Descendents new LP – use of word ‘Spaz’ – update

Why we were considering ending Descendents petition

This post was going to be announcing that we were ending our petition calling for a boycott of the Descendents new LP ‘Hypercaffieum Spazzinate’.

At Stay Up Late it’s important to us that we ‘keep it punk’ and take risks. That’s what I did last week in challenging the title of the new album by veteran US punk band ‘Descendents’. We started this petition following an article we read in Real Gone Rocks. The article drew attention to the title of Descendents new LP and accompanying EP ‘Spazzhazard’, calling on fans to boycott it. (Read an update from Real Gone Rocks here).

Descendents

Anyone who knew of Heavy Load knows we were vocal campaigners against disability hate language, whether it was intentional or not. In this case I felt compelled to raise awareness of the potential harm using words like ‘Spaz’ to sell an album can have, but I had no idea what a nerve this petition would hit either. The abuse has been relentless, generally homophobic, xenophobic and using other derogatory words for people with disabilities. Some even went as far to say awful things about deceased members of my family and some even threatened physical assault.

They also tried to sabotage our website and Facebook page.

Was it worth it?

On the positive side all these enraged Descendents fans have driven up traffic to our website to proportions we have not seen the like of before. Who needs Google Adwords or Facebook Ads when it’s actually just free to enrage hordes of punks!?

On the downside I’m not sure so how far we’ve moved the argument forward against using words that perpetuate hate speech in the media. It just seemed to provoke some pretty hateful behaviour instead.

“It’s a cultural thing”

The overwhelming view of Descendents fans has been that ‘Spaz’ has an entirely different meaning in the US and that the context is about the band drinking too much coffee. There’s a couple of issues I have with this argument:

  • The band are distributing the record globally, using UK outlets (where the word is shocking) and so why didn’t anyone at Epitaph Records Europe say anything?
  • We started to get messages of support saying ‘spaz’ is actually harmful, it’s just been forgotten where it came from and people have become accustomed to its use without recognising the impact it may have on some people.

I’ve been an advocate for persons with disabilities in the US for over 25 years. Anyone here who doesn’t understand the word is either lying to themselves or somehow managed to escape ever attending grade school. (Bob)

Moving forward

I was also beginning to think that this was all too much hassle, and that its just not worth the abuse a couple of things happened:

  • I had a lovely email from Milo Aukerman, the lead singer of Descendents.
  • I had a lovely phone call of support from 38 Degrees (the petition website) saying they’d run similar, successful petitions, against two punk bands who were homophobic and misogynistic playing at festivals. I told them that I was considering taking down the petition but I’ve now found added resolve to create more awareness about this issue.

The ironic thing is the amount of abuse that’s been levelled at me, all from people who continue to maintain that words aren’t harmful!

As I said earlier, when I started writing this update it was going to announce that I’d taken the petition down as I just didn’t want to receive any more abuse. However, I’ve found new strength in continuing with our mission due to:

  • Descendents engaging in thoughtful and civilized dialogue about this issue.
  • 38Degrees encouragement for a worthwhile and important campaign.
  • The individuals who’ve contacted us to say thank you for saying something and taking a stand.
  • The angry and bigoted people abusing me and bringing out my inner punk!

What can you do?

The crowd defending the use of the word ‘Spaz’ are shouting the loudest at the moment. But we have 253 signatures on our petition now so I’m thinking we should see if we can get it up to 1000.

So please sign and share the petition and show your support on our Facebook Page.

Watch your language though people – names really do hurt people. And above all look after yourselves when you’re campaigning.

And thank you too to the other people who’ve also taken flack for taking a stand on this issue.

I’ll have another update soon looking at the lessons learned from this week where we’ll be turning the dials up to 11!

Further reading

Doing Social Justice: 10 Reasons to Give Up Ableist Language (Huffington Post)

Weird Al apologizes for offending with ‘spastic’ lyric in Word Crimes parody (National Post)

Spaz is an unacceptable term (Pixeldiva blog)

The s-word – Golfer Tiger Woods has been criticised for saying he played like ‘a spaz’. Can using the word ever be right? (BBC website)

A brief history of ‘spaz’ – Benjamin Zimmer, Language Log

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