Wow, this episode of South Park presents an interesting, and funny, (and hopefully sarcastic) argument. The underlying thesis is that “faggot” no longer refers to gay men: the new meaning of fag is: 1. An extremely annoying, inconsiderate person most commonly associated with Harley riders. 2. A peson who owns or frequently rides a Harley. Okay, I’m fairly certain they’re not really talking about Harley riders. But it’s an interesting thought that we might reclaim the word “fag” by disassociating it with gay men. (Just to be super clear, don’t ever use “fag” or “faggot” – the impact is harmful.)
This is an interesting kind of repositioning. Now I know that some people don’t like it when I stretch the meaning of “branding” or “positioning” to include, well, everything. But it’s fun and sometimes instructive. And words have constellations of meanings not unlike the kind of things we more conventionally consider to have a brand. So let’s imagine for a minute that the word “fag” has a brand.1
In this episode of South Park, they point out that the meaning, or brand, of “faggot” has changed considerably over the last couple of centuries – it was sometimes used in reference to old women, sometimes in reference to feeble people. I actually don’t really know if this is true. But it’s plausible. The more contemporary, and slanderous, associations with gay folk is not a necessary part of the brand. There’s usually very little about a brand that is necessary. This is the physical sciences – it’s the social sciences and meaning is just, well, made up.
But shifting the current brand of an idea like “fag” is really a gargantuan task. The campaign we see in this episode of South Park is effective because gay folk, and well, everyone else, start to use the term to refer to inconsiderate and annoying people, and not gay people. As the term gets redeployed, we witness the repositioning of the concept “fag” against, not with, gay.
Of course, it’s just a cartoon. I’m not saying it’s okay to deploy the term. As I’ve said elsewhere, sometimes you can be responsible for more meaning than you make, so we gotta be careful. But it’s interesting nonetheless. Thank you South Park.2