The South's 'trash-talk' factor
NORFOLK, VA. — Living here, just a stone's throw from Virginia Beach, and watching the chaos ensue after Pat Robertson's call for the assassination of the Venezuelan president, I feel the need to set things straight.
Not to downplay the sanctity of foreign government officials and their dislike of being an announced target, but for pity sake, it's "Old Pat."
I know what panicked news-poor pundits cried, "He was a presidential candidate; therefore he must be taken seriously."
Of course people with their own television outlet who dance in the political arena should not be out there like the Queen of Hearts shouting "Off with their heads!"
The problem is it was taken just a little too seriously. Before we pump up an international incident that has foreign ambassadors sweating in front of the world press in indignation, we need to not so much "consider the source" as much as its location.
Pat Robertson's initials should be the first clue: P.R. The attention his comments receive is what gives him the credibility and license to make the next set of headline grabbers. He's famous for being famous.
More important is the nature of the comment. In the South they call it "talking trash" - in New York it would be called "venting." Native Southerners I know view the words as garbage to be taken out of our mental houses and deposited in the bin. They know that the speaker is just tossing out the first awful thing that pops into his head without regard for reaction.
Seems to me we are more in need of William Safire's forensics of speech than Wolf Blitzer's news autopsy.
"Talkin' trash" isn't excusable, or very nice, but here in the South people turn the other cheek. They ignore it instead of making it into a federal case. Maybe they agree, maybe they don't, but trust me - nobody in Virginia Beach is in lock-and-load mode over this. They're too involved in the East Coast Surf Championships and the BRAC Commission's decision on Naval Air Station Oceana to be pondering political assassinations.
While the media wrings their hands that people elsewhere may take him seriously and act, they should then rethink all the attention and credibility they themselves have bestowed upon a trash talker in the name of ratings.
"Trash talk" is why in the South you have comedians making a living from a good "Yo Mamma" joke and in L.A. and New York you have people getting shot over it. Same words. Different reaction.
Let's review some previous trash talk from Mr. PR:
Pat Robertson claimed an out-of-control liberal judiciary is the worst threat America has faced in 400 years - worse than Nazi Germany, Japan, and the Civil War. "Yes, I really believe that," he told George Stephanopoulos, "I think they are destroying the fabric that holds our nation together."
And lo, headlines ensued.
The foundation was laid for this week's global fiasco, which has only added fuel to the fire of dislike for Americans.
All because nobody told Stephanopoulos that Pat was just talkin' trash.
When judging these statements, the media need to react more like those living closer to the epicenter of the "incident."
We're a little less trigger happy down here.
A friend of mine, born and raised in the South, called in the midst of the hailstorm of controversy over Robertson.
It was on every station on the planet, and I could actually hear it on the radio playing in her office while we spoke.
Yet she was blissfully unaware that Mr. P.R. of Virginia Beach had done it again.
"Robertson's all over the news," I informed her.
"Again?" she asked, intrigued in the same way one greets the news that a squirrelly neighbor has once again tripped over the garden hose and landed, splayed, in the petunias.
"Yup." I said.
"He wants the US to assassinate the president of Venezuela," I told her.
"And people are upset," she said matter of factly. I heard the whipcrack of her chewing gum.
"Didn't anybody tell them it's Pat Robertson?" she asked. I could almost hear the rasp of her filing a nail.
"Well somebody oughta or they're just gonna get themselves worked up over nothing," she said.
"He's just talkin' trash."
• Lisa Suhay is a children's book author transplanted from New Jersey to Norfolk, Va.