You know things are bad when you confront the blurry image of Robert De Niro on the front page of Revolution Newspaper, that proud electronic banner of the Revolutionary Communist Party, U.S.A. It gets worse when you read the accompanying blurb – “Robert De Niro came on stage at the Tonys on Sunday night and said: “I’m going to say one thing: FUCK TRUMP.” He held up both fists through a prolonged cheer. After thunderous applause, a standing ovation, and lots of looks of thrilled shock… he added: “It’s no longer ‘down with trump’ it’s FUCK TRUMP.” Cheers to De Niro! We need much, much more of this. We need it in the culture—and we need it in the streets!” I mean Comrades, pull yourselvestogether.
First of all, to my knowledge “Fuck You…or him….or her…or Trump” is not a revolutionary slogan.” I mean can you just imagine Lenin standing before the Russian people, hand raised in the air, shouting “Fuck the Czar?” I mean show me once, just once where some great revolutionary proclaimed “Fuck Capitalism?” I am talking about the great ones now.Down with Capitalism, yes. Fuck Capitalism?It just doesn’t work. It is not a good revolutionary slogan. And the reason for this is three fold.
First of all, it is way overused. especially in New York where it is interjected in between every few words in a typical vernacular sentence. “X it, I am so X ing tired I just want to go the X to sleep and X ing not wake up until Xing tomorrow Xing morning.” In this case, it has long ago lost its shock value or its ability to impact the listener (save perhaps for Christian Communities scattered across the hinterlands of America.). It is nothing more than an interjection which gives rhythm to the speaker’s words. If you watch a New Yorker use the F word in this rhythmic way you can almost see them nod their heads ever so slightly to mark the rhythm.
Second of all, to put it in fancy dialectical terms, it stands as the negation of other, more colorful, effective and precise words. It is a sure sign of a slim vocabulary. For example, what would have happened if DiNiro had said “Overthrow” Trump? Much more powerful right; much more threatening? Let’s face it, if he had said THAT the FBI would have come knock, knock knocking on his door.
Suppose he had said, “impeach the narcissist?” Now that’s nice. Or, if he could not resist the impulse to name call, supposed he had said “Get the fat boy with the hair implants out the White House door.” ? Well, maybe not so good. But you get the point.
“Fuck You” is the thing one says when one can’t or doesn’t want to think of something better to say. It is the language of the lazy and the thoughtless. Even if one wants to be low life and vulgar, there are so many better phrases. My personal favorite, the one that dances around in my head as I sit looking across at Perovsky Park thinking about some grave assault on my ego or livelihood,is “I don’t give a rat’s ass.” Or, alternatively, I don’t give a rats ass about him, her, it, them…..fill in the pronouns.
Now think about it. Fist of all it ends with in a beautiful alliteration—-ratssssassss. Like so many words that end in double “ss” it conveys contempt, ridicule, scorn. It is a sound that evokes fear, forewarns harm and danger. It is the sound villains and vampires make; the sound a snake makes before it strikes, the sound of gas escaping, of air flowing from punctured lungs, of last breaths. The sound performs its function in ways that no F word ever could.
It is of course a far more creative vulgar idiom. The person who thought of this phrase really thought. I mean think of the most useless, unwanted, unneeded, undesireable, repulsive thing in the world and it has to be a rat’s ass. It is filthy, it smells (one would imagine), it is filled with bacteria, disease infested, dangerous to our health. To even touch it is to court some grave illness. Wow.
And so we say “I don’t (or any other of several modal verbs of our choice such as I couldn’t, I wouldn’t) give a rat’s ass. So much better I think than “I don’t give a fuck.” I mean there is always the possibility that you might “give a fuck” or even that one might “fuck” someone else. I mean there might just be a lot of people who would fuck Trump whether they wanted to or not. But there is absolutely no probability that one would go through the time, trouble and danger of “getting a rat’s ass to give to someone.” It is the sheer ridiculousness of the statement, the fact that it would never occur, that enhances its power.
Now just imagine the scene with Di Niro all over again. Imagine him standing on the same stage before the same adoring crowd of liberals. Imagine him raising his arms above his head an saying “We don’t give a rat’s ass for Trump.” Better right? Well as good as it gets when you’re not saying anything meaningful anyway.
Mary Metzger is a 72 year old retired teacher who has lived in Moscow for the past ten years. She studied Women’s Studies under Barbara Eherenreich and Deidre English at S.U.N.Y. Old Westerbury. She did her graduate work at New York University under Bertell Ollman where she studied Marx, Hegel and the Dialectic. She went on to teach at Kean University, Rutgers University, N.Y.U., and most recenly, at The Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology where she taught the Philosophy of Science. Her particular area of interest is the dialectic of nature, and she is currently working on a history of the dialectic. She is the mother of three, the gradmother of five, and the great grandmother of 2.