I'm fascinated by the spread of words like "deny" and "hoax" in stories and headlines and tweets where they really have no place. Consider, for instance, this hilarious Media Matters headline:
The headline follows Martin O'Malley's bumbling effort to gain attention for himself by blaming the rise of ISIS not on radical Islam or even American intervention in the Middle East, but on climate change. Yes, yes: I'm well aware of the monomaniacal types* who have tried to blame climate change for instability in the Middle East because drought. This is so self-evidently silly and ahistorical that it the only proper response is to snicker and shake your head.
Then there's this Salon sub headline:
First off, which liberal white people who celebrate this (overrated) show deny that it is all about systemic racism and the power of systems to oppress? That's one of the main reasons why white liberals love the show. They get to strut and preen about how progressive they are without, you know, having to do anything about anything. Declaring one's love for The Wire and professing your appreciation for all the Very Important Lessons it imparted is de rigueur. This opinion—because it's an opinion—is not unanimous, of course, because art is open to interpretation. Some of Achter's students dare to disagree with him. So what are they, according to the professor? Wire-deniers.
The reason "deny" or "denial" or "deniers" is such a useful appellation to slap on people you disagree with is because of a phrase that entered the lexicon to describe an actually deranged point of view: Holocaust denial. Every time a variation on "deny" is used in such willy nilly fashion, the user is implicitly linking the target of your words to those who reject that the Holocaust happened.** Leave aside the damage this does to the ability to have a rational debate on the issues: that's just a gross misappropriation of a humanitarian tragedy to score cheap political points.
Along with the denials, we have the "hoaxes." That's the word that angry progressives have used most recently to describe the videos in which Planned Parenthood officials not only haggle over the price of dismembered-fetus organs but also talk about how they can better dismember fetuses so as to ensure that people purchasing the organs of those fetuses can use the fetuses they are purchasing more effectively. In one of these videos, an official jokes she "wants a Lamborghini" for selling dismembered-fetus organs. In another, an official sipping on wine over lunch talks about how some people want livers, some people want extremities. No biggie.
Now look: there are any number of reasonable debates to be had over this practice. Maybe the practice of selling dismembered-fetus organs actually saves lives! Maybe it is not only legal but also moral! Supporters of Planned Parenthood could try to convince us of these things. Instead, however, they say things like:
I'm fascinated by the use of the word "hoax" here. What, in Marcotte's opinion, was the nature of this "hoax"? Does she think that the Planned Parenthood official is an actress? Or that the organization that made these videos dubbed words into the video she didn't utter originally? A hoax is defined as a "humorous or malicious deception." These videos certainly aren't humorous (except in the responses they've provoked from those who are now forced to argue that there's nothing icky about dismembering fetuses in order to obtain usable organs to traffic). Are they malicious? I suppose they are intended to harm Planned Parenthood. Are they a "deception"? Well, no. The video is all right there. There are unedited versions to peruse. Camera, like ball, don't lie. Even if you were to say that the conclusions drawn by the text that accompanies the video is wrong—if you were to argue (probably correctly) that it is legal to sell dismembered-fetus organs—the video itself would still not be a "hoax." Misleading, maybe. But not a fabrication, as the word implies.
Note the alteration of "hoax" (in the url) to "crusade."
Even Teen Vogue is on it:
Like "deny," "hoax" is a trump word designed to shut down a debate before it starts. "Oh, you mean the hoax video? Why would I have a comment on something that is so obviously fraudulent?" It's a word that people who don't want to actually discussed dismembered-fetus organs use in order to avoid discussing dismembered-fetus organs.
And, frankly, it's a pretty useful one. Is there anyway we can describe Donald Trump's candidacy as a "hoax"? I'm ready to remove that joker from the public spotlight.
Or does my use of that trump word to attempt to end his campaign make me a Donald Denier?
*Seriously: an asteroid could be headed toward planet Earth and climate change alarmists would start shrieking about how we have managed to alter the gravitational pull of the planet and that's why this vengeance from above is coming to smite us. Remember: it's not a cult, it's not a cult, it's not a cult.
**Interestingly, "denier" is also a word that pops up frequently in the Koran to describe those who reject the teachings of the prophet. Again: it's not a cult, it's not a cult, it's not a cult.