Kathy: So, I did one of my specials called Kathy Griffen Does the Bible Belt in beautiful Knoxville Tennessee and umm so I was thrilled. Now the letter that was waiting for at the theater was this one and Bill Maher was also performing a week later so this guys freaking head was exploding. So, I am going to read this letter to you as written; I’m not going to correct anything.
Letter: I am very surprised, insulted and shock (she makes the sound adding an ed would make twice) finding out that Kathy Griffen and and Bill Maher are coming to Knoxville, especially to this first and historic place.
Kathy: Did you guys know that? Yeah, Knoxville was the first place on earth. Evolution – myth, Darwin, the big liar. Earth started ummm in Knoxville.
Letter: They can be comedian (pause for dramatic effect), but their political views and insults to Christians and other political parties.
Kathy: (pause) Are you registered?
Letter: And Christian
Kathy: wait for it
Letter: oriented families.
Kathy: I love the orientated, it gets me every time. You know he probably got all discombobulated and had to go to the library.
Letter: Christian orientated families with money and not money.
Kathy: Yeah, sometimes people have money and then they’re not money, it depends how people are orientated.
Letter: And booking them here are really a low blow.
Kathy: Okay, now he’s got me there. Considering the amount of gay guys that come to my shows, believe me there were low blows and high blows. Girl, everybody got blown that night, trust me, one way or another.
Letter: Also I will not step a foot in that theater and will prohibit my kids to attend.
Kathy: Well that’s a good call. A little too young for the pussy jokes. Am I right?
(Note: I used this form to differentiate from the times when Kathy was speaking and when she was reading the letter)
I don’t have a problem with someone answering their critics, but I have a problem with how Kathy chose to address her critic. She clearly understood what the letter writer was saying, but chose instead to use his improper usage of grammar to attack him. Faulty grammar can happen for many reasons, and they include but are not limited to: learning disabilities, medication, and a lack of education, which of course is most often class based.
There is a reason that every single professional piece has to be edited several times before publication, and to demand that a letter writer get it perfect, for the point to be taken seriously is highly problematic, because of the various reason faults may exist in the text. Even in books that are professionally published mistakes occur. As a reader, you have the choice to either skip over the mistake and keep going, or harp on it. Choosing to harp upon it says more about you as a person, than it does about the author of the text.
I think that people obsessed with proper grammar ignore the incredible amount of privilege that it takes to sit in judgement of the written word this way. I also believe that they possess a strong superiority complex. It’s easy to sneer, because we are taught to place ourselves above others, and specifically to never think about the way that isms may effect someone’s life.
The author’s attempt to silence Kathy and Bill, because he did not agree with their political position and felt that his religious views were in direct conflict to their speech, is an issue that Kathy should have addressed. She missed talking about the way that dissent is often stifled and that religious views are far too often used to oppress, rather than uplift. None of this would have meant that Kathy could not have had this conversation utilizing humor, but it does mean that the issues the author raised would have been the central concern, rather than his improper use of grammar.
If the point of language is to communicate a message with another party, then he achieved the intent of the letter. I also think that it is worth noting, that though we don’t know the race of the author of the letter, this kind of attack is often aimed at people of colour. Though their patterns of speech are clearly understood within the communities in which they reside, outside of said communities, they are ridiculed and speech that is grammatically incorrect, is used to question their intelligence. Patterns of speech are not markers of intelligence, what they are is a measure of what the speaker has learned through direct interaction with others, and what the education system that they attended normalized for them.
Both of my sons have a very large vocabulary for their age. This is a direct result of the fact that their father and I read to them and we have always spoken naturally to them, rather than doing the baby talk that is often aimed at children. They are continually encouraged to look up words that they don’t know and to add them to their vocabulary. When I was a child, I grew up with parents who were avid readers, and my father continues to possess a massive library. The more educated that a parent is, the larger the vocabulary of the child will be. This is a direct transfer of knowledge and resources, and not everyone has that privilege for a myriad of reasons.
Thanks to the internet, it is much easier to acquire knowledge than ever before, but certain basics still need to be directly taught. If you cannot read or are reading at a low grade level, what you can learn online will be greatly impacted. Learning also takes more than simple access; it takes time. If you are a poor person, all of the energy that you have goes into simply surviving and while you might recognize the importance of education, the time to actively pursue it may well be scant.
I did not see the letter personally and so I have no idea if there were markers that indicate learning disabilities like dyslexia but that is certainly a possibility for any of the author’s errors. If he did in fact have a disability, this would turn Kathy’s so-called defense, into an ableist tirade. Quite often learning disabilities are not recognized and students are assumed to lack intelligence or simply be lazy. Even when they are recognized, many view it as an excuse to take the easy way out, and refuse to accept that a student has a different style of learning, or that the student may need more time to complete tasks. Who gets properly diagnosed is also a matter of class and race.
There are far too many issues that intersect with each other to make it appropriate to shame and or ridicule someone for a grammatical mistake, and yet people actually express pride in being a so-called grammar Nazis. They claim not to understand and blame the speaker, or in this case the author, and if that were actually the case, it would make them, and not the author the one who has shown a lack of intelligence.
If I make an error in a piece, I always appreciate a discrete email pointing it out, because I would like my work to be as perfect as possible, but those who decide to tell me that what I wrote was impossible to understand and refuse to deal with the issues I wrote about, are always summarily deleted. This is what I would like to do with Kathy’s entire response. Kathy is a comedian and this means that her job is to make people laugh, and none of the potential reasons for imperfect grammar are a reason to laugh at. Because Kathy is also a White woman of class privilege and is a public person, great value will be attached to her speech and therefore, what she had to say will further entrench the idea that we have a right to ridicule in this fashion. In short, can we all just stop the grammar policing, it does not make you look as intelligent, as you think it does.