Conversation surrounding BP’s oil spill made a big fuss out of a little word.
In a taped interview with “Today Show” host Matt Lauer, President Obama said the word ‘ass’. He used a colloquial term for human anatomy, and that, almost as much as his message, made headline news.
When discussing BP’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico with Lauer, Obama stated, “I don’t sit around just talking to experts because this is a college seminar. We talk to these folks because they potentially have the best answers so I know whose ass to kick.”
For some, Obama’s ‘curse-word’ usage muddied his sentiment, and more than a few political talking heads and commentators disparaged his word choice during the speech. The nearly 12 minute interview in which the president discussed a whole range of topics surrounding the crisis was essentially deduced to that last phrase.
Throughout Obama’s presidency, he has often been criticized by many for presenting a somewhat detached and too-cool demeanor when addressing national issues.
Think U2’s Bono.
People have wanted him to show more emotion when discussing the oil spill, so it was strange that Obama was harshly judged for using a word that I’ve heard on the radio. Sometimes people get so caught up in the semantics or politics of discourse that they miss the significance of the idea.
Most, if not all, foul language alludes to or is a euphemism for a sexual act or a “dirty” body part/bodily function. For sake of space and journalism rules, I won’t write any words of the naughty words here.
Words are used as signifiers of ideas and beliefs. Social and cultural factors have ingrained a hierarchy of language and attached moral implications. Basically, ‘educated’ or ‘good’ people don’t curse or use non-grandmother-approved language.
As president of the United States, Obama embodies American values and acts as the face of the nation. I guess, for many, this means that he shouldn’t use any language considered dirty – even when it’s in regards to the devastation of wildlife habitats and fisher economies/communities. But the context of Obama’s words must be recognized.
Obama’s phrase was tactful, insomuch that it showed his anger without actually showing him angry. Speakers often use quasi-offensive word choices to express strong emotion. A strong word can disrupt the speaker-receiver communication line and make a point more uncomfortable and therefore noteworthy.
In the “Today Show” interview Obama also said that, “[CEO of BP Tony Hayward]’s going to say all the right things to me. I’m not interested in words. I’m interested in actions.” His message is of action, not discussion.
While other higher-authorities and corporate figurehead sit on theirs, hopefully, Obama will initiate action and figure out who he and we need to kick.