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March 17, 2005

The Ace Effect: Lileks Disses Willis Without Either Linking Him Or Naming Him

Well played, James Lileks. Well played indeed:

I was clicking around, following some links about Wolfowitz’ nomination to the World Bank (mrghmghfm) (surpressing mad laughter) (mrghmghfm) (Sorry, mwa HAHAHAHAHA) and encountered one of those brand-name sites I don’t visit much because the proprietor has nothing to say and no particular skill at saying it. He referred to that “filthy Wolfowitz.”

Do you often come across the word “filthy” applied to many politicians? No. Can you recall which group, in the last, oh, 60 years, got tarred with that word most frequently? Just curious. If the word rings no bells for you, then I’m overreacting. Obviously rung no bells for the author. I expect he will be equally unaffected if Trent Lott refers to “that uppity Rev. Jackson.”

Now, while I give Lileks all props and much love for refusing to give this idiot traffic, I -- I can't believe I'm going to say this -- have to defend Willis on this point.

Yes, it may be that "filthy" was used frequently to describe Jews at one time. But it was also used to describe a lot of other poor immigrant groups, and furthermore, no one's really been keen on the "filthy Jew" descriptor for a long, long time.

"Crafty," sure. But "filthy"? That may have anti-semitic overtones, but definitely of the old, old school variety.

And while Lilieks attempts to analogize to the derisive "uppity," I don't think he's persuasive. "Uppity" was said in earnest as recently as the seventies -- maybe even the eighties, who knows -- and is still used ironically (as a mocking of previous racial tropes) today.

Here's the thing: It's fun for us on the right to use the ludicrously thin-skinned, ultra-sensitive identity-politics cudgel against the left on occasion, as they use it against us. But only to mock them.

It's probably not a good idea to do so seriously. The left uses these claims of "racial insensitivity" in a frankly partisan and disingenous manner; we ought to chide them for doing so, not emulate their ridiculousness.

We ought to convince the left to calm the hell down about perfectly innocent and harmless word choices -- "niggardly," anyone? -- not follow them down that rabbit-hole of PC lunancy.

The proper way to slam Filet-O-Fish for this is to point out his previous ridiculous cries of "racism" based on, for example, my calling him fat. ("Corpulent," you see, is apparently now an accepted racial category.) And to point out that if you want to accuse others of racism based on such slender reeds, you'd better be the Bestest Boy Scout In the World as regards these matters yourslef; you can't claim one standard for your opponents and a much more lenient standard for yourself.

The left plays gotcha with this crap all the time. It's like being in an argument with someone and then they suddenly seize on a single word you said and read into all sorts of horrible things and bad intent. And you're like, "Whoa! I wasn't even thinking anything along those lines!" I think everyone needs to calm down on that score.

And so to cry anti-semitism over the word "filthy"? Seems churlish to me.

And I say that with all due respect to the Churls, some of whom are my best friends. My agent, my accountant... I even once almost dated a half-Churlish girl. You know, Churls are basically good people, same as you or me.

I just wish they'd lay off the garlic.

Thanks to See-Dubya.

Disagreement: Gnostic Surface thinks Lileks is right:

It grieves me deeply to differ with either our host or with A-double-lizzle, but I think that Lileks truly found le mot juste when he compared "filthy" with "uppity". I suspect that it's an age thing: I don't remember the 40's (born mid-50"s), but I do remember the Kennedy/Johnson/Nixon years where "filthy Jew" and "uppity Negro" were the polite versions of the more standard formulations.

Perhaps we were more exposed to human ignorance then, perhaps the constant diet of WWII movies on TV (hey, they were only 20 years old, and B&W movies worked great on B&W TV!), but to this graying gentile the point seems apt.

Now, I know Lileks is significantly younger than I, falling well within the fat part of the blogging demographic, but one must admit that his interests and proclivities have exposed him to a far greater amount of mid-20th century material than is typical. So, gently please: St. James the Great deserves the benefit of the doubt; He Who Should Not Be Linked does not.

Point taken. I don't really know for sure, to be honest. I just know that I personally don't think I've ever heard "filthy Jew" before, though I have heard "uppity Negroes" (though the latter always in an ironic manner).


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posted by Ace at 04:34 PM

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