Thursday, December 22, 2011

Pragmatism Beats Out Occupy and Bunga Bunga for Word of Year

Merriam-Webster is calling “pragmatic” the word of the year, saying there were more searches for this one word in 2011 than any other word, including “occupy,” according to the Daily Mail.
Congressional Super Committe (by DonkeyHotey)
 Searches for the term “pragmatic” spiked this past year when Congress voted to increase the debt ceiling and when its super committee tried to slash the deficit. This I found curious considering that the word “pragmatic” is far more useful, comprehensible and, one would think, more well-known than the words “deficit” or “debt ceiling.” But maybe Americans’ attention and curiosity glazed over once they got past the “pragmatism” that was being imposed on them by their rulers. Perhaps that was all they needed to know, that those who truly understand these things were simply creating a logical solution to incomprehensible problems, and that was good enough!

That “pragmatic” beat out “occupy” will surely be a disappointment to the 99%, who are certain that they truly are the 99% and that their favorite tactic, ”occupying” should therefore have received 99% of the votes, while “pragmatic,” which is clearly what the 1% want the 99% to be, should have only received 1% of the votes. This paradox may best be explained by the 99%’s confidence that they all know what they’re talking about already when they say they are “occupying” this and that. Therefore, the 99% don’t need to look up the word “occupy.” In contrast, as members of the 99% who are subject to the “pragmatism” being imposed by the 1%, they felt inclined to do a little homework and make sure that this “pragmatism” business really was in their best interests.
(Image from Flickr, Boris.rasin)
 While the 99% are all certain that everyone understands the term “Occupy,” and are now using the term for most anything they want to change—Wall Street, Wal-Mart, Department of Education, internet, Republican minds, couches, Sesame Street—they seem to forget that their own government—which is to say, the 1%—has been “occupying” Iraq and Afghanistan for the past decade, not to mention Washington, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam, Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Samoa for much longer. So, if we add together the occupations being carried out in the name of the 99% and those being carried out by the 1%, it would seem that everyone is occupying or being occupied.

Apropos (which, alas, was not one of the contenders this year) to ending military and imperialist occupations, two of my favorite pieces of political graffiti from the 1980s were: “U.S. out of America,” and the variant “U.S. out of my reproductive organs.” There were, of course, some nationalistic feminists in those days, one of whom spray-painted the following on a San Francisco wall: “Free Tampons, Not Kuwait.” Inspired by these retro-slogans, I would like to suggest some new slogans for the 2010s like: “Free Time, Not Markets!” or “In A Classless Society We Are All the 50%!”

This double use of the term “occupy” to mean something good that “the people” do to resist the “bad governments” that “occupy” other nations for “bad reasons,” reminds me of the term “collaborate,” which is supposedly a good thing that good teachers do to help their students, even though it is also a terrible thing that the Vichy government did to help the Nazis. Both “occupation” and “collaboration” can lead to repression, brutality and death for innocent people. In fact, the terms are quite connected in that occupiers rely on collaborators to help them achieve their goals. The Palestinian Authority has acted as a collaborator with the Israeli government in the suppression of the Palestinian people. The mainstream trade unions have acted as collaborators with the capitalists to ensure that working people stay on the job and accept compromises and take-backs that keep profits high and salaries low. Scabs collaborate with bosses to undermine strikes. Spies and informants collaborate with the police and military to undermine activist groups like OWS.

Teacher “collaboration” is a funny thing. The notion of a bunch of professionals sitting down together to brainstorm solutions to educational problems, develop innovative curriculum, and discuss the issues and needs of shared students certainly makes a lot of sense and seems worthwhile. However, the term “collaboration” in the context of education is a fraught, poorly defined and often abused term. It is commonly used to mean “embrace what I say and what I’m doing and graciously assist in it, whether or not you agree.” Teachers who ask too many questions, who point out logical inconsistencies or who critique reforms and policies are often accused of being “bad collaborators.” Teacher evaluations generally include how well they “collaborate,” a subjective observation that can be used to punish teachers who aren’t cheerleaders for the reform du jour.
Charlie Sheen Has Tigers Blood (image from Flickr, by Ssoosay)
 Speaking of collaboration, what could be a greater collaboration than that between Hollywood and the public? Hollywood provides billions of dollars’ worth of mindless garbage for our consumption and we not only consume it hungrily, but stalk their stars’ every move, no matter how pitiful. Take “Tiger’s Blood,” another top contender for word of the year—a term I had no idea was now in the popular vernacular. I had to look this one up, being the out-of-touch OG (old guy) that I am and was delighted to discover that it came from a Tweet by Charlie Sheen. Tiger’s Blood, it seems, is what runs through his veins, somehow making him impervious to addiction (and likely contributing to both his inflated ego and his stupidity). The fact that this word went viral and was even considered for word of the year is testament to how desperate the American people are for a distraction to their miseries. Wetting oneself over royal weddings and scandals is pathetic enough, but following every ridiculous tweet by drunken Hollywood bottom feeders like Charlie Sheen??? Come on, people, get a life!

Speaking of getting a life, I would like to humbly (or humblebragly) request that those esteemed billionaires who seem to know so much about how to do my job, kindly eat feces and die. Yes, “humblebrag” was another top contender. According to Urban Dictionary, it means to subtly let other people know how fantastic you are by doing it in a self-deprecating manner, or self-promotion of the most despicable and loathsome sort, generally delivered via social media. An example of a “humblebrag” would be if I posted the following to my blog or Twitter feed: ”As everybody knows, teachers all come from the bottom one-third of their graduating classes. So the 4.0 GPA I earned was nothing compared with the 12.0 GPA’s earned by the overachievers at my university.”
Would Anyone Care To Bunga Bunga? (Berlusconi caricature by DonkeyHotey, flickr)
 My vote for the word of the year, however, has to go to an antiquated, but very evocative term that made a recent comeback. “Bunga bunga” dates back to 1910 or earlier, according to Wikipedia. However, it grew in popularity last year when Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi used it to refer to his infamous orgies. Wikipedia says that “bunga bunga” may mean an underwater orgy, an African-style ritual performed by naked women for male spectators, with pole dancing and competitive stripteases by women dressed as nurses and cops. My guess is the term is a variation on bung or bunghole, as in having one’s head in the bung or “Whoops, Silvio’s stuck his tongue in the bung again.” Or, as Gargantua recited to Grangousier at the tender young age of five (In Rabelais’ political satire): 

Thy Bung
Hath Flung
Some Dung
                --On us

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