You can make a lot of money if you pull a big enough audience. Back when there were only a few TV channels, producers worried about losing audience through airing something too shocking. Since the advent of the internet, however, instead of a half-dozen TV channels and a few radio stations, there are literally millions of separate streams of entertainment and information. The trick is to stand out from the enormous crowd, and the more shocking you are, the more clicks you get. This has turned ‘outrageousness’ on its head – performers and producers now chase after it.
(Of course, if you happen to be a kitten, you get audience without any ploy at all!)
Words that used to be are no longer considered shocking, except for one. In America, you should never use the ‘n word’, especially if you are not black. Even the new TV series ‘Empire’, a black centered show, has not used it, causing a lively debate on social media.
I recently sat in while some young black people discussed ‘micro-aggressions’. One of the adult discussion-leaders suggested that the ‘n’ word was an example of a verbal outrage. I was surprised to hear that the young people were used to being called ‘nigga’ by other black people, and instead of being offended, thought of it as a term of affection. When one or two expressed their doubts, the others assured them that the ‘a’ at the end made it OK. They talked about singers, especially rappers, who use ‘n….a’ a lot. Some had even been called it by young white people, but, as they explained, only by guys trying to adopt black urban culture, the same ones who wear their pants low on their behinds and say ‘Yo’.
When I hear the word, my reaction isn’t modulated by its use in rap but rather by its origins. From the earliest times, the word ‘nigger’ has carried with it “all the obloquy and contempt and rejection which whites have inflicted on blacks”. I associate it most strongly with slavery, and the contempt of slave owners.
You could see the growing use of the ‘n’ word among black youth as empowerment because they are ‘taking back’ a word formerly used in oppression. On the other hand, it is also a reflection of the cheapening of many aspects of the human condition by the media machine.
Personally, every time I hear the word I feel shame on behalf of us whites. Perhaps that’s a good thing.