Now, this is crazy
Hey! I just met you,
And this is craz—- um, unadvisable,
But here’s my number,
So call me maybe.
They’re the inescapably catchy lyrics of Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe”, which thousands of Australian minds have been captive to in recent times.
Well, they’re nearly the lyrics. They’re what they would be if we took words we use in everyday life a little too seriously. Let me explain.
This column is about an organisation that does some very good, serious work. But I’m worried they’ve become too seriously minded.
Headspace is the national youth mental health foundation. They’re funded by the Federal Government. Got clinics across the country that provide psychiatric and general medical care to young people. And good onya guys, you’re kicking goals and taking names when it comes to stuff like reducing the suicide rate in young Australians.
But on Sunday, Fairfax reported that the group were calling on regulatory authorities to censure media outlets that use phrases like “loony”, “psycho” and “nutcase”.
Not just those loaded terms either. In a blog post talking about how “retarded” had become an unacceptable term, Headspace CEO Chris Tanti questioned whether words as tame as “mental” and “crazy” (as in “are you crazy?” and “that’s mental”) are tolerable:
So why does the broader community seem to think it is ok to words relating to mental illness – ‘crazy’, ‘mental’, ‘psycho’ to name just three – as general negatives, but some slang terms relating to race, sexuality and gender are off limits? And does it really matter?
The day before, a Sunday newspaper reported:
[Mr Tanti] called for enforceable codes of practice to sanction media outlets for using such language ...
Mr Tanti said headspace was not seeking a ban on specific words but that gratuitous and unnecessary mental health-related language should not be tolerated ...
‘‘We’ve taken words like sheila and poofter and wog out of everyday use but this is something that continues,’’ he said.
Would Carly Rae Jepsen’s “this is crazy” be interpreted as a gratuitous use? What if she said “this is nuts”? “This is lunacy”?
Now, I get where Mr Tanti is coming from. But what exactly makes using a word “gratuitous” and “unnecessary”? Where do you draw the line?
The answer is: You don’t. When people make conversation with one another, the people speaking decide what they’re going to say. That’s something we all deal with.
Let’s not pretend people stopped using the term “retarded” because of regulations. Nope. Or even racial terms. They stopped because: a) it offended people and b) a bunch of people realised it wasn’t right and the world changed.
Language is used and abused. It mutates, gets perverted. Like what happened when teenagers started saying: you’re so gay. It was rarely related to a person’s sexuality, a person’s happiness, a person’s Streets icecream.
Words become divorced from their original meanings, even while they stay the same. Bonkers, lunatic, crazy - these are words often used by folks to describe strange happenings. And funnily enough, rarely do you hear them used in reference to the mentally ill anymore. Because that’s not a particularly decent thing to do.
If words like “mental” were so offensive, so indecent - then you could bet there’d be a ruckus and your media would stop saying it.
But the bar for censoriousness should be pretty high in this country. Unless they could arrest Carly Rae Jepsen for being so damn catchy, we don’t need no word police.
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