Barring another snowpocalypse or Beyonce pregnant scare, “Your Degrees Won’t Keep You Warm at Night: The Very Smart Brothas Guide to Mating, Dating, and Fighting Crime,” is set to be released Jan 24th—11 very short days from today. And, as you may have imagined, I’m a nervous wreck to the point that I’ve had days in the past week where I had to employ each of my usual sure-fire stress relievers—working out, playing basketball, writing, sex, drinking rum, masturbation—within a 12 hour span just so I’d be able to get five consecutive hours of sleep.
But, among the dozens of questions swirling around in my head—“Will people actually buy it?”, “Are there any typos we missed?”, “Did I use the right back cover pic?”—there’s one that’s been especially unnerving:
“Did I go too far?”
I’ve mentioned before that the book is a pretty accurate representation of what can be found on VSB. The same language and tone and the same types of jokes, references, anecdotes, and asides Panama and I incorporate daily are found in “Your Degrees…“, and people familiar with us and our work will (hopefully) appreciate it.
Thing is, we tend to employ a certain type of humor that can also very easily anger, offend, and disgust if read with or without context; sh*t that has the potential to hurt and harm instead of heal and be seen as humorous. I especially push this appropriateness envelope. For instance, one of my chapters—I say “my” chapters because, like VSB, the book alternates. Some chapters are written just by me, some just by Panama, and some were a joint effort—include the lines “Your French manicured toes will get spit at and came on” and “I can imagine it being hard to be a rad fem or womanist with c*m on your nose” within a two paragraph span. In the context of the chapter, they make perfect sense and are a perfect fit. But, by themselves they’re, well, offensive as f*ck, and to be honest, I’m kind of struggling to accept the fact that there will be people genuinely offended and hurt by some of the things I say.
And, while I’m no stranger to toeing the “offensive line,” what separates the book from VSB is that the comment’s section here at least gives me an opportunity to explain a misinterpretation or defend a certain stance. The book gives me no such luxury. Once it’s out there it’s gone forever—with my real name and real picture on it!!!—and I’ll go from being an occasional critic to one who’s being actively assessed and critiqued.
Yet, the assessment and critique part isn’t the source of my anxiety. In fact, I can’t f*cking wait to be judged, lauded, ripped, and evaluated. It’s the lack of control that’s keeping me up at night; the fact that once the first book is bought and the first page is read, I’ll have no more absolute say over how my words are interpreted and understood.
Anyway, going back to that “going too far” concept, there’s been another recent (and much more serious) development that has made the power of words and their myriad interpretations a central issue.
As Gabrielle Giffords continues to fight for her life, an argument is brewing that the Tucson mass shooting was partially caused by an anti-government atmosphere created by some of the more outspoken members of the Tea Party. In “The Tea Party and the Tucson Tragedy,” Slate.com’s Jacob Weisberg argues that Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck share a bit of culpability and blame with Jared Loughner:
Often the two issues are blurred together, because if government is illegitimate, rebellion is an appropriate response (hence the Colonial costumes). Conservative entertainers like Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin like to titillate their audiences with hints of justified violence, including frequent reminders that they are armed and dangerous. Palin went so far as to put a target on someone who subsequently got shot. Whether or not the man who fired the gun was inspired by Palin isn’t the point. The point is that you shouldn’t paint targets on people, even in metaphor, or jest.
While I do agree with what he says—inflammatory words create inflammatory environments—I can’t fully get behind the idea that, while they’re definitely antagonistic (some would even say “vile”) people, the Palins, Becks, Sharon Angles, Andrew Breitbarts, and Michelle Malkins of the world should be held even partially accountable for the actions of an unquestionably deranged and nihilistic man. You do that, and every rapper who’s ever uttered the word “gun” should be held accountable for every inner-city murder, and everyone who’s ever produced, starred in, or directed a romantic comedy should be forced to pay the fees for any American’s divorce.
Still, I’m no idiot and neither are they. Each of these pundits and politicians are intelligent enough to know exactly how influential charged words and impassioned rhetoric can be, and my hope is that each of them are still human enough to at least admit to themselves “You know, maybe I went a bit too far that time.” An apology isn’t as necessary as the realization and acceptance of the power of their words and the consequences of their word’s effect on others.
Then again, maybe they’ve already accepted this, and maybe they just don’t care. And, well, maybe I need to learn how do to the same so I can finally get some f*cking sleep.