July 12, 2006

On the nature of verbal agression

Katy says: The debate that raged in the comments section (see Quico's prior post and the discussion that followed) got me thinking about the power of words. The right words said in the right context, be they Chávez's, Quico's, Alek Boyd's or Materazzi's, can be a powerful tool. They can inspire fear, apprehension, ridicule. They can send people into a tizzy, or send them straight to the nearest airport or locker room. They can provoke a reasonable, inspired response, or they can provoke an act of violence tinged with just the right amount of honor.

But I'm not a good enough writer to talk about these things. Here's what tennis writer/blogger Peter Bodo had to say about Zidane's infamous head-butt. I think there's some truth in there for all of us.

"What Zidane did was undoubtedly stupid. It was silly. It may have cost France a most magically earned World Cup championship, and it cost Zidane himself a fair amount of the glow surrounding his name.

But I also think this: Zidane was driven to butt Italian Marco Materazzi out of a sense of personal honor (you certainly can’t say Zidane acted in the heat of the moment), because Materazzi crossed a line in the sand. And that notion of “honor” is almost entirely gone from our collective life these days.

Theoretically, we should be living in a time of civility and harmony, because we’ve managed to create powerful prohibitions against things like the good old-fashioned punch-in-the-nose. Actually, it appears that we’ve thrown open the floodgates on incivility, reckless accusation (and lying), the vilest kinds of name-calling, bigotry - the whole nine – because nobody is held accountable anymore. Therefore, a guy like Materazzi (I'm basing all this on admittedly unsatisfying press reports) feels he can say anything he wants - Zidane wouldn't dare hold him accountable. Not with millions watching! Not with all that money at stake! Not with the precious World Cup trophy on the line!

But every once in a while, somebody – today, it’s Zidane - violates the taboo. He or she in effect, says, I don’t care what is on the line, how much money or personal advantage or reward. I am not going to have the last laugh, or laugh all the way to the bank. My code of honor simply won’t allow me to let this go unanswered. It takes an individual of great (if not necessarily admirable) character to take that road, and wasn’t Mr. Materazzi surprised to learn, in the most direct manner, that he was being held accountable for his words?

I don't expect many of you to agree with me on this. But I can't deny the way I feel about this. Of course, a part of me feels badly for the French squad, which inadvertently suffered because of what Zidane felt he had to do. But a part of me condones what Zidane did and forgives him because, in addition to striking a blow for accountability, his action also demonstrated something that many people forget and that as a writer I feel strongly about: words are powerful weapons, they can cause more hurt and sorrow than fists or belts or willow switches.


The head butt was about the power of words, the notion of accountability, and about honor. It was not an admirable move, nor a clever or practical one; it was something that transcended those mundane considerations."