Hypercaffium Spazzinate – a response from the band
An update on our Hypercaffium Spazzinate petition
Since launching the petition to ask Descendents to change the name of their new LP ‘Hypercaffium Spazzinate’ due to it containing the word ‘Spaz’ – a word seen as highly offensive to people with disabilities in the UK – we’ve had an absolute torrent of abuse from enraged fans of the band. Some of the politer messages have accused us of being ‘politically correct Fascists’ – and I’m not going to repeat some of the much nastier stuff.
So it was so lovely to receive this kind and thoughtful email from Milo Aukerman on behalf of The Descendents.
I’m going to publish a further update on where we are with all this too, and respond to the main accusations that have been hurled at us (one fan actually encouraged people to literally hurl stuff through our office window!)
The email from the band
We were not intending to offend with the title of our record, and regret that it was taken as offensive by you and your organization. As you stated in your letter, the word in question does not have the same meaning here in the states, and hence it never occurred to us that it had the potential to cause problems for anyone. In the title, we were referring to a supercharged caffeine molecule, which causes one to act even more energetic than usual (or “spazz out,” in the vernacular here). In this context we actually view the word as something positive, because especially for a punk band, being more energetic is a good thing!
As a band, we really are not of the mind to be insensitive towards illness of any kind. We understand the challenges faced by the disabled, and in the case of our drummer, have directly experienced them. Prior to undergoing brain surgery for a tumor in 2010, Bill suffered from frequent spasm-like events…I can guarantee you this was no laughing matter, and we did not refer to it with the word in question, because, as stated above, that word is not connected with any medical condition here in the US.
Acknowledging and understanding cultural diversity, especially when it comes to region-specific word choices, is always a challenge in this society. In this regard, we may have come up a little short – the title of our record was vetted by Google search, but this type of search failed to come up with any offensive connection…perhaps due to the word in question being embedded in a longer word describing a chemical.
However, understanding and tolerating cultural diversity is a two-way street. Tolerating diversity also means having a modicum of tolerance for the inadvertent “faux pas.” For example, if a British person were to come up to us and say, “fancy a fag?” we would know that he is referring to a cigarette (the British meaning) rather than saying something offensive about gays. The big question is what our response to the Englishman’s statement would be, especially with regards to the tolerance of cultural diversity. Our view is, different cultures have different words for things, and that’s entirely OK. People will stick their feet in their mouths; it’s to be expected given the different evolutions of language in different areas. Therefore, in response to said Brit offering a cigarette, we might point out that in America the word “fag” is offensive, and leave it at that.
It’s disappointing to us that people jumped down your throat about this, because you have every right to voice your objection to our album title. A simple “it’s different over here” would have sufficed as a response, and we’re very sorry that some respondents chose to lower the level of conversation to name-calling and worse.
Unfortunately, in this Twitter/FB universe, things can get blown out of proportion, and get downright nasty. People hide behind anonymity, and it becomes very challenging to truly have a civil, thoughtful discussion online about important subjects such as this one. Instead of heading down that muddy path, we invite you to meet with us to discuss things further face-to-face. The Descendents are in Blackpool for Rebellion Fest on August 3rd and 4th, and if our schedules can align, we’d love to sit down with a pint and have a chat about your important work, the world of punk rock, and life in general.
Please let us know if you will be available.
And my response
Thank you for taking the time to write and for your kind response too. I totally appreciate that there was no intention to cause offence with the title of your EP and LP and following all the feedback (some of it digestible – some instantly deletable!) I was beginning to see how there was a big cultural divide over the word. But then I started to get messages of support from advocates and parents in the US saying that ‘spaz’ has always been a harmful word for them but the problem is that its slipped so far in to common usage that people have forgotten where it originated from, describing people with involuntary muscle spasms – or spasticity.
I totally accept its a cultural faux pas and I’ve also had a lot of people draw comparisons to the word ‘fag’ – whilst we do indeed refer to cigarettes here as fags its always in that context. The word is also a hateful word for people who are gay and so less people tend to use it now because, thanks to the media, they understand the word can get misused. The key thing though is that I don’t imagine you’d get a British cigarette firm trying to sell cigarettes in the US calling them ‘fags’ and saying it’s ok because it has a different meaning entirely in the UK. (Plus the etymology of the word ‘fag’ is a lot more ambitious than ‘spaz’).
I think it may be difficult for some of your British audiences to hear you using the word ‘spas’ in whatever context it is meant and I know of two people attending Rebellion (a father and his disabled daughter) who will find it challenging. Her father (an original punk) was very vocal on social media and is very defensive about his daughter’s right to enjoy gigs and be part of things despite her profound and multiple disabilities.
I would really love to meet for a beer too – that’s really kind of you and there’s a chance I may be around on 3rd August. Let me know if that would work for you.
It would also be really helpful for me if I were able to quote your email in posting an update in order to placate some of the hordes of Descendents fans currently baying for my blood!
I also appreciate that my request to change the album title were never going to succeed but some sort of statement about the way forward from the band would be an amazing help
Whilst I totally get that this was a mistake it’s surprising that Epitaph Records didn’t spot the potential for the damage that could be done through their European distribution arm and we’d still love to get a comment from them on this, as they ought to be taking some responsibility.
The point I’m trying to make is that this isn’t about censorship, it’s not about calling on people to boycott a product which has the potential to cause people harm in their community. Not for one minute are we saying that the band ever intended this but the level of abuse, but messages calling me a ‘f**king Retard’ (a word that is offensive and damaging in both the USA and UK) from fans of the band have only gone on to highlight the power of words and the real damage they can go on to cause people who are marginalised in our communities.
Soon I’ll publish a post responding to the main criticisms and allegations that have been thrown at us.