Tag Archives: insults

Dear John Goodman: No Sympathy Here

Debbie says:

Let’s shed a tear for actor John Goodman (actually, I’m a huge fan of his work), who has apparently never thought about the fact that a shoe feels different on the other foot:

At a social gathering, Goodman, an admittedly huge fan of Wiig’s work, approached the “Bridesmaids” star mid-conversation and it didn’t go so well.

side by side photos of the two stars

“She was talking to somebody else, and I was just — I think she’s so great, and the social barriers broke down and I interrupted the conversation,” he explained to Stern. “And I would just hate for somebody to do that to me. And she goes, ‘Yeah, I’ll talk to you in a minute.’ [makes sound of bomb dropping] It was like the Atom. I shrunk down to Atom size. … I really like her, and it was embarrassing, so I’ll never speak to her again.” 

Melissa McEwen at Shakesville deconstructs this beautifully:

He saw her talking to someone else and interrupted her, which he would hate for somebody to do to him, but did it anyway. And instead of immediately dropping her conversation with someone else, which they might have considered pretty rude, she told him she would talk to him in a minute.

That actually doesn’t sound very terrible to me!

And I suspect if that had been the whole story, it wouldn’t have sounded very terrible to anyone else, either.

But Goodman went on to explain that her failure to immediately stop her conversation and give him her full and undiluted attention on his schedule made him feel small and insignificant.

You can write this off to his movie/TV star status, which means that he has way less opportunity to learn how to deal with someone blowing him off for five minutes. Or you can say, as McEwen does perfectly accurately, that this is simple misogyny and male privilege at work, that Goodman does this to people all the time without a moment’s thought to whether or not it hurts them, and then can’t tolerate it.

The third piece, however, is Goodman’s size. If he were not famous, he’d be fat enough to lose at least some of his otherwise automatic male privilege, and he’d be very familiar with conventionally beautiful women (especially ones who are movie/TV stars themselves) blowing him off, not just for five minutes, but permanently. Quite likely, he would live in constant awareness that any conversation with a conventionally beautiful woman was an insult risk, just as everyone in a one-down position lives with the constant awareness that any interaction with someone with more power or privilege is an insult risk, or worse.

When he takes this minor interaction, which could so easily be framed as, “Look, Kristen Wiig is polite enough to finish one conversation before starting the next,” as an irretrievable insult, he isn’t just setting Wiig up for dozens of articles calling her out as rude, and he isn’t just revealing himself as having a pathetic need for immediate gratification, he’s also distancing himself from people who look like him, telling them that he believes in his right to expect something they can’t even imagine expecting.

John Goodman, you have experienced a Teachable Moment. I’ll write out the lessons for you:

1) she (and everyone else) has every right to finish her conversation (or her life) without talking to you;

2) if you learn how to deal with minor human interactions without drama, your life will be better;

3) if you weren’t famous, this would be an everyday occurrence. Be kind to the people who have to face much worse with their morning coffee.

P.S. to Kristen Wiig: Please don’t make a public “apology,” for doing absolutely nothing wrong.


Mr. Toad: Insults, Jokes, and Words of Power

Lynne Murray says:

I like to read urban paranormal novels in part because the heroines demonstrate their power in a very literal way. The magic used in these stories, which causes visible effects, is sometimes  accompanied by fictional “power words.” This post is about real-life power words.

I can’t write from first-hand experience about wounds inflicted by bullies. I don’t have the deep wounds of those who were literally battered and verbally attacked on a daily basis, often under the eyes of uncaring adults.

However, I do remember the day I stopped doing yoga in front of people because I was attacked by someone I trusted and thought of as a friend. The parallel sprang into focus when I ran across a Facebook post from Lauri Owen attributed to Don Miguel Ruiz:

People think that a spell sounds something like “Abracadabra.” Mexican shaman Don Miguel Ruiz proposes that real magic spells sound more like “nice girl; too bad she is Black”; “I believe in you”; “you are worthless”‘ “I love you”; and “why can’t you be more like your brother/sister.”

Lauri found the quote at this Facebook link.

I’ll call my old friend Mr. Toad, after the character in Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows. Not that he looked like a toad, exactly, though he was short and stocky and not particularly handsome. His incorrigible good humor and headstrong, optimistic manner reminded me of Mr. Toad. We became friends because both of us used jokes to cope and refused to let people ignore us.

I got to know Mr. Toad when we were both in our 20s and active in the Buddhist lay organization. He probably joined the group because there were so many friendly young women, although he soon learned that none of us viewed him as attractive, and many of us were celibate–not as a lifetime commitment so much as an effort to change past patterns of rotten relationships. Mr. Toad openly vented his frustration with humor, and we got to be friends because both of us were naturally irreverent even as we faithfully practiced a rather labor-intensive religion.

He smashed my yoga efforts during a session of “look what I can do.” I was 24 and my friends in high school had been primarily books. I didn’t know about the pack mentality of young men measuring themselves physically against one another and jostling for status. If I had, I wouldn’t have tried to join in the game. I realize now that no other women were present, but in 1972 the feminist movement was distant thunder on the horizon of my world and I didn’t think anything of it. I felt safe with these guys and we were in the Buddhist community center for chrissakes during a rare moment of leisure.

One of the higher-ranking guys was the clear frontrunner when he demonstrated a knee bend on one leg with the other leg held out in front of him. I could only do two unusual physical things: the first was horseback riding, but with no horses available, I went with the second–yoga. I’d studied yoga from books and I could do a shoulder stand.

When I demonstrated, Mr. Toad called out, “Look at the size of it.”

He was referring to my ass. I had collected a bouquet of similarly cruel body critical remarks over the years but I had shrugged them off because they had never come from someone I trusted in a group where I felt accepted and valued. My wit, sharp enough to draw blood, usually protected me, although on that day it failed me.

Mr. Toad aimed to let me know that I was neither one of the boys nor an impressive sex object. He wanted to get points with the guys for pointing all this out cleverly. His role was court jester among the other men, and their acceptance of himi was conditional. He had no college degree in a nest of recent college grads and perpetual students. He worked a blue collar job and belonged to a union (“Local ___, bitch” he jokingly stated when I asked).

I never demonstrated anything physical in front of a group after that. I also stepped back from my friendship with Mr. Toad.

After experiencing how a pointed, uncensored comment from a friend with a wit as well-honed as mine could undermine my confidence permanently, I began to think more carefully about how I used my own wit. It took me some years to realize that he was a sniper. His damaging words were occasional, like a string of poison pearls strung out over the decades that I knew him.

When I ran into him at social functions over the years, I saw more clearly how his jokes were invariably ugly putdowns of women, sometimes mutual friends. Sniping insults were his primary way of relating to people. The more critically I examined his barbs, the more listening to him felt like getting kicked in the stomach.

Many people told him he was disgusting, but he was used to that. Occasionally he would joke about himself, but always including some ego boosting: for example, he quipped that he and his second wife had so many children because they could never figure out how contraception worked. He then described some of the things they did that could not result in conception. Yes, ick.  And yes, an eventual divorce resulted.

The last time we met was when a mutual friend dragged him over to my apartment the week after my husband died. I’d been away from the Buddhist lay organization for years, but people I used to know came out of the woodwork to pay their respects. Mr. Toad showed up with a mutual friend. They didn’t stay long. But as they were leaving, Mr. Toad made a joke so jaw-droppingly hostile and sexist that I couldn’t believe even he would say it, let alone to a grieving widow.

(If you (like me) are consumed with unwise curiosity about all things verbal and must know the reality behind even the most offensive joke, search for “Why do women have legs?” Like many cruel things, it’s alive and well on the net.)

Steven Brust opened up an interesting discussion on hurtful jokes that prompted 149 comments, many quite insightful. Here’s the first part of his conclusion:

There are those with an attitude that goes something like this: “It was just a joke. If you can’t take a joke, you need to lighten up.” The kindest thing one can say about this attitude is that it is over-simplified; we don’t all respond the same way to the same kind of pain, and your coping method might be exactly what makes it impossible for me to cope. More typically, someone with that attitude needs to be sequestered from other human beings so he won’t do any more harm.

When in doubt, I err on the side of caution, because the damage to someone who is sensitive about whatever one is laughing at is more significant than the benefit for someone it helps, at any given time (you can tell the joke later when there’s no one around it bothers). But usually, one doesn’t know one has crossed the line until someone reacts badly, and then one is, first, puzzled, then ashamed, then (sometimes) angry or determined to justify one’s self. It’s ugly as hell.

Oddly enough, once my eyes were open, it turned out to be even more painful on occasions when I played the joker–cutting with the scalpel of wit, inflicting harm and seeing the result. Once you recognize that, you don’t want to revisit it. You have a choice–you can actually use the power of words to make people feel better about themselves, or you can use that power to make them feel worse. Either way, those feelings are forever.