The Gen X media has misinterpreted Stephanie Rice’s Gen Y ‘faggots’ tweet

Mat BaxterIn this guest post, Mat Baxter comes to the defence of Stephanie Rice over her much criticised “faggots” tweet.

We should all be ashamed. I certainly was as a gay guy this week as Stephanie Rice, a perfectly decent and respectable Australian, was subjected to a totally indefensible attack from a small minority of gay people who desperately need to get a grip on generational reality.  

Does anyone really think that Stephanie Rices’ use of the word “faggots” on Twitter was in any way genuinely intended to be derogatory or offensive to homosexuals? Of course not. In fact, her use of the word “faggots” is a stark reminder of the enormous divide in language (and culture) between younger Australians and their older counterparts – including the hugely over sensitive Ian Roberts.

A recent South Park episode dramatises the basic premise of this arguement. In that episode a relatively innocent Stan and Kyle use the word “gay” to describe the things that are crap or lame. Here the traditional meaning of the word “gay” is entirely lost on them because, in the school playground, the term is used in a completely different way.

This is a real reminder of how seemingly offensive words can be interpreted differently from generation to generation. While the word “faggot” might be divisive and derogatory for the over 30s it is commonly used in a far less offensive way amongst those who are a little younger. In fact, one of the most popular events in Sydney’s gay scene is called “Fag Tag” which attracts a predominantly under 30s crowd. Clearly the name hasn’t proven too offensive to this age group because it has been running for more than six years.

The drama with Stephanie Rice this week is a perfect example of how the meaning and “sting” of words evolve and erode over time as they move through the generations. Sure, she used the word “faggots” in a nasty way in her tweet using it to insult the Springboks but did she really mean to bring all the historical and negative baggage associated with the word along for the ride? My guess is no. I’m not excusing Stephanie’s behaviour but believe “Twittergate” has been blown entirely out of proportion this week.

When all is said and done I seriously doubt Stephanie has a single bad thing to say about gay people. Instead I think a Generation X media has minsterpreted the language of a Generation Y celebrity. Let’s hope there’s a little more tolerance practised by those who demand it for themselves so often… gay people and journalists included.

  • Mat Baxter is the outgoing chief strategy officer of Mediacom and will shortly become CEO of Universal McCann

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