(Author’s note: I wrote this piece yesterday in Writers’ Circle. I’m very much troubled by the recently-unearthed audio of Donald Trump on the “Access Hollywood” bus with Billy Bush. This has been very difficult to write, and pressing the “Publish” button is a little scary. I fear I may not have articulated things that well. Let’s hope I have.)
Words matter. Words have the potential to influence the thinking of others, to change their actions and behaviors, maybe even their lives. But sometimes words are just words, not uttered or written with any particular intent beyond entertainment. They’re used to funny, or to shock, or to gain attention. Whether we’re aiming for influence or just throw-away entertainment, we still need to think about what we say, how we say it, and to whom.
|Image from Wikipedia|
I’m a guy. I hope this comes as no surprise to you after all this time. And as a guy, I’ve engaged in my fair share of locker room banter. Also golf course gabbing. Barroom bombast. I have told–and laughed at–jokes that cover every -ist and -ism out there. Racist, sexist, misogynist? Been there. I have slurred and slandered, engaged in stereotyping and objectification. Gay bashing? That, too. In certain situations with certain people, this side of me comes out.
I say all of this not because I’m proud of it. I’m not. I say this not to excuse it, because there’s no excusing it. I say this because it’s simply the truth. And the other truth is, in the right setting with the right people, I will almost certainly engage in “locker room banter” again. It’s the simple truth of the matter.
What would you do if you heard me say these things? Would you become angry, tell me off, then leave and tell everyone you know that I’m an utter ass? Perhaps you would chuckle politely, then change the subject and find an excuse to leave soon thereafter, never to see me by choice again. Or maybe you’d join in with gusto. It depends on what kind of person you are. What will you do now that I’ve confessed these things to you? Will you comment? Stop following? Spread it far and wide on Twitter and Facebook and bring the hammer of Internet Outrage down upon my head? It all depends on what kind of person you are.
And now we come to Donald Trump. The recently-unearthed “Access Hollywood” clip has Trump bragging about putting the moves on a married woman, just kissing women, whether invited or not, and that as a rich, famous person, he can do whatever the hell he wants. Trump has brushed all of this off as locker room banter, and, in his typical fashion, has used his best second grade “I know you are, but what am I” rhetorical style to say that Bill Clinton is far, far worse (and he may well be, but this is not about Bill Clinton).
Do we let Donald Trump off the hook for his ten-year-old crudities on the “Access Hollywood” bus, or for the things he’s said while guesting on the Howard Stern show five, ten, or twenty years ago? Do accept his excuse that he was just playing a role, or playing up (or down, as the case may be) to a particular crowd, and that it doesn’t reflect who he is as a person? At this point,
And what’s my excuse? What’s the difference between me and Trump on this (besides the millions of dollars and millions in audience, that is)? I’d like to believe the difference is that one of us means what he says, and puts it into action, while the other is just engaging in locker room banter. I can tell you that I have never forcibly kissed a woman or put my hands on one uninvited. Nor would I. Meanwhile, there’s mounting evidence that Trump’s words to Billy Bush were not just him being “braggadocious.” The allegations that continue to surface about Trump–from former business partners, from cast and crew of “The Apprentice,” from contestants in the various pageants he has run–indicate that he these are not mere words.
Locker room banter is not going to go away. Men and women (but mostly men, I suspect) will continue to engage in it, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with that–provided it remains just that: banter. Words, not action, exagerration, not reality.
Thank you for reading. Thank you for commenting.