Friday, March 24, 2006

On the Reappropriation of Words

I noticed that Withiel took issue with kedazzle’s use of the word ‘chav’ in her article on Rocky Horror [perhaps edited out now]. The word’s etymology is the Romany for ‘person’, more specifically ‘child’. Obviously in using the word as a derogatory term for ‘poor person’ or as an acronym for ‘council housed and violent’, it is being used in a similar way to the word ‘gippo’ or ‘gypsy’ to define the poor. I shall leave it to Mr Black to elaborate on this.

My immediate concern is instead with the reappropriation of symbols. Perhaps the most potent symbol of evil in the last century was the Nazi Swastika. Its design, however, was taken from a symbol which Hitler saw in a Catholic church as a youth, and before that it was a Buddhist symbol of peace. It is unsurprising that the symbol is representative of the Nazis in today’s world rather than Buddhists or Catholics, and that it will probably never be used again for any other purpose. Does the symbol no longer belong to the Catholics or the Buddhists? Unfortunately, the extent of the atrocities of the Second World War saw to it that the symbol would remain with the Nazis. I recently saw that the gay community had done the same thing with a symbol which originated with the Nazis. The pink triangle is now a symbol of gay culture, but its origins are far darker. It was originally a label for people sent to concentration camps who practiced homosexuality worn in the same way as the Jewish Star of David. It is, of course, all very well for the Jewish community to ‘reclaim’ their emblem as it existed for centuries before the war, but it strikes me as slightly disrespectful to continue and even embrace a symbol which was specifically intended to mark men out for death. The motives of those who first reappropriated the symbol were undoubtedly good. They probably wanted to try to reverse the meaning of the original symbol, but I find it hard to believe that every person who celebrates and embraces the symbol is aware of its shadowy past. I take issue with the idea that the symbol is being used unwittingly, not giving due accord and respect to those whose suffering is deeply connected with it, and even the fact that a symbol originated by the Nazis is dignified with continuation.

I welcome any comments/additions to the argument.

12 Comments:

At 8:47 pm, Blogger Sable X. Veins said...

Well, I told you to be more ballsy, and more ballsy you have been.

Here's why you're wrong.


1. "...it strikes me as slightly disrespectful to continue and even embrace a symbol which was specifically intended to mark men out for death."

Excuse me? It is an act of ultimate defiance to invert a paradigm in this way. Wearing the Star of David with pride is a way of saying "You can treat us like rabid dogs, and torture us, and massacre us, but YOU CAN'T CHANGE US."


2. "I take issue with the idea that the symbol is being used unwittingly, not giving due accord and respect to those whose suffering is deeply connected with it, and even the fact that a symbol originated by the Nazis is dignified with continuation." To destroy the emblems and paradigms propogated and perverted by the Third Reich risks forgetting the horrors they committed. It is far more productive, and psychologically empowering, to, as you put it, "reappropriate" symbols for ones own cause. (In Jane Eyre, when Jane returns to the bedside of her dying "benefactress", she is nice to her. This is eminently more disturbing and demonstrative of potency than dimsissing a dying old bigotess.)


3. Godwin's Law, motherfucker. You're out.

 
At 9:12 pm, Blogger Withiel said...

Basically, what he said. The pink triangle belongs to the queer community. For someone not a member of that community to apply it to them would be incredibly insensitive, yes, but their use of a death-mark as a celebratory self-identifier is a rightful appropriation. This functions in a similar way to use of "n****r"* by black people, or, I suppose, Jewish people telling Holocaust jokes. Context is important.


*censored by me because these archives are googleable.

 
At 9:19 pm, Blogger Garth Wintergreen said...

In answer to:

1 and 2: It wasn't actually the Star of David which I was referring to. 'It is, of course, all very well for the Jewish community to ‘reclaim’ their emblem...' I meant the 'all very well' quite literally, as in I approve of this reclamation. Reading it again, it does sound like sarcasm. I meant that in opposition to what I consider to be the negative use of the pink triangle as a symbol. To clarify: I approve of Jews using the Star of David, but am less certain about the Gay community's use of the pink triangle. This is because, and I repeat, it was 'specifically intended' to mark men out for death. I can see your point about paradigm inversion. My main problem was with people not recognising the origins of the symbol. In this way the horrors and atrocities are being forgotten, or at least the victims are not given due respect.

3: fuck off!

 
At 10:15 pm, Blogger Withiel said...

Personally, I think that Veins's post still stands (almost certainly more so) if you replace "star of david" in (2) with "pink triangle". The origins are the whole point of adopting it, and to claim that the majority of people using the symbol are ignorant of its history is a) insulting, and b) projection.

 
At 1:40 am, Blogger Sable X. Veins said...

What Withiel said.

 
At 4:50 pm, Blogger Garth Wintergreen said...

I take it all back...
http://technology.guardian.co.uk/news/story/0,,1737444,00.html

 
At 5:08 pm, Blogger Sable X. Veins said...

Intriguing.

" 'It's a matter of principle. I had no proof that anyone who read this took it seriously. I just didn't see why she should be allowed to get away with it,' he said."

A reasonable principle to defend, particularly when faced with such an obnoxious soldier of the Cunt Brigade (apologies for using "cunt" in this way; I gather it is an accepted assemblage for trolls (isn't that so, Withiel)).

"Most such cases never reach court because most complaints tend to be to an ISP or site owner, which would take down the defamatory content as soon as it was notified and the person making the libellous allegations would back down."

Anyroad...

What's the relevance, sorry Garth?

 
At 10:27 pm, Blogger kedazzle said...

I agree with your points about paradigm subversion. However, to be pedantic -

The Jewish diaspora were wearing the Star of David on chains and on the covers of their holy books for centuries before the nazis appropriated it as a convenient symbol - not the other way round. There is no equivalent re-appropriation taking place in the queer community with the pink triangle - it's sheer bloody-mindedness.

The Star of David is important because it's a re-appropriation of a stolen cultural history; it's also materialistic in a way with which the queer community cannot (yet) identify, as the Star of David is historically associated with the richest of a jew's posessions. Hence the re-adoption of the wearing of gold jewellery with the symbol.

And materialism has always been an important cultural lynchpin in the diaspora, although that's a separate issue. If I may quote Primo Levi on this, in 'If This Is a Man' he spends some time reflection on why for the Jews, perhaps even more than for other tribes, cultural materialism is a fundamental excercise and representation of a shared humanity, which is why the re-cycling of Jewish goods in the camps was so bloody effective. And the star of David is the symbol of that reactive cultural materialism which underpins the mindset of modern Zionists.

All I'm saying is, you can't look at it in the same way. It's a meme with vast and ancient connotations.

'reflect that this has happened/ repeat these words to your children.' - (Levi, prologue 'if this is a man.')

 
At 9:20 am, Blogger Sable X. Veins said...

Yes, Garth and I were aware of this, as he made clear in the article. I was merely battering the argument out.

However, thank you for the clarification.

 
At 10:55 am, Blogger Garth Wintergreen said...

'What's the relevance, sorry Garth?'
- Withiel's comment on me insulting people. I don't want to get sued!

And I agree with Kedazzle...
'All I'm saying is, you can't look at it in the same way. It's a meme with vast and ancient connotations.'

 
At 5:46 pm, Blogger Sable X. Veins said...

Oh, right.

Yes, I think we're all in agreeance with Kedazzle, because she has an annoying habit of Being Right, even - and this is the most irksome part - if it's by accident.

 
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