There is a phrase often used that on the surface appears that someone is making a profound point, but when you scratch the surface just a little it is amazing how inane and fatuous the phrase is. The phrase “they are just words” is often seen used in the defense of song lyrics and other artistic expression using the written word. I think it is used to somehow trivialize another person argument for or against the use of certain types of language or the meaning the language conveys. However, when you think a couple of levels deeper about what “they are just words” means you are amazed at the unintelligence of the comment and you are left with only one reply “Are you kidding me?”
I recently noted the use of this phrase it in a comment on an opinion piece my niece posted on Facebook from the Daily Californian titled Blurred Lines of Empowerment, a commentary of Robin Thicke’s new song Blurred Lines. If you have not read the lyrics you should, especially if you are like me and don’t pay attention to pop song lyrics that much. Apparently, the lyrics are only part of the story as the video illustrates much more of Thicke’s meaning, and yes, there is an uncensored version of the video, which any kid in the world can access.
There are many good points made in the article and when you read the comments below some agreed with them and some did not. However, it was that one comment that caught my eye and it began with the insidious phrase: “They are just words”.
To make a comment like that is to ignore the power of words beginning with the song under scrutiny. Based on the popularity and controversy of the song lyrics, we can begin by asking how much exposure and money is Robin Thicke going to generate off of it? I venture to say he’s going to do quite well in both respects and probably make more money of this one song than most of us would make in 10,20 or 30 years of working at less sexy jobs. And in order to garner the attention the song and video are getting and make as much money as he is expected to make off the words to the song, the words of the song are obviously having an impact on many people out there.
We also know that songs don’t just show up on the radio and videos don’t show just show up on the TV or on the Internet without some sort of marketing, or the use of words to persuade other people that they need to do something. And this didn’t happen without first having some executive or some group of executives in the music industry use words to decide whether or not this song should be played on the radio. And Robin Thicke does not make the song period without having a contract in place. Contracts being legal documents that use a lot of words, many of them are arcane and some in fine print, to spell out the terms by which each party agrees to abide by.
The three groups identified in previous paragraph: the music industry, the advertising industry, and lawyers make a lot money based on their ability to influence a lot of people by using “just words.”
Words and their Influence on Society
As it most basic level, we cannot describe the world around us without words and most action in this world does not take place without thought and emotion being conveyed to other people using words. Poems, songs, newspapers, magazines, blogs, books, textbooks, speeches, movies are non-existent without words. Your Mom and Dad don’t get together, unless someone uses words to woo the other. While it may seem like they don’t use words to live together now, believe me at some point in time a lot of words were used, mostly likely by your father, to bring your parents together.
Family health can also be measured by “just words”. Love among family members, especially parents to their children, cannot be properly conveyed without once in a while telling family members with words that you love them. People oftentimes don’t know you love them, unless they hear the words “I love you”. Families are also broken through hurtful words. Profanity, mean-spirited joking or belittlement break the hearts of and damages the self-esteem of many family members. Making many people feel abused, alienated and lonely.
Our communities are governed by laws which are the use of words by lawmakers or politicians to describe what people and institutions can and can’t do in that community. Not only are there laws to govern are communities, but there are regulations that use a ton of bureaucratic words to describe how these laws are going to be enacted. Politicians themselves use many vague and euphemestic terms every two to four years in the United States to persuade other people to allow them to enact laws on their behalf.
Words and the World We Live In
Probably the most important, influential documents in the world use words. The Bible, the Koran, the Upanishads, the Declaration of Independence, the U.S Constitution, the Communist Manifesto, the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Book of Mormon, and the Humanist Manifesto are all examples of incredibly influential books and documents that use “just words” and have had an immeasurable effect on individuals and nations.
Words are so influential that some lawmakers in some parts of the world deem them dangerous and will go to great lengths to suppress the use of certain types of words, going so far as to imprison, harass, torture, and even murder others, their families and their associates for words that they use contrary to the preferred language of a tyrant or a dictator. The United States and its embassies are currently taking great precautions because of the use of words intercepted by their intelligence agencies.
Needless to say, nations, war, peace, religion, materialism, commerce, consumerism, all political ideologies, education, laws and regulations, marriages, families, divorces, child-birth, adoptions, medicine and science, sport and entertainment rely heavily on words for their success or failures.
Words and the Individual Argument
But most important of all, the individual, like a plant put in a dark closet, would have a hard time growing and knowing itself without the use of words, without the freedom of expression. Individual freedom at its most basic can be described as the freedom to think and to express these thoughts or beliefs using words in the private and public spheres.
Without this freedom to express ourselves and our beliefs, we cannot learn about ourselves and the world around us. The human spirit longs to express itself with “just words” in order to find peace, love, truth, and happiness. This is why the phrase “they are just words” is such a substantially vapid beginning line to any argument and you should never pass up an opportunity to ask the person to explain themselves, using words only.