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Shame on America

I struggled with the decision to write this blog, because I don’t want to add fuel to a fire started by puerile minds.

I understand completely that we Americans, free to speak and dissent in a land where lively debate is cherished, might agree to disagree about presidential candidate Rick Santorum’s fiscal and (especially) social conservatism. Fair enough. That said…let’s meet the players in this drama.

Does the name “Dan Savage” mean something to you? Not Michael Savage…Dan. Dan Savage is a sex advice columnist. Dan Savage is a happily married man, and the father of a child. He professes himself to be “culturally Catholic.” He also happens to be gay.

Rick Santorum

You’ve probably heard of Rick Santorum. Former Senator Rick Santorum opposes same-sex marriage. He always has, and always will. We all can disagree with his stance about that, or not. You and I have the power to become politically active. You and I have the power to vote, to run for office, or to support candidates who share our vision.

To express his displeasure with Santorum’s anti-gay marriage stance, Dan Savage urged his followers to launch a type of extraordinarily defamatory personal crusade against the former senator. Savage challenged his disciples to “memorialize the Santorum scandal [...] by attaching his name to a sex act that would make his big, white teeth fall out of his big, empty head.” The crusade began in 2003. In February 2011, Savage revived the campaign, urging his minions to make sure that the term—which can only be described as gross in the truest sense of the word—stayed on top of Google search pages for Santorum. In the meantime, cooler-than-you Jon Stewart slyly urged his watchers to Google Santorum’s name. Wink wink, nudge nudge, it’s all fun to the cool kids!

Where should free speech end? More pointedly, when does libel start? Guess what America: we need a gut check right now. We are spending thousands of taxpayer dollars (as we should) on anti-bullying initiatives. We decry online bullying waged via Facebook and other media, the type of vile stuff that causes unspeakable pain to its victims. Bullies are bad and bullying is wrong—right? Or is it only wrong if it happens to you or your kid? Or is it okay if a really hip kid like Dan Savage urges you to do it, because it’ll be fun?

If Dan Savage had hunted down Rick Santorum and challenged him to an on-air debate, or challenged him to step outside and duke it out, it would be understandable.

Dan Savage resorted to hiding behind his fans, and resorted to school yard name calling. Had he decked Santorum with a left hook and knocked the man out cold, any post-concussion syndrome would have (eventually) faded a bit. But no. Now, Santorum and his family can view Savage’s savagery ad infinitum online.

From the time I was mature enough to understand, my mother and father told me that I should be proud of my name. I bore the surname of my Italian ancestors, and the middle name of my Jewish ancestors. I was their legacy.

Dan Savage took Rick Santorum’s family name and asked people to dump on it. I wonder if there wouldn’t have been more of an uproar if Santorum were something other than Italian-American—is it okay to make fun certain ethnic last names, but not others? I wonder.

And I am sick for an America that delights in this kind of character assassination that masquerades as virtuous free speech. Shame on Dan Savage, Jon Stewart, and everybody else that laughs at the “joke.” It’s not funny. It’s a shame.

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About The Author: Andrea DeFusco-Sullivan is the Assistant Dean and Director of the Writing Program at The American College of History and Legal Studies.

{ 2 comments… add one }

  • dennis omalley February 29, 2012, 7:48 am

    It IS funny. I loffed and loffed when I first read it. Now everytime I hear about a “Santorum surge” I post a haz-mat warning on Facebook. That’s funny!

    I have a problem with anyone who runs for President by talking about how his own radical interpretation of Catholicism should be followed by all Americans. Freedom of religion means you get to live by your OWN beliefs, not the President’s.

  • Professor Andrea Defusco-Sullivan February 29, 2012, 7:57 am

    Hi Dennis,
    I applaud your engagement with this political election, and I agree with you–the President is not the Pope. Barack Obama is not my moral compass; neither was George W. Bush. However, I do not applaud defiling peoples’ names. It’s the 21st-century version of schoolyard bullying, complete with the scatalogical reference…the type of stuff Beavis and Butthead would find funny. I do appreciate your views and your reply.

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