Saturday, June 30, 2007


Mick Terry is apparently the troubadour of the anti-illegal movement. He has written a number of songs on the issue, most of which strike me as funny, if unintentionally so. My favorite lyric is from this song in which he compares illegal aliens to stray dogs: "Invasion, castration, domination, who's in charge?'' Castration, ladies and gentlemen. Illegal aliens want to cut off America's dick! (or is that the balls? I've never wanted to know)

Anyway, Terry also has this song entitled ''A Reason We Call Them Illegals'' in which he never actually explains why they call them ''illegals''. It's a strange neologism and one that perhaps we shouldn't take too seriously- I do think that a lot of the ''anti-illegal movement'' amounts to theatrical acting out; however, the people who use the term want us to take it seriously and tend to see any other term as being somehow weak or dishonest. Sooooo....

It seems to me that I've broken some laws in my lifetime. Nothing serious, but I assume that I have violated the speed limit or some of the lesser drug laws before (I can't remember!). Anyway, I don't think that would be enough to call me an ''illegal'', or even a ''criminal''. Maybe I'm an ''occasional law breaker''. I don't think I'm a recidivist yet.

In order to be called a ''criminal'', you don't just have to break a law; I think you have to make something of a living at breaking laws. So, a pickpocket, drug dealer, or a prostitute would be a criminal. That is, the term designates an activity or even an occupation. I suppose this could apply to someone who crosses the border to work illegally, although it's perhaps a strange fit. However, unlike some liberals, I don't find it particularly offensive.

"Illegal alien" is actually better because it's a term that designates a citizenship status, which is what is in question here. It's probably a better term than ''undocumented worker'', which just sounds like someone made a mistake somewhere. However, I get the feeling that ''illegal alien'' is considered somehow weak and dishonest as well. In fact, I've actually heard people make the weird case that "we shouldn't be calling them 'illegal aliens' when what they are is 'illegals'!" I'm not entirely sure what that means.

''Illegal'' then isn't just an activity or a citizenship status; it's an ontological status- a mode of being. You are an illegal- that is, your being is defined as illegal. To push the definition further, you are existentially illegal! I think the reason this strikes people as a sufficiently ''strong'' term is that it pushes us close to exterminationist rhetoric without quite crossing that line. I can't imagine that anyone will start calling them ''inhuman'', but it's the next logical step, isn't it? And, of course, comparing human beings to stray dogs is really pushing the same envelope.

I don't actually think someone like Mick Terry wants to exterminate anyone, nor do I think the ''anti-illegal movement'' wants any such thing, or could even accomplish any such thing. I think, instead, that there's a certain frission in violating the taboo on racist or exterminationist rhetoric that these people get a kick out of. It supposedly shocks and upsets those of us who are ''too PC" to slap them on the back and buy them a beer. You say something that could offend somebody, someone gets offended, and then you self-righteously complain that they're too uptight, or that they're taking you too seriously. Not a lot of people in this country want to be taken very seriously anymore- it's too much responsibility. Again, this isn't political debate as much as it's play acting- the sort of emotional theatrics that characterizes most political discussion right now, and which is not that much different from a 70s ''encounter group''- just without any professional supervision. Again, it's the theatrical of politics.

I'm not offended. Having grown up on John Waters, South Park, and Cannibal Holocaust, it's pretty hard to offend me. I think I just get sad when I listen to these people because, if anything, they're another symptom of the end of any political conversation in this country. They have nothing to say and goddammit they're going to say it!

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