The Random Comic Strip

The Random Comic Strip

Words to live by...

"How beautiful it is to do nothing, and to rest afterward."

[Spanish Proverb]

Ius luxuriae publice datum est

(The right to looseness has been officially given)

"Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders," wrote Ludwig von Mises, "no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way for himself if society is sweeping towards destruction. Therefore everyone, in his own interest, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle."

Apparently, the crossword puzzle that disappeared from the blog, came back.


Sunday, December 21, 2008

I spit on your shadow



What is an insult when the recipient is either unaware of its significance or oblivious to its existence? Yesterday, I wrote about the "shoe man" who tossed a couple of loafers at President Bush and created a firestorm of support and amusement. Today, I want to examine the concept, or maybe the art, of insult.

A number of years ago, I was working at a drapery and window dressings company as a "jack of all trades". I cut material for wooden shades, I built valances, I painted, stained, moved carpet with a forklift, occasionally assisted in installations and repairs of window treatments, and discussed the deeper meanings of life under Richard Nixon with my co-workers.

One co-worker was a young man about my own age (at the time). He had been hired to replace me as janitor (the job for which I was first hired). For some reason, he didn't seem to like me. I never found out why. Even though his English was very good, every now and then he would say a few words in Spanish while talking to me. I didn't know a lot of Spanish, still don't, so I had no idea what he was saying.

At some point, a woman who worked with me told me he was calling me names and otherwise insulting me in Spanish. She thought I might want to be aware of that. The next time I saw him, we had a little exchange. I asked him a simple question...

"What do you accomplish by calling me names in a language I don't understand?"

He seemed a little embarrassed, a little awkward. He had been caught in his little game. He said nothing, a grin that managed to be both sheepish and smug on his face.

I smiled and said, "Seems to me that it doesn't take much in the way of courage to insult someone who doesn't know he has been insulted."

And I walked away. He never did it again and, while we didn't become friends, we got along well enough from then on.

That incident was recalled when I started reading all the various reports surrounding the shoe throwing incident. It is a great insult in the Arab world to be hit with a shoe or to be called a dog. Here, the insult is more important if someone's foot is in the shoe at the time it hits you, tossing it at you reflects badly on the thrower. And women here call men "dogs" as a matter of course. In some cases, it's almost a compliment. Like when a friend is commenting on your ability to juggle two girlfriends without getting caught

Our culture regards insult as an art form. We praise those who can do it in a witty manner. We savor quotes that were intended to degrade the subject. We make comics rich whose stock in trade is the embarrassment of members of their audience. We engage is something called "Roasts" when the guest of honor is routinely, and unmercifally, insulted by his friends. Growing up, we enage in something called "Dirty Dozens" where we happily insult each other, and our mothers, for hours.

Bush found the incident mildly amusing. Most of the western world did. In a sense, we were insulting the Arab world by dismissing the impact of Mr. al-Zaidi's act. I wonder if they are aware of that subtlety?

Laughing at insults is possibly the best insult of all.


As the old Chinese curse goes... May you live in interesting times. I say, enjoy them.

A couple of links that might amuse...

Insult-o-matic
Insult Graphics

9 comments:

redchair said...

Hi Douglas,
I was raised to ignore people who communicate consistently with insults or personal jabs. My mother actually used the expression, “Just play stupid.”

It took me a long time to understand that. Oddly ignoring it makes them ‘go at it’ that much harder, but it also does something else. As they proceed vehemently failing their insulting attacks they also ‘reveal themselves’ to everyone for what they are: Overtly jealous, angry people that no one wants to associate with.

…on a much brighter note. Have a great Holiday Douglas. I’ve really enjoyed your blog.
Vikki

Neo said...

would have to agree, if the person you insult doesn't understand it would be as not insulting them
the next time I feel like insulting an Arab, I will throw my dingos at him.

underOvr (aka The U) said...

I think that you've keyed on a point Douglas, if I don't recognize something said or done toward me as insulting, I can't be offended by it. Does that make it an insult? Does it really matter? We can remind ourselves that something insulting said about us has no basis in fact, or we can escalate it by a response. It's probably not a good idea to give that kind of power to someone; allowing them to push your buttons.

You're right about our society; we approve and applaud those skilled in the art of the comedic insult. We snicker at the slights directed at others. But I believe there is a vast difference between comedy (e.g, Don Rickles, Richard Black), and attempt to belittle or shame another person for the sole purpose of enabling myself to feel better (i.e., superior).

underOvr

The Logistician said...

Interesting. I imagine that it depends on how one wants to spend his or her time.

Douglas said...

To all - There is one more point I failed to address.

You cannot be offended if you won't be. UnderOvr touched on it. You give power when you react as expected or desired.

generic Brand said...

Excellent point in your follow-up comment Douglas. I've often thought that way about so-called "racist" comments. The reaction they receive far outweigh the attention they deserve. Some people say some stupid things, granted, but it is their right to say them as an American citizen so they shouldn't be lampooned for a slip of the tongue.

The Jules said...

Here's a proper way to insult someone, using the random Shakespearean Insult generator!

http://www.pangloss.com/seidel/Shaker/

Hope you like it, thou gorbellied brazen-faced nut-hook!

Douglas said...

To all - There is one more point I failed to address.

You cannot be offended if you won't be. UnderOvr touched on it. You give power when you react as expected or desired.

The Jules said...

Here's a proper way to insult someone, using the random Shakespearean Insult generator!

http://www.pangloss.com/seidel/Shaker/

Hope you like it, thou gorbellied brazen-faced nut-hook!