Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Dumb Things People Say: Stop Grossing Me Out!

When I wrote my last word on this subject, Dumb Things People Say: The Mangling of Popular Expressions, I didn't anticipate that I would one day write a sequel. I should have. People do say an overabundance of stupid things, after all, and there is not one category of ill-conceived speech but several. This particular one puts the "gory" in "category."

WARNING: The following contains images of violence, as well as the most notorious and versatile four-letter word in the English language. If you have delicate sensibilities... then I don't know how you manage in modern society, and I sympathize. Oh, and you read on at your own risk.

You wouldn't expect to find an image of horrifying bloodiness in a discussion of the best science fiction and fantasy books of the year, would you? I certainly didn't. But in Genreville's blog post on the subject, Rose Fox states that Daryl Gregory's short story collection Unpossible "blew my head off and then dumped cold water down the bleeding stump of my neck. Fortunately that’s how I like it. "

No Rose, you wouldn't like that. I admit that once your head was actually off, you wouldn't mind the cold water being poured down your neck, because you'd be too dead to feel it or care one way or another. But I maintain that if somebody came at you with any instrument of decapitation, explosive or otherwise, you'd put up a vigorous argument, even if that somebody was as talented a writer as Daryl Gregory.

I'm normally a fan of Genreville, and I sincerely believe that that metaphor was not Rose Fox's finest moment.

Do people think about what they're saying? Do they picture in their minds the thing they are describing, really picture it in something other than an oh-look-Wile-E.-Cayote-is-alive-again-after-falling-off-that-cliff cartoonish sort of way? I'm sure they must not, because if they did, they would never post something like that on their blogs. They might say it in conversation—and be sorry an instant afterwards. But writing and posting takes more premeditation.

I can't help myself. When somebody talks of chopping off a head and pouring water down the stump, I immediately picture just that, and I don't enjoy it one bit. I have a vivid imagination. I know that not everybody does. It surprises me that somebody so lacking in that area that she can comfortably speak about pouring cold water down bloody neck-stumps, gets much out of reading novels. It's a wonderment.

As is the concept of skull-fucking. So many questions arise. Why would you want to? Where exactly would you insert your penis?* The ear hole? The eye socket? What sort of pleasure could you possibly get out of such an activity, other than the vengeful, twisted satisfaction of degrading your enemy's remains? And finally, just how much would you have to hate somebody to want to do this to them?

Exotic as it sounds, skull-fucking has apparently become a part of the common discourse. I first encountered it maybe sixteen, seventeen years back. I was in a fit of pique over the bug-ridden unusability of a piece of Microsoft software (some things don't change). I don't remember what I typed into the search engine (this was pre-Google. Imagine! I think my favourite search engine at the time was Infoseek); probably something like "Microsoft sucks." Up came a link to, "Fucking the skull of Microsoft." Curiosity overcame repulsion, and I clicked. I was sorry I did. It was an illustration, you see. Since then, skull-fucking has become sufficiently socially acceptable that Jon Stewart sometimes mentions it in an offhand way on The Daily Show.

Likewise, Steven Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, often invites his interview guests to "rip me a new one." Considering that this is short for "rip me a new asshole," isn't it amazing that this expression has become an acceptable part of polite discourse? Just think about the implications. Think about what is involved. Unless you'd rather not. I think I'd rather not. It's much more horrible than skull-fucking, which, after all, can only take place once the victim is mercifully dead, probably for a long time (unless the perpetrator is so eager to begin the ritual that he uses artificial means to remove the flesh from the bones).

It seems to me that any culture in which such grotesqueries are so casually bandied about is one that has become extraordinarily numbed and hardened to images of violence. How did that happen? If, in fact, it happened. I'm sure some would argue that it's a normal part of the human condition. But this is a discussion worthy of a whole other blog post, one which I will probably write soon. For now, back to the topic at hand: things people say.

At my old job, my coworkers and I once got into a discussion about the internet acronym WTF. I probably don't have to tell you what this means, since you know the internet well or you wouldn't be reading this, but just in case (and because I like my naughty words typed out in full): it stands for What The Fuck. My coworker found it strange that the average internet user thinks it's perfectly polite to type this, even in forums where they'd never use the full four-letter word. He quoted a comedian as saying,"Now you've made me think of that word. I don't want that word in my head!"

I don't mind that word in my head, but there are any number of blood-soaked images I don't want in my head. I would appreciate it if the young people of today could keep them to themselves.

* I don't mean to be sexist in my assumption that a penis must be involved in skull-fucking, and I hope I haven't offended any young women who want equality in the realm of doing disgusting things. It's simply that I believe—perhaps wrongly, and feel free to correct me if I err—that if a vulva rather than a penis was involved, the activity would be called something else. Skull-humping, perhaps. Back

† Actually, that's not my final question. My final question is, Is this something that a great novel or short story collection might do to Rose's skull after blowing it off its neck? Just asking. Back

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