Jonah Hill’s Apology and Open Carry

This week, social media has been a veritable cesspool of unsavory. So much so, that I have yearned for the drivel of catdogbaby videos and insta-filtered, cell-phone selfies of vague acquaintances and their latest foam art.

Among so many other things, on Monday, we were treated to news of cele-bro-ty, Jonah Hill’s weekend use of homophobic language aimed at a stalker/tabloid photographer who had been harassing Hill. And, by Tuesday morning, we were treated to a full-on, Tonight Show apology.


Here’s the thing: I’m more than happy to receive Hill’s apology. As far as public apologies go, his is way up there. He takes responsibility, seems contrite, and while explaining the context of his wrongdoing, he doesn’t seem to be justifying his actions. He even goes so far as to name that his intent makes no difference because of the impact of his words.

Great stuff. Pharrell and his publicist might want to take tips here (I’m referencing that star’s recent collusion in cultural appropriation with the racist-euro-fashion-magazine-industrial-complex, followed his non-apology/justification).

But here’s the thing, I can’t accept Hill’s apology for everyone. But what I can do is the thing that I know how to do–to pull up a seat and talk about what more may be going on here in our society at large that creates the conditions in which a person would say the things he said.


Before we get there, I should probably make note of the other half of my title: Open Carry. So far as I know, Jonah Hill hasn’t been involved in any way with open carry. And to some, there may not be an obvious connection between homophobic language and extremist interpretations of the second amendment used to justify bad behavior.

For any who don’t know, there are those who use the guise of confusing a “a well armed militia” with “individual license to carry loaded assault rifles in the baby aisle at Target,” to justify what should legitimately be called an “act of domestic terrorism”–that is, carrying a loaded assault rifle in the baby aisle at Target.

So where’s the connection? Well, I’ll get back to that. But to get there, let’s unpack what was happening with Jonah Hill’s comment to the photographer.


According to reports, after being harassed, Hill retorted to his harasser: “suck my dick, you f****t.”

Hill has since made several versions of his same, fairly well put together apology. Namely, he apologizes to LGBTQ persons for use of the f word, and he says that people being harassed by others should not lash out in harmful ways like he did.

I believe Hill when he says that he has always stood for LGBTQ rights, and loves and respects the LGBTQ people in his life. I believe he is actually sorry.

Frankly, I don’t have the time or energy for second guessing decent apologies, and when it comes to motives, if we’re going to be offended by impact instead of intent, then I feel the responsibility to receive apologies on the same grounds (though, to be clear, our perception of intent ALWAYS frames and shapes how something impacts us).

I also believe that there is much more wrong with the situation than what got covered in Hill’s apology (or in the coverage of Hill’s offense and apology).


First, there’s the un-addressed obvious–the opening phrase preceding Hill’s slur. Or, as I like to put it: you say “suck my dick” like it’s a bad thing.

Actually, this is really all we need to unpack the situation further. The use of the f word seems to be getting all the attention, but like other slurs, it bears absolutely no weight without all the cultural baggage of oppressive treatment that goes along with the word. In language studies, we might talk about the de-notative meaning of a word (in this case, the f word is associated with gay men) and the co-notative meaning associated with a word (in this case, all the reasons we feel like it’s a bad thing rather than a compliment when this word is used to describe gay men).

We can also talk about illocutionary force–that is, no one who reads the story of Hill’s comments has had to pause and wonder if Jonah Hill actually wanted, in that moment,  to drop trou’ and have the photographer perform oral sex on him. Though we know that millions of gay and straight couples engage, for pleasure and intimacy, in this very sex act on a daily basis, we don’t assume that’s what Hill wanted.

No, we get that, instead of being a pushy request for sex, the command, “suck my dick” is really intended as a threat against the photographer. It’s a way of borrowing words from a culturally understood vocabulary and using them to make another point that the hearer seems to be missing. In this case, the photographer wouldn’t leave Hill alone, so he used strong words that are backed by cultural violence to respond forcefully to what felt like a boundary violation–in other words, Hill felt angry and his words were meant to indicate that the photographer needed to back off and leave him alone.

That these words work in our society to communicate such an idea is a problem.


We are told so much about our culture when the phrase “suck my dick” is associated with power, dominance, and control, rather than with a male bodied person’s vulnerable request for sexual intimacy with someone else.

And here, we see clearly where the oppression of LGBTIQ persons and the oppression of women intersect in a culture so shaped by a dynamic of domination/violence paired with a paranoid insecurity that must be defended at all costs (see where I’m going here?).

Our tendency to use references to sex acts in a violent way speaks to what some have called our “rape culture”–that is, the normalization of sexual violence against women (as well as children, LGBTIQ persons, people of color, those with disabilities, etc.) that allows males to operate out of presumptive domination and ownership of other people’s bodies.

This shows up not just in violent language, but in blaming women and female bodies for the violence that men do against them “because she wanted it.” It’s the “gay panic” defense when homophobic people are violent “because I thought he was coming on to me.” It’s the failure of police to pursuit the violent sexual assailants of transgender women until videos of the event, which happened on a public subway, are made viral online (and it’s the failure of bystanders to protect the women involved).

This is our “sickness unto death”–our cultural loss of human personhood–and our despair of healthy interpersonal relationship that leads to the masculine defense of power.


But the truth is, we are vulnerable. And to open ourselves up to be seen as vulnerable means to open ourselves up both to harm AND to desirable relationship with each other.

Misogyny and homophobia are symptoms–like open carry–of our insecurity about being vulnerable, finite human beings. People who are at peace with their own vulnerability and who make a practice of treating all people with equal dignity and respect, do not carry assault rifles in the baby aisle at Target. Or at Sonic drive-ins. Or at church.

Jonah Hill reached for misogynist/homophobic language because he, like all of us, is shaped by a culture that has told him it is not okay to be vulnerable as a man. He reached for the tool that we have all collectively honed for just such a defense. His apology is not enough, because the problem is bigger than his use of the tool he was handed.

The problem is our problem. We use hateful, harmful language because we are afraid–afraid of being hated and harmed–afraid of losing our precarious grip on a small bit of control. This same fearfulness drives us to protect our borders, to arm ourselves with guns and oppressive immigration policies, and inaccessible healthcare systems (because someone else getting care will slow my access to care), to regressive drug incarceration laws.

All these things are symptoms of a disease that we need to heal from. And to heal from it, we have to stop defending and start grieving–grieving so that we can move far enough into the mess that we can begin to untangle it and grieving so that we can recover our desire for the intimacy of real relationships that honor all persons so that we all emerge, less bound by our impulse to be driven to violence by our fear.

 

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27 thoughts on “Jonah Hill’s Apology and Open Carry

  1. “We are told so much about our culture when the phrase “suck my dick” is associated with power, dominance, and control, rather than with a male bodied person’s vulnerable request for sexual intimacy with someone else.” –Just stunningly beautiful, truthful.

  2. Matthew 7:1 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2 For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

    3 “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4 How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5 You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

    Isn’t, in fact, the illocutionary force behind your frequent use of the words homophobic and homophobia throughout your blog – intended to put down, disparage, and demonize anyone who believe that God’s design and approval for sexual relationship is only between a man and a woman?

    • Dad,

      I hope that isn’t what I am doing, and yet, it’s almost certain that I am guilty of this. What I think is clear is that I write about the intersecting problems of homophobia, misogyny, and destructive versions of masculinity as components of our culture that we all absorb. Because of this, I try to start with confession–of the wrong I have done, the wrong done against me, and the wrong done on my behalf.

      In this case, the plank in my eye and the rock lodged in my heart is often the shame I have felt–shame that I internalize and wield against myself and then, wield against others. My hope is that in naming how these things are at play in me, I can be more open to receive the grace from God and others that allows me to surrender, forgive, and act out of love towards others.

      I am certain that my intent is always clouded by the harm of shame at work in my heart–it is something I experience everyday and for which I constantly need to be called to receive the gracious love of God and develop a stronger imagination for goodness. I do not know the impact my words have on those who disagree with me, or that they have on you. I am curious to know how it feels for you to read these words and what it brings up for you around how you have navigated our culture’s messages about masculinity throughout your life and how that intersects with how you follow Jesus.

      When I talk about how I am wrestling with these cultural ills–I’ll even call them sins–I do hope that others will be invited to examine how they too have been shaped by language, stories, family systems, and personal experiences of harm. This is difficult and painful work, but when we are able to face our own shame, we can work together to explore how God may be inviting us all into a different kind of life.

      The easiest way out of my own shame–and in this conversation, shame about not being “man enough” or “good enough,” is often through cutting myself off from my tender and vulnerable places, places where I need to be seen and loved–and I believe that this is a response cultivated in cultural definitions of masculinity that separate us from each other. When I do this, I am very likely to demonize those who are navigating this differently than me. For that, I am very sorry and I am working to open my heart to be transformed by God’s love and to listen loudly while I also continue to speak the truth of God’s goodness that I have come to know.

    • Is there a word you would choose to describe those who believe violence against the LGBTQ community is justified? What word would you pick for those who believe that their own personal belief about sexual relationships justify denial of basic civil rights to a very specific subset of people who do not subscribe to the same beliefs?

      • As Daniel can probably do a more thorough work with the etymology of the word homophobia, seeing he has both a theology and English majors, but I’ll give it a shot and try to help you understand why it is a offensive to some as using the “f” word, as mentioned in the above post. “Homo” comes from the Greek meaning “same” (obviously) and “phobia” means “an irrational fear of something”. Thus homophobia meaning the irrational fear of homosexuals.

        However, I seriously doubt that there are many people who actually “fear” homosexuals; rather, I turn to some research done by two gentlemen at the University of Arkansas. Vanderbilt University professor, Bunmi Olatunji, as a doctoral student at the University of Arkansas and UA professor of psychology professor, Jeffrey Lohr, spent several years attempting to identify the emotional mediators behind a variety of phobias. As Lohr puts it, “If contempt and disgust drive homophobia, then it seems more of a moral or social problem than a psychopathological one,” Lohr said. “If we start to consider negative attitudes pathological — implying that there’s something medically wrong with prejudiced people, that they’re somehow sick with their own attitudes — that seems to me misguided.”

        But of course that’s not what’s usually meant by the use of the term; rather, it a derisive slur against those who disagree with or find homosexuality contrary to their moral values. Pinning a “phobia” on someone who doesn’t agree with you doesn’t accomplish anything other than causing further animosity.

        I totally disagree with the thought that homosexual relationships are condoned by God, from a Christian perspective AND I totally disagree with anyone bringing violence against someone who is and would stand in defense of anyone who violence is perpetrated against.

        So, maybe rethinking the broad-brush approach is in order.

      • Chris,

        I’ll agree, it’s an awkward term, that has been used differently by different people. I would say that very few folks are meaning it as a pathology of fear of LGBTIQ folks. That’s why you also see the term heteronormative–it’s trying to indicate that there is a bias involved in how LGBTIQ people are being perceived. However, as the terms heterosexual and homosexual are relatively new concepts as well as words to the English language, compounded words with them tend to be awkward and have fluctuating meanings.

        I strongly disagree with your notion that being called homophobic, heteronormative, or bigoted is as equally offensive as being called the “f” word. There’s a history of denial of legal rights, and violence that backs up the “f” word. An equivalent argument would be to say that being called racist or white supremacist is as equally offensive as being called the “n” word. That’s simply not true. There’s a power dynamic involved in a social history, and unless you’ve actually feared for your life or had a civil right denied in attachment with the term homophobe, then no, I don’t think it’s a reasonable claim.

        I’m not saying you or anyone else doesn’t feel a great level of offense at that label, but I am saying that it is demonstrably different.

      • My original point still stands that the force of the term is used in order to cause those of us who disagree to feel demonized or demoralized, as if to make us ashamed of our position. Hatred and violent intent does NOT go hand-in-hand with my contempt for or disgust of the homo-sexual (to borrow your hyphenation-focus technique).

        The intent of the word is readily understood and when you use the word, I and others who morally object, take it as such a slur and are pushed out of the “conversation” by whoever uses it.

  3. Wow. what a powerful blog post, beautifully articulated! I hadn’t thought about that particular phrase being connected to sexual violence. It makes perfect sense. Your article gave me a lot to think about.

  4. I am very happy to find your blog, it is filled with positive intent and love and I appreciate that. I am not of the same faith but I feel that the message is what is important and finding that silver lining, although difficult at times, very worthy and I admire this. Many are so very afraid to be open and vulnerable, fearing what we do not understand, things that fall outside the norm, that challenge and rock our foundations, but this is exactly what causes growth and understanding, much love to you!

    • moonlily,

      Thanks for reading. While I do write from a particular Christian perspective, I do think that this is shared work for all of us, and I am grateful for your engaging. I feel like we have so much to learn from one another when we learn to–as my old choir director used to say–listen louder than we sing.

      Peace,
      Daniel

  5. Thanks so much for “going there” with this phrase. The layers of problems in our culture right now are many, and peeling back some of these more hidden ones is powerful and more than a bit unsettling.

  6. Very thoughtful. I honestly had never thought of these issues in such an intersecting way… as a Canadian, I am frankly flabbergasted by the “open carry” (I actually had to look up exactly what that meant)… but, yes… you are very right to point out the vulnerabilities associated with each group, and each reaction. I think most first world societies make vulnerability a thing to be ashamed of…. instead of seen as a strength… entering a group strangers with weaponless, open arms and only a smile is truly a form of vulnerability and of bravery. I think you have accomplished this with your blog… thank you for your own vulnerability here. The world needs a little more.

  7. I remember watching The Crying Game for the first time, I don’t even remember who with, it was a long time ago…and getting to the scene where the protagonist finds out that Dil has a penis, and just slaps the ever loving toast out of her and draws blood. I gasped, and remember saying, “What the HELL?” And everyone else was like, “But….he didn’t know she was a he! He was surprised!” As if the normal reaction to surprise is rage and violence. I always thought it was pretty much the perfect example of simultaneous homophobia and misogyny rolled up in one.

    But anger is a secondary emotion…and violence is the physical expression of anger. So what’s the root emotion? How can we heal it? What is the unnamed fear that makes us jump from “surprise” to offense, rage, disgust and violence?

    I appreciate your asking these questions, and laying it out so thoughtfully.

    • Thanks. It is about those deeper questions, I feel like we can actually go somewhere and have a conversation when we slow down and pay attention to what’s happening on those deeper levels. I haven’t see The Crying Game, but, yeah, that feels like exactly this kind of thing.

      Peace,
      Daniel

  8. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this topic. You are totally right about how there is a problem with everything that Jonah Hill said, not just the one word. Fantastic post!

  9. I love your gracious tone. I liked this especially “People who are at peace with their own vulnerability and who make a practice of treating all people with equal dignity and respect, do not carry assault rifles in the baby aisle at Target” I am struck by your use of the word “tools” to describe these behaviours and choices. (I think that was in this post, I’ve read several in succession) it made me realize that we need to help such people see the power in better tools in addition to rejecting the ones they currently employ. *pondering*

    • Makeesha,

      Thank you for reading and pondering. The language of tools is pretty new in my understanding of all this, but it came to me when I was in the middle of an exchange (a fight) on the bus, where I stepped in and experienced people defending themselves against violence with violence and I recognized that they were essentially using the technology or tool that society had handed them.–I’m, no doubt, also drawing from Lorde’s understanding of “the master’s tools.” All that to say, I am still pondering and would appreciate any feedback you have as you ponder.

      Peace,
      Daniel

      • In conflict mediation and the field of mediation, we use similar thinking but I haven’t yet run into that word specifically and I really like it. I definitely will be pondering. There’s a lot embedded in that actually – right now it feels a bit like grasping the mandarines out of a bowl of jello. hehe

  10. Well articulated, and I love that you’re not afraid to dig right in. Refreshing and thought-filled. It strikes me powerfully that you can speak so graciously, as Makeesha said. THAT is how to have an open discussion. Bravo!!

    Also, THIS. This this this. So good.
    “Misogyny and homophobia are symptoms–like open carry–of our insecurity about being vulnerable, finite human beings. People who are at peace with their own vulnerability and who make a practice of treating all people with equal dignity and respect, do not carry assault rifles in the baby aisle at Target. Or at Sonic drive-ins. Or at church.”

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