Weird Al's "Word Crimes" Video
Never mind, I give up.
You’re all going to love this video because it’s catchy, and well done, and charming in many so many ways. It’s frickin’ adorable, and I wish I could love it with you, but I can’t.
Go watch it, love it, share it with your friends, but—and I know I sound incredibly earnest here—think about the screwed up message.
Then he calls people morons.
Followed by a nice little lesson about it’s and its and acknowledgement that the Oxford comma is a style choice.
Then it’s back to the prescriptivism about not using letters as words:
BCRU, are words not letters …
You should never write words using numbers
Unless you’re 7
Or your name is Prince
I hate these word crimes.
This is why I don’t want to be Grammar Girl today; it makes me no fun. I can’t just laugh at the great Prince joke. Instead, my mind says, “But. But. Immediately after saying ‘never,’ he acknowledged the concept of register—that different things are acceptable in different situations—like using U for you and using numbers in words—but nobody’s going to get that part. They’re just going to join the rant about how much they hate it.”
Then he calls people dumb mouth breathers.
He heads back into safe territory with good advice about not using quotation marks for emphasis, the difference between doing good and doing well, and the concept that irony is not coincidence.
But just as I’m thinking “Maybe I could love this,” he heads back into negative territory, beating on how he wants to kill people who use literally to mean “figuratively,” and generally insulting people. This is where he completely loses me:
You write like a spastic.
I hate these word crimes.
Get out of the gene pool.
Try your best to not drool.
I could easily overlook the lack of subtlety in his grammar lessons. I don’t expect a music video to get into the details, but what I see is that he’s appealing to the base instincts that I’m tired to the bone of seeing: The call to feel superior and to put other people down for writing errors. Prescriptivism sells. Encouraging people to rant against the “morons who can’t spell” sells.
I posted a shorter version of this article on my site a few days ago, and a lot people commented that I’m missing the point: that it’s parody. They say he’s parodying grammar Nazis, but here’s why I don’t think so.
In an NPR interview with Tamara Keith, he said, "When I came up with the idea for 'Word Crimes,' I thought, ‘That's great because I'm always correcting people's grammar; it's kind of a big deal with me. In fact, I've done some funny videos for YouTube where I'm correcting road signs and making the grammar better on the highway and in the supermarket.’”
So although it’s true that he could still be parodying militant grammar correctors even if he is one himself, I have a hard time believing this is a parody in the same way that his next video is in which he’s making fun of conspiracy theorists.
The other difference is that I doubt the conspiracy theorists are are watching the video and thinking, “Yes, that’s exactly it! That’s how I feel!” but I’m seeing thousands of people saying that about the “Word Crimes” video. A huge segment of people aren’t viewing it as parody; they appear to be viewing it as their new grammar snob anthem. They’re identifying with feeling superior by calling other people stupid.
Perhaps the most troubling thing for me is seeing teachers who say they are going to use this in class because kids will find it funny and it will make them care about grammar. The entire ending of the video is putting down people who have trouble writing. The video says it’s OK to call people who can’t spell morons, droolers, spastics, and mouth breathers. Really, you’re going to use an educational tool that tells your struggling kids that they’re stupid? It just blows my mind that any teacher would think that’s OK.