ish and masculinity

Charles M. Blow’s op-ed column in the NYT on Saturday (the 11th) begins:

Real Men and Pink Suits

This week, Roland Martin, a bombastic cultural and political commentator was suspended by CNN from his role as a political analyst on the network for Twitter messages published during the Super Bowl.

One message read: “If a dude at your Super Bowl party is hyped about David Beckham’s H&M underwear ad, smack the ish out of him! #superbowl.” Another read: “Who the hell was that New England Patriot they just showed in a head to toe pink suit? Oh, he needs a visit from #teamwhipdatass.”

The Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation said the messages advocated “violence against gay people” and asked CNN to fire Martin. CNN called the messages “regrettable and offensive” and suspended him “for the time being.” Martin issued an apology in which he said that he was just “joking about smacking someone.”

Two things here: ish as a euphemism for shit; and the contempt for gay men.

First, the Superbowl things that riled Roland Martin: David Beckham’s underwear ad (video here) and the “lucky pink suit” that the Patriots’ Brandon Spikes wore. Stills of them both:

(Beckham has been modeling underwear for some time; here’s a 2009 Armani ad.)

Ish. This was new to me, though it appears to have been around for a while, and examples of V the ish out of (for various Vs) are abundant: the V smack above, many of beat, and some of punk and rape (for some discussion of these usages with shit and other Ns, see here). Some examples:

Pacquiao ready to beat the ish out of Mosley ! (link) [about a boxing match]

Teddy Riley Beat The Ish Out of His Daughter With A Guitar (link) [Riley is a musician and record producer, his daughter is 18; commenters said that she must have disrespected him and differed as to whether that would justify his beating her]

i agree with the post above. your red bellies wont be happy with the exos. the exos will punk the ish out of them. (link) [this is about aquarium fish]

I’d wager to say pkfire would rape the ish out of ganon, and since ness has (IMO) the best spike in the game, ganon’s recovery would be significantly gimped. (link) [gaming context]

I hope they find these scumbags and they get placed in GP where maybe a big crazy rapist has the chance to rape the ish out of them. Damn what a sick world we live in where four guys would do something like this to another man. (link)

(I see that there are also a few instances of beat the tish out of.)

Masculinity. What riled Roland Martin in these two cases seems to have been that they presented threats to masculinity: Beckham’s displaying his body as an object of desire (for gay men as well as for women, though of course his underwear performances can also be seen as offering a model of hot masculinity for other straight men to identify with) and Spikes’s wearing a suit in “feminine” pink (I would have thought that Spikes could pretty much get away with wearing anything he wanted). So Martin thinks that these threats must be averted by punishing the source (in Spikes’s case), by whipping his ass, or by punishing men who appreciate potentially homoerotic display (in Beckham’s case), by smacking the shit out of them. Normative masaculinity must be enforced.

As usual in these cases, the enforcer veils the slur by claiming to be “just joking”; maybe Martin truly thought he was. But that shouldn’t let him off the hook, as Charles Blow went on to argue:

I don’t want to let this incident pass without using it as a “teachable moment” for us all about the dangerous way in which we define manhood and masculinity. At the very least, Martin’s comments are corrosive on this front.

I follow Martin on Twitter. I know that he likes to joke and tease. I have even joked with him. So I can believe that, in his mind, he may have thought that these were just harmless jokes in which the violence was fictional and funny.

But in the real world — where bullying and violence against gays and lesbians, or even those assumed to be so, is all too real — “jokes” like his hold no humor. There are too many bruised ribs and black eyes and buried bodies for the targets of this violence to just lighten up and laugh.

We all have to understand that effects can operate independent of intent, that subconscious biases can move counter to conscious egalitarianism, and that malice need not be present within the individual to fuel the maliciousness of the society at large.

Well said, though Blow will undoubtedly be charged with humorlessness (“taking things too seriously”), being “politically correct”, and attempting to “censor” other people’s opinions (by objecting to them). In Martin’s case, it seems likely that his joking is in fact an expression of his deeply felt beliefs. As Blow writes:

This is not to say that Martin has been egalitarian on this front. In fact, a widely cited 2006 post on his Web site suggests otherwise. In it, he criticized the Rev. Al Sharpton for appealing to black churches “to become more accepting and embracing of homosexuality.” Martin wrote that gays and lesbians “are engaged, in the eyes of the church, in sinful behavior.” Furthermore, he said, “My wife, an ordained Baptist minister for 20 years, has counseled many men and women to walk away from the gay lifestyle, and to live a chaste life.” And he compared homosexuals to adulterers, disobedient children, alcoholics and thieves.


And then Bill O’Reilly weighed in, on his Thursday show:

O’Reilly called Martin’s suspension “ironic” and thought that “karma may have caught up” with him. O’Reilly said that Martin has branded people, including Glenn Beck, Rush Limbaugh, and O’Reilly, as bigots. He added that Martin called Tea Party supporters “stupid,” and organized religion “desperately sexist.”

Wayne Besen of gay rights organization Truth Wins Out joined O’Reilly on the air. O’Reilly said that Martin claims his tweets were really about soccer and not about the LGBT community. “He’s saying he’s mocking soccer players, not gay people,” O’Reilly said of Martin.

Besen disagreed with O’Reilly, claiming the tweets were definitely about gay people. After a short back and forth about Martin’s intentions, O’Reilly said, “I couldn’t care less about Roland Martin. I don’t follow him. I don’t care what he says. I think he’s a moron.” (link)

So Martin has managed to diss organized religion (despite his wife’s ministry), conservative commentators, Tea Party supporters, soccer players, sexists, and gay people. An unusual array of dislikes, to be sure.

13 Responses to “ish and masculinity”

  1. mikehindley3 Says:

    I was surprised you didn’t comment on the interesting etymology os [i]ish[/i].

    I think it originated from rap music where swear words are often censored by reversing them (literally reversing the sound on the record) so “shit” comes out as something approximating “ihsh”.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      A perfectly reasonable proposal, and one I’d played with, but after three hours of writing up this posting, I let it go.

      The question is why you tax me for having failed to post about this — instead of just adding your comment. That would have been constructive and useful.

      • mikehindley3 Says:

        I didn’t mean to tax you, I was just adding some useful info. Yeesh.

      • arnold zwicky Says:

        To Mike Hindley’s reply: If you want to add some useful information, then just do that. My reaction was not to the content of your comment, but to its form, saying that I didn’t comment on the etymology (implicating that I should have) and expressing surprise at my failure to comment on it (reinforcing the implicature).

  2. Victor Says:

    Most likely, Martin’s reference was not the print ad, but the H&M superbowl ad. [Another link to the video: ]

    And with a bit more color:

    Nothing ish about Mannish Boy–certainly not in these three renditions:

    Kyle Busch and his pink suit

    I first thought some of the comments involved a “girly guy”, but I was wrong–they said, “some burly guy”.

    Cee Lo Green wearing a pink suit while singing F*** You on Later with Jools Holland

    William Shatner had a “song” version while wearing a pink-and-blue pinstripe shirt.

    A bit more pink:

    I suppose, one could argue that the two triptychs on the page below have a particular target audience, but the rest of the photos here have no such distinction:

    • Victor Says:

      Quick comment: I did not intend the videos to embed themselves, but, apparently, that was the default. On the other hand, the Jimi Hendrix and the two David Beckham videos did not get embedded.

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      Martin’s reference was certainly to the Superbowl video (and I included a link to it). I added the still only for those who didn’t care to experience the video.

      • Victor Steinbok Says:

        I hope all the pink suits were to your liking. Of course, we can also recall that pink was the “manly” (“boy”) color prior to WWII (and blues and greens were considered “girly”).

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  4. Postmasculine Says:

    I really enjoyed reading this piece. It’s amazing people can get so fired up about men being themselves. Isn’t that the most masculine/human thing you can do, to be yourself? I thought you might be interested in checking this article about masculinity out as well:

    • arnold zwicky Says:

      This is on the borderline between an interested response and commercial self-promotion, but I decided to let it through (I don’t look at most of the quarter-million comments I’ve axed.) If readers are uncomfortable with it, let me know.

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