Voices

“Frothy mixture” definition hurts more than Santorum campaign

Republican presidential candidate Rick Santorum has become an object of ridicule in popular culture. Santorum’s statements—including ones describing how President John Kennedy’s 1960 speech on religious liberty made him want to “throw up” and claiming that Obama wanted to send more kids to college to make them liberals—raised eyebrows even inside Republican spheres.

The former Pennsylvania senator has been stumbling over phrasing for years. After a 2003 interview with the Associated Press, Rick Santorum was widely criticized as homophobic. “In every society, the definition of marriage has not ever to my knowledge included homosexuality,” Santorum said in the interview. “That’s not to pick on homosexuality. It’s not, you know, man on child, man on dog, or whatever the case may be. It is one thing. And when you destroy that you have a dramatic impact on the quality—”

At this point, Associated Press reporter Lara Jakes Jordan stopped Santorum, and famously said, “I’m sorry, I didn’t think I was going to talk about ‘man on dog’ with a United States senator, it’s sort of freaking me out.”

If nothing else, his remarks were inarticulate. Though, in Santorum’s defense, he has listed a lot of things which are not marriage. According to some of the Senator’s own statements, “man on dog,” napkins, and paper towels are similar in that they are all not marriage.

As if to punish the senator, sex columnist Dan Savage began a campaign to shame Rick Santorum by launching a Google bomb, a technique of tricking Google into listing certain links first in searches. Savage held a contest among his readers to determine what new definition should be given to the word “Santorum.” Once he picked one (“The frothy mixture of lube and fecal matter that is sometimes the by-product of anal sex”), Savage encouraged his supporters to link Santorum’s name to the new definition of the word. Formerly, the new definition of Santorum appeared at the top of Google searches; now, due to changes in Google’s search-rank algorithm, it appears closer to the bottom of the page.

It is often neglected in this discussion that the name Santorum is shared by many people who are completely innocent of any sort of homophobia. Savage’s neologism smears not only the former senator, but his parents, siblings, and children. In addition, children should be able to Google search a contender for President’s last name without unwittingly finding content that is entirely age-inappropriate. American schools encourage civic-mindedness among youth, but Savage and his supporters are too blinded by their hatred of the former Pennsylvania Senator to seriously consider the unintended consequences of disseminating such an obscene phrase.

In a larger sense, the Google bomb lowers national political dialogue, which only breeds resentment and discourages open communication of ideas. Liberals sneer at Savage’s redefinition of Santorum’s name; to them, it’s a fitting punishment for Santorum’s statements on homosexuality. Fundamentally, though, the act amounts to digital name-calling. In likening a man’s name to a byproduct of a sex act, Savage and his supporters merely demonstrate their opposition; they do nothing to change the opinions of those who might actually agree with Rick Santorum. The appeal of Santorum’s campaign is largely his earnestness among conservatives, but also among the general public. Democrats and Republicans should at least agree that Santorum’s orations on his sick daughter Isabella and on the plight of blue-collar workers are endearing. Savage’s attack on this man only tarnishes the gay rights movement in the minds of American voters.

In a country like the United States, government can change public policy, but it can’t change the way people think. For gay marriage to be legalized and for homophobia to disappear, the attitudes of the people who otherwise support Santorum’s statements need to change. And these people cannot be ignored by coast-dwellers. National opinion and the opinions of law makers don’t matter to homosexual youth; if their parents or their communities disapprove of them, they have no hope. Savage’s neologism only sets back this fight for hearts and minds, reemphasizing gay stereotypes.

Still, Santorum himself is hardly blameless in this controversy. Rather than provoking the ire of pro-gay activists by seemingly comparing gay marriage with “man on dog” marriage, he should have simply stopped speaking. In the original interview, the objectionable statement followed a criticism of the Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas (2003) decision that the Constitution contains a right to sexual privacy. Santorum’s point, before he got off track, was that if Americans have a right to consensual sexual acts, then they have the right to bigamy and to incest. Instead of saying that Kennedy’s speech made him physically ill, he could have emphasized the importance of faith in public life. Both the candidate’s bombast and the ensuing character assassination make for unproductive and harmful political discussions.


About Connor Jones
Connor Jones is the former editor-in-chief of the Georgetown Voice. Before that, he edited its blog, Vox Populi and the features section. He's a double major in mathematics and economics from Atlanta, Ga. He can be reached at cjones@georgetownvoice.com.

7 comments on ““Frothy mixture” definition hurts more than Santorum campaign
  1. Pingback: Vox Populi » This Week in the Voice: March 15, 2012

  2. I think this is a very sensible take on this. I was offended by Savage’s attack on Santorum, but really didn’t think much more of it than a typical, out of bounds political attack. But, actually, as you note, it really is. No one should be ashamed of their last name like that and, unfortunately, as Santorum’s name recognition grows, so will knowledge of the obscene connotation and the jokes related to it.

    It also struck me that Santorum’s name is “ethnic” that is, it’s an unusual Italian-American one which lends itself to more abuse than a name like “Paul” or even “Romney” which are typical Anglo-american ones. For instance, remember Bob Kerry’s suggestion that Santorum was “Latin for a#$hole”. That joke, in my mind, is funnier than Savage’s but similarly bad because it encourages literal name calling and abuses the “foreignness” of a person’s last name. Because the name is uncommon and unfamiliar, it’s easy to “re-define” it.

    Thanks for the thoughtful post,
    Patty

  3. Wendy on said:

    Well stated. It doesn’t matter on which side you fall politically, this is an irresponsible way to push one’s political beliefs and an inane distraction. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

  4. ethan davidson on said:

    Sorry, my father was an Ultra Orthodox American Jew who, back in the twenties, was named “Adolph.” When a certain man took over Germany, he changed his name and kept his original name a secret for the rest of his life. All I’m saying is: stuff hapnes, and the meanings of words, and names, change, and we have to roll with it.

  5. Foreigner on said:

    Santorum’s gay bashing statements smears not only the former senator, but his parents, siblings, and children. In addition, children should be able to Google search a contender for President’s last name without unwittingly finding content that is entirely degrading of human beings, as Santorum’s gay bashing statements are.

  6. Josh on said:

    Well, sorry for Mister Santorum. I also thought this whole attack on him was at the ‘nasty’ end of the spectrum, but I think the feeling of revulsion people feel when confronted by the new definition of ‘Santorum’ is matched by the feeling of revulsion most thinking people feel when Mister Santorum proposes invading women’s vaginas with an instrument and forcing them to ‘think’ about adoption when attempting to get a fully legal abortion.
    I understand he doesn’t believe in allowing women the choice. I understand that the women who agree with him do not want other women to have the choice THEY had, if it means they would choose differently.
    But, when, at this point, the right and their rabble have brought schoolyard name-calling to epidemic proportion, it is laughable to bring the left to task. Just look at any comments section. It could be an article about how cute puppies are, and within 5 minutes, we have 3 thousand comments saying Obama wants to kill all puppies to feed his secret Islamic army he has hiding in the whitehouse. But of course, he isn’t ‘Obama’ or ‘President Obama’ or even ‘The President’.
    Nope, he is referred to as any number of racist stereotypes (even depicted as a monkey and an african witch doctor in some republican fund raising emails) or literally 3rd grade mashups of his name, like : Odumbo, Nobama, Obammy, etc. Just ignorant.
    Where are the people who told the left “Well, like it or not, he IS your POTUS, and you should respect him of you are a traitor!!!! Rawr!!!”? Oh, they’re the ones trying to secede and throwing daily tantrums over whether Michelle Obama rolled her eyes, etc. Oh, and calling her ‘Moochelle’, I’m sorry is she fat? I’ve heard her referred to as fat, but I just don’t see it.
    First ladies typically choose a public health issue and campaign to help out, Like saying ‘no’ to drugs, ‘no’ to sex, etc. She tries to help our kids eat better food and be healthier and she gets attacked in such a truly vicious fashion, it shocked me, even though it s waht I come to expect.
    And let me be clear, on the right, it isnt JUST the ignorant masses they have cultivated as a base, or the rich that power it, or the mid levels that want a piece of that righty pie, no, it is ALSO the politicians themselves, every time they let some internet conspiracy presented as fact be held up in front of them without condemnation. On the left, we pretty much have a few wannabe shock comedians saying sme really nasty stuff, but it’s waht they do, and noone is surprised. they do it for ‘buzz’.

    • Brian on said:

      Both sides are wrong. The rabble on the right do not justify the rabble on the left.

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