There is a scene in Forrest Gump, where the film’s protagonist is laying in a military hospital, somewhere in war-torn Vietnam, with his buttock taped up from a hostile incident with an enemy’s sniper rifle (“something just jumped up and bit me!”) next to the morose and suicidal Lieutenant Dan. Forrest has managed to procure two soft-serve ice cream cones, and in his eagerness to communicate his good fortune to said Lt., he yells out
“LIEUTENANT DAN! ICE CREAM!”
Only, Tom Hanks’ pronunciation is such that it doesn’t come out sounding that way. Indeed, it sounds as if Forrest turns to his superior and exclaims:
“LIEUTENANT DAN! ASS-CREAM!”
Which would make Lt. Dan’s reaction all the more understanding (he takes the cone and promptly drops it into his bed pan without the slightest acknowledgment to Gump, or his gift of soft serve).
So where, dear reader, is this all stemming from?
I, like Forrest, think a lot when I run. I am not afraid to admit that most of the information I mull over and dissect during this time is completely, one hundred percent, hands-down crazy. In fact, in some perverse way I almost revel in it. I tend to chalk most of this up to the long distances I cover – there is only so much coherent thought you sustain over a long period of time, especially when you are pushing your body to its physical limits. Once you pass a certain mile marker all bets are off and I really think it’s anyone’s guess as to where my thoughts will meander next.
Etymology is a recurrent running interest of mine – certain words, or elongated descriptors will stick in my craw and I’ll mull over them for a length of time, usually until the steep hill on 10th street or the one at the north-west corner of the Park, when every cogent thought (or semi-cogent, WHATEVER) is thoroughly blasted from my mind, and all I can think about is THIS IS THE STUPIDEST THING I HAVE EVER DONE WHY WOULD ANYONE WANT TO RUN UP THIS HILL ALL THE DRIVERS IN ALL THESE CARS ARE LAUGHING AT ME.
This past Saturday I was out – completing a three loop pass of Queen’s park – roughly 10 km (at least according to map my run) and I overheard one young man say to another “you just got your ass creamed!” I didn’t pay too much attention to his choice of phrasing until a little further into the run, when I got to thinking about the origin of his term “cream your ass” – re: to beat, humiliate, destroy, etc. etc. Actually, what really ran through my mind was: holy shitballs! Where DOES this come from? What a horrible thing to say to someone! And how did it become part of the common vernacular OF OUR YOUTH? And what about holy shitballs? What’s up with that?
For the time being I want leave shitballs by the wayside – it’s not that I think this word, especially its consecrated version, doesn’t merit further discussion, (it most certainly does ) I can’t help but be drawn to the first phrase, as I am both disgusted and confused at how this description managed to worm its way into society, and truthfully my own vocabulary for an extended period of time, especially when I was of the age of the young, park dwelling men. How does this become a part of someone’s everyday language at such an early age without anyone (particularly over the age of, oh, I don’t know, TWELVE) calling us out on it?
FULL DISCLOSURE: I used to use this term quite a bit in elementary school. Hell, most of my friends did too. Knocked out during the first round of bump? Lady, you just got your ass creamed. Tagged out before kicking the can? I just creamed your ass, son! On, and on we would go…using this turn of phrase pretty much interchangeably with “butt kicked” or “whooped hide” or whatever the cool kids were using at the time.
So where is this from and why? It is easy to surmise that this has some deep patriarchal, homophobic roots. It is an obvious reference to sexual assault, the power to control, demean or overpower someone through a sexual act, while at the same time demeaning those who chose to engage in this act.
It is about asserting power over an individual. It is about stripping an individual of his or her power.
It is always a big wake-up call when you are confronted with how just how pervasive these destructive and outdated norms are, especially in a linguistic sense. While I doubt that the young men I overheard that day in the park use in them as a means to perpetuate homophobia or gender imbalance, I feel that either way it doesn’t matter. The fact that we use them without understanding their history or connotation just goes to show how we as a society have internalized and passively accept these values. They are both deep rooted and benign which makes them that much harder to weed out, especially if people can hide behind the excuse of “well, I never even thought of it that way – it’s just an expression.”
While we are making huge strides towards equality in many areas of society, at least on a macro level, I worry about how little we call attention to injustices on a micro level. Because just like an iceberg, whose visible portion might look surmountable, it is what lurks below the depths that is the most unpredictable and rarely studied, and therefore, most dangerous.
If we, as a society, truly want to see change, make change, be changed it is time that we become aware of the power of language. If one more person tells me that I need lighten up, I just might burst into flames. Because it is not about having a sense of humour, it is about having the sense of what it means to be human, and how your words may impact not just those you are speaking with, but how they may reinforce normative values that you may actually disagree with or actively fight against.
It’s like the person who calls someone out for using the term “gay” and then in the next sentence calls themselves a “retard.”
So this is what I think about while I run. And sometimes, just like Forrest Gump himself, I just want to keep running, keep going, so I don’t have to think about the ways of the world, and ways they can be changed, nay need changing.
And if anyone asks me why I left it all behind? I’d tell them:
“I just felt like running.”