter insist that this is an example of liberals “punishing” people they disagree with, claiming that it’s not fair that the stars of the show are no longer getting paid for the re-runs.

I thought the conservatives were supposed to be the party of personal responsibility, looking down on a culture of entitlement. I guess I thought wrong, though, if they really feel that John Schneider is entitled to receive residuals in perpetuity for a show that went off the air three decades ago.

Whatever you think about the merits of the show or the decision to pull it, surely any discussion must start with the basic premise that the timeslot in question is TV Land’s to do with as they see fit. Surely we can all agree that the right to freedom of speech does not lead to the right to dictate a cable channel’s line-up. Surely we can all see that the freedom of actors John Schneider and Ben Jones to do and say whatever they want to is in no way abridged by the business decision to show or not show re-runs of a show they were on once upon a time.

I mean, what’s the alternative? Do we decide that TV Land isn’t allowed to ever cancel anything once they’ve decided to air, lest some aggrieved conservative decide its aging stars are under attack?

Let’s have some consistency.

Thirty-five years ago, the producers of Dukes of Hazzard made the conscious decision to invoke a certain image in the marketing of their show. Maybe this decision had something to do with its runaway success, maybe it didn’t. But it’s their decision. They made it. If they are entitled to the fruits of their success, then they’re entitled to the consequences of their decisions, as well. Or are companies like TV Land, Warner, and the public at large required to subsidize them forever in the name of their creative freedom?