6.18.2014

The Double-Edged Sword of Progress

Have you heard about the "recent" controversy over the Washington Redskins and their offensive name? Basically in the '90s a group of Native Americans sued, arguing that having a football that calls itself the indigenous equivalent of "Washington Niggers" is sort of offensive to the people denigrated by the word "redskins" and maybe the team should change it in the interest of social justice and just general "not being huge assholes."

Naturally, they lost. Then the team's lawyers used an end-around to back-date the statute of limitations on the case before any appeals could be launched. A few people showed up at stadia with signs decrying the political incorrectness, and then it all sort of fell out of the media spotlight for two decades until recently, when the smoldering embers of controversy were suddenly stoked into a raging campfire of anger that turned up the pressure on cartoonishly-evil team owner Dan Snyder to just change the goddamn name already.

His reply: "Never."

Fans of the team (PS as a sports fan I totally get buying into the ideas of "tradition" and stuff, and not wanting your team to seemingly arbitrarily change its name, but come on man. Rip the Band-Aid off and let the healing start) and the usual cluster of media vulture talking heads who sit around waiting for shit like this took to the airwaves to decry the liberal pussies trying to ruin a good, honest businessman in the sake of political correctness gone amok. 

The two sides went back and forth, and even the fucking President and Congress felt the need to comment on the shit. But it seemed like a stalemate. Until today when the US Patent Office basically stuck its dick right up Dan Snyder's ass and invalidated the Redskins trademarks on the grounds that they're offensive.
Critics of the name are cheering like they won the goddamn Super Bowl despite the fact that this is basically the starting gun to what will probably be 20 years of litigation, appeals, and various motions. What changes immediately is absolutely nothing; except in theory if this holds up the Redskins have no protection for their name (the logo is still proprietary, from what I can tell) so I could start printing "Washington Redskins" t-shirts and selling them with no repercussions (as long as I don't put an NFL logo anywhere near it, obviously). 

This means (if it holds up) that the team either has to change its name/trademark to something the Patent Office accepts so they can get trademark protection or just continuously bleed money from counterfeit merchandise with their name on it selling cheaper than they can sell and with no recourse to sue the people doing so.

Lost in that jubilation though, is the fact that by pushing for government intervention in this case they've set a seriously dangerous precedent: write enough letters to your senators or whoever, and the government will step in to decide what's offensive. 

I'm as flamingly liberal as they come, but even I see a huge problem with this. Sure, it's great when the side you're on aligns with the winning result. And people absolutely have the right to pressure Dan Snyder with protests or boycotts or whatever, but now a government body has arbitrated decency and that's some creepy totalitarian theocracy shit. Right now it's a word most reasonable people can agree is offensive. But what about next year when it's fundamentalist zealots pressuring the government to say criticism of churches is indecent? 

I don't mean to pick on Christians, I just use that as an example because that sort of thing is already being fought in low-level courts, and if you don't think those types of people (not all Christians, just the ones who keep pushing for church and state to start intermingling) are salivating at this you're naive. Even the fucking ACLU, forever a punchline in "PC Gone Too Far" jokes, thinks this is a bad idea.

"Offensive" is inherently subjective. What offends me may not offend you, and vice versa. And we absolutely can and should debate those boundaries with civility, and if I do something that offends you then you have the right to call me out, boycott my business, or whatever. The usual people to shriek "FREE SPEECH!" never seem to understand that the First Amendment does not protect you from the consequences of being an asshole. 

But asking the fed to step in is a really dangerous first step towards some sort of governing cultural body deciding things like this on a full-time basis. And that might sound awesome if your interests align with whoever's in power at the time, but you can see the problem with this immediately if you're on the other side of the line. It's sort of the whole premise behind equal representation.

Just for the sake of clarity: I fully support changing the name. I think it's stupid to even have a conversation where someone is trying to justify that it's actually a respectful term or proud tradition or whatever other bullshit Dan Snyder's side keeps trying to trot out. But the fact is Dan Snyder runs a business and makes an enormous amount of money off that name, and changing it could potentially cost him a lot of money. Everyone knows that's the heart of the matter, but to come right out and say "hey look changing the name might be less offensive to a horribly abused set of American citizens but I still need to make my millions" would be political suicide. So instead we get shit like #RedskinsPride

I'm glad the first step towards forcing a name change has been taken. I'm really leery of the fact that it came from the government.

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