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Joakim Noah, Odd Future, and the Politics of the Word "Faggot"

It's a weird week for the word "faggot," ain't it? The Chicago Bull's Joakim Noah just got fined a discounted $50,000 for addressing an unruly Heat fan as such during game three of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals in Miami on Sunday. Meanwhile, Goblin, the proper debut album of Tyler, the Creator, ringleader of the bubbling up hip-hop crew Odd Future, sits at number five on the Billboard charts. When Tyler isn't busy raping about fantasies involving raping women, he's calling just about everyone he can a faggot in his rhymes.

Yet, for the first time in polling history, Gallup has found that a majority of Americans now support the idea of letting two faggots (and dykes!) get legally married.


All of which has brought us to a point where a lot of people are (largely clumsily) discussing the word "faggot" and it's implications. Some people are even wondering whether the NBA should put such an emphasis on fining players for spouting the word.

Even as acceptance of homosexuals makes leaps and bounds among mainstream Americans, the word simply won't go away. For whatever reason, it's not quite as taboo as, say, "n*gger" or "sp*c."

Probably because "faggot" has become a general term of insult, one obviously with roots in inferring that the target of the insult is perhaps gay. Yet in some circles it is becoming somewhat divorced from its meaning as a gay insult. There's plenty of straight guys out there who freely hurl the word faggot at their friends when they piss them off, but probably don't go around addressing all actual homosexual men as faggot.

Joakim Noah caught yelling "Fuck you, Faggot" at a Heat fan.
Joakim Noah caught yelling "Fuck you, Faggot" at a Heat fan.

Joakim Noah, for example, doesn't seem to be a giant homophobe.

"Sometimes, when you're at this level you don't realize the consequences or how much a word can bother people," Noah told ESPN. "My mom's best friend was gay. We used to call him 'Mom.' So I'm disappointed because that's not me. I didn't mean any harm to anybody. I don't want anyone to feel disrespected by what I said, and I understand that's what's going to happen."

Though, the Bulls are trying to pass some of the blame on to the Heat fan who heckled Noah in the first place. And, yes, that guy was being an asshole, and no one probably would have shrugged if Noah called him an "asshole." But "faggot" and "asshole" aren't synonyms, even though sometimes they seem to be used interchangeably.

Tyler the Creator seems to have some Republican values about homosexuals.
Tyler the Creator seems to have some Republican values about homosexuals.

Meanwhile, we've got the explosion of this rap group Odd Future and their charismatic frontman Tyler, the Creator. As we mentioned, his album Goblin sold over 50,000 copies last week and debuted at number 5 on the charts. Yet, a good portions of the guy's lyrics have to do with rape and calling people faggot. Something that chillingly resonates with his young, mostly-male, mostly-white fan base.

Of course, Tyler has his own version of his mom's gay best friend "Mom." Odd Future's live DJ, Syd the Kyd, is a lesbian. Tyler says he doesn't really hate gays all that much in his interviews (while he raps in songs that "I hate gays.")

Music critics, much like ESPN announcers trying to make sense of Noah's slurs, have had a hard time dealing with this dissonance.

Hell, here at New Times one of our writers tried to explain away Tyler's lyrics by writing, "whether you like [Tyler's lyrics] or not, Odd Future is writing hip-hop's next chapter, so you should just embrace it, fucking prude." No disrespect to that writer (or at least no more than he showed to people who don't think calling people faggots or raping about rape is cool by calling them "fucking prudes") but that's just fucking stupid.

It's not really that hard to understand and controversy around use of the term as an insult shouldn't be shrugged off. It's an offensive word. When it's freely thrown around, even when it's not directed at gays, it reinforces the idea that not only is being gay is somehow lesser, but also that gays don't belong in whatever sphere it's being sprouted. And OK, sure, professional sports and hip-hop have never really been the stereotypical domain of the gays. Yet, Joakim's outburst comes just a few days after the president and CEO of the NBA's Phoenix Suns Rick Welts came out as gay to The New York Times.

The NBA is right to crack down on use of the word. It wants its gay employees, executives, and fans (and their money) to feel included and comfortable. And that, according to the latest gay marriage polls, is something the majority of Americans now support. As for Tyler, well his reign near the top of Billboard will be short lived. Remember, America's number one fag-hag, Lady Gaga, released her album this week. 

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