Apparently Tennessee’s Senate has passed a bill that outlaws the mention of students’ and other persons’ being gay and that outlaws speaking (and writing?) the words “gay” and “homosexual” in public schools. I wrote “apparently” because apparently I’m still in shock that such a measure would pass, even in the Epoch of Wedge Issues. The passage of the bill brings up so many rhetorical and political issues:
1. If you were a student or teacher in such a school or a member of another group in which a word had been outlawed, what would your first move be? That’s right. Invent another word. So you could say, “I just read this terrific novel that concerns happy and thespian culture.”
2. Has the concept, “conservative,” now lost all meaning vis a vis Republicans? I mean, what about conserving free speech? I realize that some forms of intimidating speech and some forms of attire are allowed to be limited on a school campus, but literally outlawing words in all contexts? This seems both legally, politically, and rhetorically . . . absurd. Radical, not conservative.
3. When does a wedge-issue become a self-inflicted wedgie? So the cynical ethos of such a bill is to attract your base (which may be most base indeed) to you because you are creating a spectacle in which you are appearing to stand up in defense of something. But is there a point at which even the base can recognize absurdity? I guess not. Otherwise, we would not have the spectacle of Palin, Bachmann, and Trump. I can’t think of anyone as (both) popular and absurd on the Demo side, but I’m sure one will come to me. I suppose some conservatives think of Nader as that person, but I don’t think one can fairly accuse Nader of using wedge-issues. A terrier, he seems to pursue issues until the culture catches on and does something about them: DDT and seat-belts, for example.
4. I suppose I’ve left the most obvious for last: why? Outlaw these words, these facts (here’s news: some people are gay) because you want to . . . ? Let’s assume this isn’t wedge-politics. If that’s the case, then those voting for the bill have another outcome in mind. What is it? “If no one talks about gay people and homosexuality in high school, then homosexuality will go away”: is that it? And is there ANY knowledge of teen-age and human behavior in the Tennessee Senate? If you want to insure that human beings in general and teenagers in particular will talk about something, tell them they mustn’t.
Gay, lesbian, homosexual, homosexuality. Outlaw words!
The Scopes “monkey” trial could sustain serious dramatic treatment. I don’t think this particular trial of words could. It calls for Beckett.