I never set out to become the local apologist for Boys Behaving Badly in Hollywood, but that Bizarro World of upside-down priorities just keeps dishing out stuff that’s too good to pass up.         Last week, as our national leaders grappled with crucial conundrums like raising the minimum wage, controlling illegal immigration, and holding the jihad at bay, we concerned Americans turned our furrowed brows to Isaiah Washington, an actor from the hit TV show Grey’s Anatomy, who recently called somebody an ugly name.
        This wasn’t just any ugly name, mind you. Washington used the F word. (No, not that F word. Like anybody cares about that F word anymore!) He referred to his cast mate T.R. Knight as a faggot, which is apparently right up there with the N word on the list of things you can’t say in Hollywood without threat of losing your career. Washington reportedly used the epithet during a squabble on the set of his show a couple of months ago, eliciting a brief flurry of criticism, then did the unthinkable backstage at last week’s Golden Globes – used the word again during an interview about the original incident. That’s when all hell officially broke loose.
        First, let’s state the obvious: “faggot” is not a nice word. It’s extremely impolite to call someone a faggot. It wasn’t polite when Jimmy used to call Johnny “faggot” on the playground at my elementary school; nor was it polite, a few years later, when Johnny called Jimmy “faggot” on the high school football field. In the first instance, Jimmy’s punishment was to stay after school and write “I will not use bad words” on the blackboard 100 times. In the second instance, Coach made Johnny take an extra lap after practice. In both cases, Jimmy and Johnny got over it. After all, it was just a word.
        I don’t mean to belittle this late unpleasantness. I know that times have changed, that we are more sensitive today about language and its power to erode self esteem, stymie human understanding and foster social stereotypes. I also know that Jimmy and Johnny were not gay – I assume they weren’t, anyway – and that as a homosexual, T.R. Knight is more apt to be hurt by the term “faggot” than a couple of rowdy boys in 1970s Alabama for whom the word was just another random schoolyard insult. It was unkind of Washington to use that word against his cast mate. T.R. Knight deserved a big apology, which, by all accounts, he got.
        But – surprise, surprise! – it didn’t end there. I’m not sure whether to be appalled, or simply amused, by the uproarious overreaction that ensued – from the show’s network, from its fans, from the media, and even from Washington himself. In case you somehow missed this story, here’s how things have played out so far: An online petition was started by fans calling for Washington’s ouster from the show. (With fans like that, who needs detractors?) Thousands upon thousands signed it. ABC grew stern. The shows creator, Shonda Rhimes, issued  a grave statement saying that Washington’s use of “such a disturbing word” was a “shocking and dismaying event.” She is now working with ABC and Touchstone Television to address the issue “in a way that underscores the gravity of the situation while giving us all a foundation of healing.” For his part, Washington issued an elaborate apology, prostrated himself before leaders of the gay community, and then – you guessed it! – checked himself into rehab.
        Ah, rehab. That great contemporary bastion of public humility and atonement. Salem had its stocks, the Old West had its scaffold; we postmoderns have rehab. I can just hear Isaiah Washington now: If it worked for Mel Gibson (Apocolypto!) and Michael Richards (jury’s still out), it can work for me! I’ll show’em I really care! “Show” being the operative word, I suspect. I don’t know Mr. Washington, so I won’t presume to doubt his sincerity. It’s the whole rehab culture I find dubious. Washington is not an alcoholic or a drug user. He’s not a manic depressive, a schizophrenic, or a criminal. He’s just a married guy with three kids who happened to act like a jerk. Will rehab really “fix” him? Does he even need fixing?
        When did boorishness become a “syndrome,” something to be analyzed, treated, and cured?  Probably around the same time we decided that bigotry is an “illness,” something unnatural to the human condition that can be rooted out in a couple of weeks with some talk therapy, a little carrot juice, and a really good sauna. In reality, prejudice against The Other is as deep-rooted in human consciousness as love and hatred and everything in between. Most of us work against it, and many even conquer it – though I would argue there are always new prejudices to conquer, and some that don’t even merit conquering. (I am prejudiced against child molesters, and I’m not even trying to quit!) The idea that someone needs to enter a fancy rehabilitation facility because he acted like a schoolyard punk, and in doing so, revealed a prejudice shared by millions worldwide, is, quite simply, absurd. Isaiah Washington made a sincere apology. My respect for him would have grown ten-fold had he left it at that.
        Just once, I’d like to hear one of these ostracized entertainers stand up and say, “I’m sorry I was a jackass and I’ll try not do be one again, but that’s it. End of story. No going on Oprah. No meeting with GLAAD. And no, I repeat NO, rehab!” But as long as tolerance (albeit a selective variety) remains the key requirement for membership in the Hollywood Honchos club, boys will not be boys without facing major consequences. Entertainment Weekly writer Mark Harris expressed that sentiment in last week’s issue, refusing to accept Washington’s apology, and criticizing everyone at ABC who “was content to let the word faggot hang in the air all winter.” The columnist summed up the common wisdom in Hollywood with his condemnation of Washington, saying, “any actor who calls a colleague a faggot and manages not to get fired should count himself lucky.”
        Once again, one of our self-annointed defenders of unfettered expression shows his true colors.
 I find it fascinating that the entertainment community expects all of its denizens – and the rest of us – to uphold its sensibilities as sacrosanct while continuing its gleeful assault on those of the average American.  Foist upon the world a movie like Zoo, the “artistic” Sundance offering about men who love horses (literally), or Hounddog, which features a rape scene starring beloved child star Dakota Fanning, and you’re hailed as a brave auteur, a maverick visionary proudly poo-pooing society and its mundane niceties. But let slip the big, bad F word at work one day, and you’ve stepped over the line, buddy. Everyone’s shocked – shocked! – and your job hangs in the balance.
        Am I the only one who sees the irony here?
        When my sisters and I were little, we often got into spats, as young siblings will, chasing each other around the house and hurling names at each other. “Fatso” was the ultimate insult in our repertoire, and one we threw out with great regularity. The F Word of my childhood is as hurtful now as it was then, especially when used against someone who’s actually overweight. Science tells us that our weight, much like our sexual orientation, may be determined, in good measure, by our DNA – it’s just part of who we are, not a “choice” or something we bring on ourselves. And yet, I’ve not seen Hollywood showing much love to the chunky among us. Maybe they’re next on the list, now that the horse fetishists have had their tender tribute, but I doubt it. Obesity is too middle class… too all-American to merit such fierce, self-righteous compassion.
        Much like Isaiah Washington’s unfortunate, but all-too-human, behavior toward T.R. Knight.
    But come on, guys! Washington’s taken his extra lap. Can’t we just move on?  Back in the day, when I tattled on my sister for calling me Fatso, my mother sometimes slapped her on the wrist, but mostly she just went the ‘sticks and stones’ route and told me to get over it. Mom had more important things to tend to.
        Don’t we?