November 17, 2011

"North Texas Dad Says Unnoticed Racial Slur Slipped In 'Fraggle Rock' Cartoon"

This is precisely how we lose the language:

A North Texas father is fuming mad. He says a cartoon slipped a racial slur into an episode and it’s gone decades without notice.

His daughter, two-year-old Zariyah, loves to watch Fraggle Rock reruns.

“It is her favorite show, period,” said father Keith White. But, White says he recently heard a disturbing racial slur on the show.

“My reaction was to keep replaying to see if that`s what I really heard, and that`s what I heard, and that`s what I hear,” he said.

“I heard him say Jigaboo,” said White. “That`s what I heard him say,” he said.

We showed the clip to the Dallas-Fort Worth chapter of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

“I agree with him. It does say Jigaboo, there`s no if ands or butts about it,” said D-FW SCLC Chapter President Rev. Kyev Tatum.

But The Hub Network, which airs the show, says there is no slur. The Hub sent us the episode’s script written in 1984.

They say the character’s name is Gobo and his friend is saying “Gee, Gobo. We’re sorry”.

“I think it`s a little misleading for them to say what`s in the script is what`s being heard,” said Tatum.

Rev Tatum and Zariyah’s father say what’s on paper and what the ear hears are two different things.

“Whether that was Freudian slip, whether it was a mishap, or whatever, it doesn’t add up,” said Tatum.

“Is it an inside joke? Or is it a mistake?” said White.

The Hub says they do plan to edit Gobo’s name out of the sentence to prevent viewers from making the mistake again. The Jim Henson Company, the show’s original creator, said they agree with The Hub`s interpretation of the scene and their actions in this matter.

But Zariyah’s family says they’re standing by what they hear.

[my emphases]

So we’re now to the point that a literal mishearing of a grouping of words is cause not only for complaint and outrage — but even more terrifying and surreal, for capitulation by risk-averse businesses so cognizant of not giving offense to anyone, anywhere, ever, that they are willing to lend cover to what is an absolutely intellectually incoherent claim.

Because one “hears” a racial slur in the a random fusion of words — whether because this is what they choose to hear, or whether because of some coincidental hiccup in intonation — doesn’t make that fusion of words a racial slur.

Now certainly, had the punning been intended, the claim would have some merit; but given that the script was written in such a way that the offending sound-pairings were produced in a context that is hardly strained, given the overall grammar of the show’s approach to character dialogue; and that the pairing, in fact, is a rather conventionally kind of pairing for both audible speech and, in this case, written dialogue later to be rendered in audible speech; it is far more likely that what we have here is a receiver who, because he happened to make the wrong initial mental connections in his attempt to first decode, then re-encode the sound forms, simply heard what is best described as an accident of word order, intonation, rapidity of speech, and a misunderstanding of context (the father wasn’t really watching the show, for instance, but rather overheard dialogue from the show as it exists lifted from the context that gives it its internal consistency).

Or to put it more simply, just because you can, under certain conditions, hear what you want to hear, that doesn’t mean you’ve heard what was intended. And in such instances, to say that what you’ve heard is a racial slur is to argue for intent on the part of those who created the original signs (the writer/s), or those whose job it was to present the originary signification in its sound form (the actors, in this case, who provide the voices for the puppets) for the purposes of turning the written word into the spoken word.

If it was a “mishap” or a “mistake,” it makes no sense to call the fused sounds a “racial slur.” If the running together of the sounds was intended — either by the writer or the actor, who adjusted his delivery to turn something never intended into an intentional pun — then that’s something else entirely.

To conflate the two as somehow equivalent is to effectively turn the intentions of the audience into the determinant for what something means — when what is actually happening is that the hearer is presuming that what something means to him can be tied in some way back to the author. To do this is map one’s own intentions onto the decoding, only to turn around and fault of the author/utter for your ability to do something with his signifiers that he has no control over and that he never intended you do.

It’s the intellectual equivalent of looking at egret tracks and seeing “poems,” or looking into cloud formations and seeing sheep orgies: to believe these things to be what you’re seeing them as, you have to believe that they were intended as such. Otherwise, it makes no sense to believe them anything other than accidental configurations that you’ve imbued with meaning by way of your own intent to see them in such a way.

Convention plays a large part in this kind of signification error: we’re far more likely to believe egret marks that appear accidentally as “words” to be words rather than mere accidental marks that look like words (because we’re conditioned to see signifiers that look to match our own language as in fact intended: that is, we’re conditioned by convention and context to see those marks as language, with the intent to signify the thing that turns marks into signs in the first place) than we are to believe cloud formations are some intended sky mural painted by some unseen force meant to titillate us by depicted the wild couplings of sheep.

But in both instances — and likely in the “Fraggle Rock” example, as well — what we’ve done is to grant ourselves permission to re-signify an accident in such a way that we imbue it with intention that doesn’t otherwise exist. And in so doing, we have determined that we as receivers get to decide what something means — a move that corrupts the speech act by bracketing original intent in favor of a kind of linguistic solipsism that is then granted legitimacy by mere social consensus.

This is both linguistically incoherent and intellectually dangerous: to give groups of receivers de facto control over what something means is nothing more than a way to rob the individual of his autonomy and hand control of that individual over to some group whose motivations and intentions become controlling.

That is, it is a recipe for a move to mob rule.

In related news, anyone named Mike Hunt, Dick Hurtz, Phil McCracken, or Rusty Kuntz? The collective insists you change your names. So as not to cause a commotion among the Jr High mentality that now runs the fucking world.

(thanks to Chris S)


Posted by Jeff G. @ 11:48am

Comments (27)

  1. The most disturbing kind of offense is the kind that is reached by having to repeatedly replay the potentially outrageous conversation just to make certain the heightened blood pressure is legitimate.

  2. Former New Hampshire Congressman Dick Swett was unavailable for comment.


  3. Good point, Roug.

    If you have to work to be properly offended, you really aren’t.

  4. My local favorite was always Dick Cable, news guy.

  5. The part that bugs me the most is that they’re going to EDIT THE CARTOON so that this “mistake” isn’t made again. You’ve got the script, you can talk to the voice actors/puppeteers, and you know that the gentleman in question made a mistake. Don’t edit it to soothe his fragile sensibilities, just sent a politely worded “you’re an idiot” letter to him instead.

  6. Dick Trickle wiped wept.

  7. Rename the show: Fragile Rank.

  8. EDIT it? They might as well just toss it into a black hole.

  9. There are some occasions when it’s okay for a company to show a little spine and push back against stupid accusations. This is one of those times.

    “We’re not going to change our show because a deranged viewer is so intent on hearing insults and abuse that they imagine hearing things that aren’t there. We recommend Mr. White get psychiatric help, or just change the channel.”

  10. I’ve heard Mike Hunt is big and hairy.

  11. So, “Gee [The main character in the frickin’ show]” was somehow being used to slip a racial slur into the show?

    Is this guy on fucking drugs? Has he not been paying attention to this show that he says his daughter loves?

  12. This just rubs me the wrong way.

  13. Hah!

  14. Some people are too stupid to be entrusted with raising kids.

  15. You guys don’t have to be so niggardly in your word choices.

  16. Jimi Hendrix is gay!

    ‘scuse me, while I kiss this guy!

  17. What did you just call me?

  18. Umm…Keith WHITE? Obviously, he’s a racist. Or his parents were. Or something.

  19. A North Texas father is fuming mad.

    He doesn’t look the least bit angry. He looks more like hey, let’s see if I can pull a fast one, here. RACISTS!

  20. Dick Payne at USBank does not find this post amusing at all.

  21. I’ve got my sprite I’ve got my orange crush

  22. This happened on a show called Faggle Cock?

  23. *clap clap*

    go down on Faggle Cock!

  24. Sounds like when Scooby Doo would have guest-stars and Velma yelled, “Magic Johnson!!” from the Mystery Machine.

  25. You know, as a basically non-violent person — with an unhealthy tendency to actively avoid confrontation, to boot — I find it vaguely disturbing how many people I can clearly identify as needing a good punch in the throat.

    The “vaguely” qualifier, of course, is because these people really, really NEED a good punch in the throat. For their own good, and the good of society.

  26. I recommend they hire one of the fine North Texas attorneys I know – Heywood Jblowmi or Pat McGroin. Perhaps Juana Ley?

  27. And the award for the most work for one good line goes to ..jack hoff.