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Thursday, October 26, 2006

On language

Warning: the post below is 90%, political, 10% smart ass, when normally I do the opposite, if not excluding politics all together. You could say I was inspired, or uninspired. However you want to look at it.

n these pre-election days, La Vanguardia has been running numerous profiles and interviews with the contenders for
Barcelona’s regional government. Quim Monzó, novelist and regular contributor to La Vanguardia, makes the odd commentary now and then, and yesterday’s edition contained a priceless one.

Monzó took to task ICV [green party] candidate Joan Saura and his reluctance to use the word “immigrant”. Instead, Saura softens the emotive blow of “immigrants” and calls them “of the class of the immigrants”. Of course, only a heartless PP [conservative party] candidate like Piqué would dare call them “immigrants”! But since Saura is sensitive, and an adamantine leftwinger, he can’t be caught saying anything politically incorrect, whatever his intentions are.

The article continued (translated by me):

“Of the class of the immigrants”! Congratulations. If the progressive correction obligates one to talk about “people of skin aesthetic” instead of skinhead, if radios and televisions say “person of gypsy ethnicity” instead of gypsy (as if gypsy were derogatory), how can we heedlessly say immigrant? Call them, then, “person of the immigrated class”. And, above all, let no one get confused and talk about a person of the gypsy class, a person of the skin ethnicity, and a person of the immigrant aesthetic. The boys with the boys, the girls with the girls and every noun with the adjective that the prudishness has well appointed."

And there’s the controversial CiU [Catalan nationalist conservative party] plan put forth by their rock-jawed candidate for president, Artur Mas. Essentially it boils down to a points for prizes system in which immigrants (he has no qualms about saying it) are rewarded based on their degree of assimilation - and as is the usual case in Catalunya, that means learning Catalan. The other parties fired back, and angry readers (probably party hacks) are writing into the daily papers, accusing them of hypocrisy. I don’t see what the big deal is, personally. It’s merely another way of saying the same thing: “Learn Catalan, or else.” Whereas the ERC [Catalan nationalist left wing party] - which has an indelibly elitist aura about it - would like to fine or exclude you for not speaking Catalan, the CiU is now proposing benefits for people that are speaking it (and can pass a standardized test to prove it). That means that anyone without the proven linguistic credentials is not eligible for these benefits. It’s just another way of saying the same thing – but, in my opinion, far more intelligent than the ERC’s strategy. If done right, it will attract people rather than repel them. And let’s face it, the issue of Catalan is here to stay. No wishful thinking or liberal democratic posturing will erase this hotbutton issue.

Speaking of the ERC and language: their campaign slogan has now transformed into “Humans com tú” or “Humans like you”. This from “Som com som” or “We are like we are”, which, in my humble opinion, is a far more accurate way to describe the party. The greatest common good, demographic realities, are not their concerns. It’s power and whatever cheap symbolism it takes to retain it.

So, “We are like we are” and if you don’t like it fuck off is the basic message. Realizing their pithy slogan was bound to raise undesirable controversy, they soon changed it to “Som com tú”, or, “We are like you”, which also rubbed the wrong way, especially here in Spain where “no me toques los cojones” or “don’t bust my balls” is about as close to the national sentiment as you can get. And the ERC does nothing but bust balls, constantly. If it’s not Carod-Rovira taking it upon himself to secretly meet with armed terrorist groups to single handedly bring about peace, or posing for a photo with a crown of thorns on his head, or bringing about a boycott of all Catalan products because of his call for the non-endorsement of the Madrid 2012 Olympic games, it’s Carod-Rovira stirring up support and indignation with emotive revolutionary language. No, aside from their minority of supporters, “you are not like me”, says the average citizen here. “I don’t want to secede from Spain. I just want to be able to pay my rent, and one day make above 1000 euros brutos a month.”

Realizing their language needed to be subtly manipulated again in order to placate the mileurista masses, they changed their slogan to “Humans like you”. And now suffusing subway station walls all over the city is Carod-Rovira’s giant mug covered in shaving cream. “See?” - their marketing strategists think they’re saying - “he’s just an average guy like you”. Oh yeah, despite the fact that his politics are far from pragmatic (i.e. considerate of the whole). I’m not sure if these guys really dream of an independent Catalunya, or if their whole strategy is cynical and dialectic, an attempt to swing things in their favor by further polarizing the electorate. Either way, these guys are not fun to party with unless you adhere to the party line. Sound familiar? Ultra-derechas, ultra-izquierdas, two sides of the same coin. They both scare me.

Carod being “Human like you” is something I entirely agree with. But why Carod’s smug mug on a poster, shaving? Is he human like his upper-crust, university-educated bedroom revolutionary supporters, grizzled and mustachioed? Aren’t you leaving out the rest of the humans? A large part of their constituency probably don't even have to shave! More appropriate would have been a snapshot of him taking a dump. Yeah, we’re all human, we all defecate, we all stink from time to time. It’s a fact of life. He wouldn’t win my vote, if I could vote, but he’d gain my sympathy.

By manipulating language the ICV, CiU, and the ERC are fooling absolutely no one besides their own fanatical militants. I’m not talking about people like my ERC-voting Catalan conversation partner, or my PSC-voting girlfriend, or my CiU-voting ex-bosses, who, in the end, are voting for their own self interests. Calling immigrants “the people that belong to the class of the immigrants” might appease sensitive types who want to fool themselves with faux-solidarity and euphemisms. But, no doubt, these are the same folks who get fired up when the American military behemoth proclaims death by “friendly fire” or “collateral damage”. Neither side is fooling anyone. What this does is further polarize people. Average Jordi is thinking “me están tratando como a un idiota”, or, “they’re treating me like an idiot”, and fuming with rage Average Jordi is even less disposed to commit to intelligent dialogue.