THE SETTING: A Sales Manager’s Office
TIME OF DAY: 4:30 p.m.
SCENE: A brisk, wintry day in January. A mid-level Sales Manager is preparing to interview a man for an open sales position. He is tired. He hasn’t looked at this latest resume, no time. He is harried. He is cold…intermittent heat in his office all day. His assistant pages him to alert him that his next interview is in two minutes. Sales Manager is annoyed. This is his fourth interview of the day. The three previous candidates looked good on paper, but lacked that certain “something” needed in sales. He had no reason to believe this candidate would be any different. A storm is brewing outside and he’s concerned about getting out before all the roads get snowed in. He turns around and bangs on the floor-board radiator in the hopes it will jump-start. He rifles through the haphazard paperwork on his desk looking for this latest resume. He can’t find it. He runs his hand through his hair and straightens his tie just as a knock comes at his door. His assistant opens it slowly, peeks in, smiles at Sales Manager and ushers in No. 4.
ASSISTANT: Good Afternoon… Let me know if you need anything. (She smiles, nods her head at No. 4 and walks out shutting the door behind her).
SALES MANAGER (Genially holding out his hand although it is apparent through his fidgeting and sighing that he is tired and can’t wait for this interview to be over.): Hello. I’m Hugh Jass, it’s a pleasure to meet you.
NO. 4 (reaching to shake hands): Hello, Mr. Jass, also a pleasure. I’m Phil McCracken.
(The two men stare at each other for a moment. Without so much as a blink, they high-five and move directly into a complicated, syncopated hand-shake incorporating chest-bumps, clapping and an ass-slapping flourish at the end).
SALES MANAGER (pages his assistant, she comes into the office): Mr. McCracken, please follow my assistant, Jenna Talia, to Human Resources. You’re hired.
I don’t know. Call me crazy, but I have to believe that there really is a secret organization for the Phil’s and Hugh’s in the world. Let’s call it, oh…A.I.M. (The “Alliance for Inconvenient Monikers”). Haven’t we all met people who, upon being told their name, we think “Oh, DAMN! Shit…I’m sorry, man”. Haven’t we all met a Mike Hunt or a Ben Dover or a Sandy Beech or an Anita Bath? Don’t these people DESERVE such an alliance…an unwritten and unspoken brotherhood complete with a secret handshake – that binds all of those poor sons-of-bitches together in unity, helping each other along through life?
I don’t know about you but when I was thinking of names for my three sons, I not only thought about how their first and last names would sound together and if it would even remotely sound ridiculous, but I also determined what their initials would spell out. I really didn’t want them walking into a board-room some day with something like “ASS” or “DIC” or “TIT” monogrammed into their shirt cuffs.
As a parent the very first thing we do to either enable or hinder our child’s success upon their very birth is to give them…a name.
I think it’s entirely possible that George and Barbara might have really, REALLY liked the name “Harry”. But I don’t think I’m going out on a limb here in saying that there very likely wouldn’t have been a Bush-43in the White House had they saddled him with it. Can you imagine Jim Lehrer introducing Al Gore in the first debate, and then following that up with an introduction to “Harry Bush”? I don’t think even the Supreme Court would’ve handed him the election on a silver platter with that business going on.
In politics and news reporting there are some really “interesting” names:
- Reince Priebus – RNC Chair (Is he a car?)
- John Boehner – Speaker of the House (pronounced BAY-ner. Yeah, riigghhht).
- Rick Santorum (To be fair, it only became “odd” after someone disliked him enough to give his last name a “new meaning”. You can look it up on Wikipedia here.
- Wolf Blitzer – Journalist
- Stone Phillips – Journalist
- Saxby Chambliss – U.S. Senator, Georgia (sounds like a dessert wine)
Now, in case you don’t believe me and think that this is a frivolous post…check these out:
These examples are fairly extreme, of course. I’m sure that most parents think of the life-long consequences of their choices in naming their children and try to ensure them the best possible start in life. (Okay, maybe not Richard Swett’s…his parents CLEARLY hated him).
And let’s not forget the melting pot that is America and the varied ethnicities that comprise our society. Ethnocentric names can be befuddling to many people; their pronunciations are difficult and foreign-y and invariably the unintended translation or connotations that come attached to many of them can have…unintended consequences.
For most of us, we go through our lives with the names we’re given. Sure as an adult you have the option to legally change your name to something more palatable to yourself and society in general. However, once you’ve gotten to a point in your life where you’re able to make that decision…isn’t it a point of honor to keep that name? You’ve probably been teased, laughed at, bullied, shunned…and just maybe it’s helped you to become a better person. Tougher. Stronger. Proud in the face of scrutiny. All because of what someone else decided you’d be “called”.
How can you blame a person for something that was ostensibly given to them with love…without their consent…and bound to them through legality? Ah…but kids can be cruel.
But adults can be more cruel.
Oh…and adults can be stupid.
I am continually dumbfounded when I listen to conservative talk-radio (yes, I listen to it – shudder – because I believe if I’m going to disagree with something I should have a pretty thorough basis for that disagreement – though I’d prefer an axe-sharpened stick-in-the-eye), or watch Fox News (see previous parenthetical explanation but add an additional shudder) and I’m still hearing “Barack HUSSEIN Obama”, or the elimination of his first name altogether and being referred to as “B. HUSSEIN Obama”.
Barack. Hussein. Obama. Uh huh.
Why? Because in post-9/11 America, Barack Hussein Obama is the ethnic equivalent to Hugh Jass?
Yes, of course. But also…and this is where my analysis breaks-down to the level of a stoned teenage boy… because they’re TOOLS.
Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck, Ann Coulter, Sarah Palin, …just to name several, have referred to President Obama as “Barack HUSSEIN Obama” or “B. Hussein Obama” and/or endorsed the views of others who say or draw attention to his middle name – in order to imply it’s hidden meaning; i.e…..solidify it’s nefarious implications. It made me sick the first time I heard it bandied-about during the 2008 election and continues to do so to this day.
As we all know, and certainly now that the long-form birth certificate has been disclosed, “Hussein” was the middle name given to the President as a teeny-weeny-tiny newborn baby, by his parents. In the state of Hawaii. Where he was born.
While we’re focusing predominantly on “Hussein” here, don’t even get me started on “Barack”. The Far Right also goes-off on the fact that Obama used to refer to himself as “Barry” for a period in his younger days. Are you kidding me? Wouldn’t YOU?
YOUNG BARACK: Hey, man, nice to meet you. I’m Barack.
RANDOM AMERICAN PERSON: Ba…what?
YOUNG BARACK: Barack. Pronounced Bu-Rock.
RANDOM AMERICAN PERSON: How’s that spelled? Like “barracks”?
YOUNG BARACK: Ah, screw it. Just call me Barry.
And need I really go into the “Obama/Osama” train-wreck? I think we know where I’d go with that….
That Barack “Hussein” Obama has so joyfully and with gusto been inserted into the lexicon of Right-Wing pundits and politicians in such a casual way is a testament only to their disdain for the audience in which they cater to. These pundits know – know - that his middle name has not proven to be a declaration of Obama’s faith or proof of foreign loyalties; but they also know that their listening public wants to believe those things are true nonetheless. In our post-9/11 world these talking-heads have used fear of all things Muslim as a rallying cry to attempt the ushering in of sanctioned racial-profiling…and loathing of all things Muslim as a justification for that fear. Oh, they’d tell you differently. “What? What’s the problem? His middle name IS Hussein. It’s his name. Why can’t we say it?!”
Yes, well…the Far-Right certainly can. They can emphasize HUSSEIN; a name he was born with, a name he had no choice in choosing and could never erase from its original existence even if he wanted to. They can certainly do that. And they can certainly choose to believe that it’s relevant to their cause of de-legitimizing a President whom they already abhor for a thousand different perceived reasons from A (let’s start with Alinsky…) to Z (anti-Zionism). Yes they can.
But for most of us who watch Fox News only under duress (it’s the only T.V. in front of me at the gym) and/or to keep abreast of opposing viewpoints no matter how frequently repugnant…it’s like watching a sociological experiment gone horribly awry. To me these leaders of Right-Wing thought, who use their very public pulpits in order to foment hatred and distrust amongst so many millions of people with the simple utterance of one middle-name, well…they’re simply bottom-feeders dredging up the red-meat to shove into the mouths of their listeners.
They were most likely the bullies on the playground who relentlessly tormented and teased Hugh Jass and Phil McCracken til they cried, as opposed to simply acknowledging their unfortunate cross to bear and moving past it. Because highlighting what they know doesn’t really matter, while at the same time convincing other people that it DOES matter…creates fear. Which creates power. Saying “Hussein” even casually is all they have to do keep fear and suspicion ever-present in the minds of those who crave it.
The only thing that could possibly light a bigger, more superficial fire under the asses of the crazy Right-Wing in this country would be if “Barack Ramadan-A-Ding-Dong Obama” appeared on the long-form birth certificate.
There are many legitimate reasons to oppose this President if you are a Conservative. Hell, there are legitimate reasons to oppose some of what this President does in the eyes of a Liberal. So why continue to foist upon listeners and viewers such name-based fear-baiting and disdain for someone they are never going to like or vote for anyway?? Because they’re the playground bullies who grew up lucky enough to stand in front of a microphone? Because creating unwarranted, superficial fear in others gives them power? Because when they can make someone Arab-enough it makes them feel instantly superior? Because they’re tools?
I’m pretty sure the answer is: all of the above.
One thing is clear, in 2008 – despite the best efforts of these people – the country elected President Obama.
Now I’m not positive, but in one back-stage inauguration photo I’m pretty sure I can make-out Obama giving an ass-slapping-with-a-flourish to a guy in the shadows.
Too bad that guy remains nameless.