Friday, February 12, 2010

John Mayer's Playboy controversy

If you haven't been following the news, and by that I mean the "gossip news," then you likely missed the recent uproar caused by musician John Mayer. In an interview with Playboy magazine, Mayer used the "N-word" when making a point. It was brought up in the interview that he has a lot of black fans. Here's what he said -

Someone asked me the other day, "What does it feel like now to have a hood pass?" And by the way, it's sort of a contradiction in terms, because if you really had a hood pass, you could call it a nigger pass. Why are you pulling a punch and calling it a hood pass if you really have a hood pass? But I said, "I can't really have a hood pass. I've never walked into a restaurant, asked for a table and been told, 'We're full.'"


The backlash was pretty quick. This just came out two days ago and people were quick to jump on him for his word choice. People labled him as racist, insensitive, horrible, etc.

Mayer was quick to issue an apology via his Twitter account, through several tweets -

Re: using the 'N word' in an interview: I am sorry that I used the word. And it's such a shame that I did because the point I was trying

to make was in the exact opposite spirit of the word itself. It was arrogant of me to think I could intellectualize using it,

because I realize that there's no intellectualizing a word that is so emotionally charged.

And while I'm using today for looking at myself under harsh light, I think it's time to stop trying to be so raw in interviews...

It started as an attempt to not let the waves of criticism get to me, but it's gotten out of hand and I've created somewhat of a monster.

I wanted to be a blues guitar player. And a singer. And a songwriter. Not a shock jock. I don't have the stomach for it.

Again, because I don't want anyone to think I'm equivocating: I should have never said the word and I will never say it again.

I just wanted to play the guitar for people. Everything else just sort of popped up and I improvised, and kept doubling down on it...


He also apologized during a concert, in the middle of the song "Clarity." That's embedded below.



My take on this? It's all been blown way out of proportion.

If you don't get the point that Mayer is trying to make, let me explain it to you. The term "hood pass" essentially means that black people accept you as being "one of them," even though you're not black.

Mayer noted that if he truly had a "hood pass," he would be able to call it a "nigger pass" because black people can say nigger and white people can't. That's the point he was trying to make and it got distorted by the media and people who are quick to jump to assumptions.

Nigger is a strong word that carries a lot of negative connotation with it. It would have been easier for Mayer to not have used it during the interview. But, if we keep avoiding words that scare us, then we'll never get over them. The only way to de-sensitize the stigma from "nigger" is to not be afraid to use it in the proper context.

One of the most famous comedy sketches of all time is the George Carlin "Seven Words" monologue. In it, he discusses the seven words that you can't say on television - "shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits."

The point Carlin makes with his bit is that these words are deemed so horrible and offensive, but really, they're nothing but words. They're just sounds that come out of your mouth. It's the people who make them horrible. If you just accept that they're harmless, then there's nothing wrong with them. See for yourself, video is embedded below.



Carlin also has a great quote about the word "nigger" - "There is absolutely nothing wrong with the word 'nigger' in and of itself. It's the racist asshole using it that you ought to be concerned about."

Of course, this has opened up discussion on the topic of racism. Living in a predominately white, predominately "backwards" area, I have seen and heard examples of racism. I don't understand racism, but I've seen it enough times to know what it is.

One of the best ways to combat racism is to de-sensitize a harsh word. It's like when you have a bully. The best option is to ignore the bully. Take the power of that word away from a racist and what does he have then? If he can't call you a nigger, then what does he have?

It's like the Beatles said, "take a sad song and make it better." Take a horrible word and strip it of its horrible-ness.

Speaking of the Beatles, John Lennon also attempted to use "nigger" for social commentary. He used it in regards to holding women down, in his song "Woman is the Nigger of the World." Listen for yourself, a video of him performing it is embedded below.



In the end, what will come of this? Mayer can never take back what he said, as it is there in the pages of Playboy for everybody to see. Did he take the easy way out by apologizing and moving away from his word choice? Yes. Was it the right thing? For his short-term career, yes. In the long run, I think it would have been a better idea for him to stand behind his words and be known as somebody who helped de-stigmatize a stigmatizing word.

That's just what I think.

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