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Is the term "Batshit Insane" offensive?
September 2, 2010 2:38 PM   Subscribe

Yesterday, this post about the Discovery hostage-taking was edited (with the poster's permission) by Matt. The main result of editing was to remove the term "batshit insane" and the batshitinsane tag. I have mixed feelings about this. Is the term so offensive (presumably, to sanity-challenged folks) as to be unusable? If so, should it even be allowed as a tag?

I have never used the tag myself but thought that I understood what other people were trying to convey when they used it. The debate in the cited post did go off the rails a bit on this subject, but that's not uncommon. By and large, Matt and the mods let things go on this site, rarely stepping in. This time (if I understood correctly) some mods found the language offensive. And some words would simply not be acceptable, but is this one of them?
posted by CCBC to Etiquette/Policy at 2:38 PM (42 comments total)

The way I understood it, cortex did the editing, and it wasn't just with the poster's permission, but at the poster's express request.
posted by Ouisch at 2:43 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


In my personal opinion, if someone takes a hostage/hostages, especially in an office building with a "bomb" strapped on them, they are either completely evil or batshit insane, so I don't have any problem with the usage/tag.
posted by 1000monkeys at 2:43 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


The term by itself isn't offensive [at least not on this site] the way words like "retard" are. That said, a post about a breaking news event where people are in serious danger that spends a lot of time being all "look at the crazy person, they are really crazy" is not a great way to frameit. There used to be more posts about crazy people that would turn into sort of point and laugh fests, but people started getting sick of them, as the site grew, and now we try to keep them to a minimum. So, it was really great that the OP of the post was okay with us taking some of the LOLCRAYZEE-sounding framing out of the post, since it was a sort of minor issue in a sort of big deal breaking news event post.

I mean, the guy having mental illness was certainly integral to the whole thing, but having a "wow this guy is batshit insane" spin to it sort of minimizes the "this is a serious problem and this guy has some serious problems" angle and could turn it into a "wow crazy people sure are crazy, hyuk hyuk" sort of thing.

I personally don't have an issue with it being used as a tag, and we didn't object to the word [people using it in a comment, totally fine] but as a sort of central and repeated part of the post, not so great. If the OP hadn't been OK with an edit, we would have left it up here.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:44 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Minor point, but for clarity's sake for anyone reviewing yesterday's thread, it was me doing the editing.

This time (if I understood correctly) some mods found the language offensive.

I can't speak for Jess or Matt; I didn't find the language personally offensive, but not a whole lot personally offends me. I did think, and discussed this with them to general agreement, that it was a poor way to frame the post because it put the focus not so much on the scary thing currently happening as on the sort of unnecessarily contentious characterization of Lee himself.

Beyond that, though, that framing (it was "utter batshit" or something like that in the main link, "batshit insane" later in the post) was bothering a lot of people, which ties back to more than just that post; the history of posts about mental illness or mentally ill people or the sites maintained thereby is a rocky one that we've come in the last few years to be a little less inclined to let fly in all their gawking glory, in no small part because of ongoing feedback from the mefi community on the subject.

So it's tricky stuff. We declined to delete the post despite a lot of negative feedback because we felt like letting it stand and trying to be transparent about our agreement with criticism of the framing was maybe the better move in this specific weird breaking-news context. The default outcome was going to be that and that alone; I was surprised to see mephron specifically offer/request an edit to the post, and that's not something we do with any frequency, but under the circumstances we decided that was a decent move given how much the original framing was bugging people and how many eyes were on the thread yesterday.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:45 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


From what I've seen, in general, the "batshit" modifier is usually only trotted out for the people who add a level of deliberate hurtfulness or extreme aggressiveness on top of their crazy. I can't recall ever seeing it used to describe the benignly mentally ill.
posted by Jacqueline at 2:46 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Although they don't often get deleted, tags like that are an underhanded method of editorializing a post.
posted by gman at 2:46 PM on September 2, 2010


What does the term even mean beyond "insane"? Insane and offensive? Insane and violent? Insane and it makes [me] feel like the world is out of control? I mean, is it opposed to a milder, better form of insanity?
posted by amtho at 2:47 PM on September 2, 2010


It's making light of the situation, and distracting from the potential from real harm - dangerous and Bat-shit-insane are different things. BSI takes instability to the level of being funny (though often with the discomfort of realizing the person is really unstable).
posted by filthy light thief at 2:47 PM on September 2, 2010


(I'm talking about in general, not site-specific.)
posted by Jacqueline at 2:47 PM on September 2, 2010


I mean, is it opposed to a milder, better form of insanity?

I think it's just a nonspecific and often somewhat jocular intensifier. So it doesn't mean "insane (in this specific way)" so much as "insane (and boy do I mean that)". At least, that's my general take. Part of the problem is that it's not some sort of clearly, carefully defined bit of jargon, and so different people may interpret it differently, in terms of scope and intensity and combativeness. Which goes in general I think for a lot of language used in casual discussion of mental health stuff (and any number of other things) when people are more jawing and shooting the shit than trying to have a like frank and careful discussion about the specifics.
posted by cortex (staff) at 2:52 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


"batshitinsane" "special snowflake" "hamburger"

Yeah...all you unique people...keep using the same language to dumb down complex topics. And yes, every single one of you is absolutely brilliant.
posted by hal_c_on at 2:56 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah I agree with cortex, the phrase to me doesn't mean any special sort of insanity [in fact I usually see it referring to things not people] but it does imply a sort of jeering taunting lulziness. So when you hear someone saying "Look at this batshit insane ______________" to me there's a "That's so crazy it's totally laughable" aspect to it.

And again, I don't find that offensive, but more like tasteless when talking about a specific current dangrous event [as opposed to, say, some dopey news of the weird sort of thing] concerning someone with an actual mental illness. And if what you want is for people to focus on what's actually happening, using tasteless phrasing to refer to someone who is mentally ill isn't the best way to do that.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 2:59 PM on September 2, 2010


As I saw it, the use of "batshit insane" was causing a minor derail, cortex mentioned that the post could have been better worded, and the OP gave him the go-ahead to edit it. That's all. No off-limits words or tags, no offense, just clean-up. I don't see a problem.
posted by rocket88 at 3:19 PM on September 2, 2010


Okay. Yeah, Matt, I'm clear that it was you that did the editing and that mephron requested it. And I agree with Jessamyn that the term does have a humorous twist. In fact, that is what it means to me: utter lunacy. So I thought mephron was correct in the first instance: Lee's manifesto was batshit. But I wasn't laughing at the hostage situation. Lee himself took all the lulz away when he pulled out that gun. Anyway, I'm still thinking about this entire matter.
posted by CCBC at 3:22 PM on September 2, 2010


Here's an Ask Metafilter thread about the etymology of "Batshit Insane".
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 3:24 PM on September 2, 2010


CCBC, Matt is mathowie. I'm Josh.
posted by cortex (staff) at 3:29 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


What does the term even mean beyond "insane"?

The word insane has been watered down so much that it is now used to refer to someone who is perhaps only mildly annoying ("That bagger was insane! He put bread in the same bag with milk!") or even something that is considered good ("the detail on that shirt is insane") so it stands to reason that a modifier evolved to intensify it and remind people that you're not talking about casual lunacy.
posted by Rhomboid at 3:46 PM on September 2, 2010


There's an innocence to BSI. It implies a silly eccentricity. Yesterday, Lee crossed over into not-funny, not-silly, but lethal insanity. No lulz to be had. It all got very real.

It was handled well.
posted by Trochanter at 3:49 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


IMHO: "Batshit Insane" is offensively stupid. I'm sorry if this hurts your feelings. It's not personal.
posted by Daddy-O at 3:50 PM on September 2, 2010


I am Josh!

(wait, this is where we're supposed to do the Spartacus parodies, isn't it)
posted by Green With You at 4:24 PM on September 2, 2010


Anyway, I don't think 'batshit insane' does anything except act as a framing device for a post. And it's never really in good taste to frame a post that way in my opinion. People can come to their own conclusions about whether someone is insane or batshit insane. No need to make that decision for them.
posted by Green With You at 4:32 PM on September 2, 2010


I think the face-to-face equivalent of the batshitinsane tag would be if you were relating this story to someone and you said, "Yeah, that guy is fucking CRAAAZEEE!" while rolling your eyes and twirling your finger in circles around your head. It gives the hearer a very different sense of how the speaker of that statement feels about the guy...in contrast to something like, "Yeah, that guy is seriously mentally ill." with a somber yet incredulous affect and no hand gestures. I see a 'batshitinsane' tag and I immediately know the poster's stance on the topic. It's one of the more subtle ways that editorializing can happen in FPPs and I don't find it a particularly useful metacommentary, as it sets the tone of the ensuing discussion in a contentious direction right out the gate.
posted by iamkimiam at 4:32 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Sorry, Josh. Obviously I'm not clear about anything.
posted by CCBC at 4:48 PM on September 2, 2010


There's an innocence to BSI. It implies a silly eccentricity. Yesterday, Lee crossed over into not-funny, not-silly, but lethal insanity. No lulz to be had. It all got very real.

and

I think the face-to-face equivalent of the batshitinsane tag would be if you were relating this story to someone and you said, "Yeah, that guy is fucking CRAAAZEEE!" while rolling your eyes and twirling your finger in circles around your head. It gives the hearer a very different sense of how the speaker of that statement feels about the guy...in contrast to something like, "Yeah, that guy is seriously mentally ill." with a somber yet incredulous affect and no hand gestures.


There you go. Exactly.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:23 PM on September 2, 2010


Sorry, Josh. Obviously I'm not clear about anything.

No sweat, just didn't want to be inadvertently masquerading as Mr. Haughey in your mind. And I imagine now that my initial "it was me doing the editing" clarification must have read fairly odd to you as well, as a result.
posted by cortex (staff) at 5:27 PM on September 2, 2010


Many, many bats work very hard every day to produce for you the finest-quality guano. Guano is great stuff if you're an organic gardener -- although you've got to let it cool a bit as fresh, it is very concentrated. Added to compost, it's quite helpful with maintaining a well-balanced soil, and I think guano is being maligned when equated with that James Jay Lee fellow, and you folks owe guano an apology.
posted by Devils Rancher at 5:42 PM on September 2, 2010 [2 favorites]


Lee was textbook insane.

Sarah Palin, on the other hand, is batshit insane.
posted by mr_crash_davis mark II: Jazz Odyssey at 5:56 PM on September 2, 2010 [5 favorites]


"Insane" is a legal term, honestly.

As someone who once needed psych meds, I have no problem with the term. I prefer the "bat crap" form, but that's just me.

But in this instance, with a serious hostage situation, I have no problem with the edit altho honestly I wouldn't have really cared either way.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 6:02 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


After reading the thread over, I think I should clarify my earlier statement: although I don't personally have a problem with the phrase or its usage, I completely understand why it was removed--as earlier comments have stated, it can be seen as editorializing and either way, its presence in the post started to derail the post itself so that people were/could have been more concerned with the word choice than the thread itself (not that my opinion really matters, it's Matt's/the mods' playground and I'm just happy to use the see-saw every now and then). But yeah, it didn't bother me in the slightest because I get where it was coming from.
posted by 1000monkeys at 6:53 PM on September 2, 2010


It's offensive to Chiropterapsychoscatologists.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:29 PM on September 2, 2010 [6 favorites]


Jazz Master Crash has summed up my feelings on this. FWIW, if Palin takes people hostage more literally and overtly than she's done so far, I will be leading the anti-batshit charge.
posted by Mister_A at 7:31 PM on September 2, 2010


I agree with Devils Rancher. "Batshit insane" is bat-ist.
posted by MexicanYenta at 8:18 PM on September 2, 2010


Shouldn't this post have the "batshitinsane" tag?
posted by swimming naked when the tide goes out at 10:08 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


Like most injokes, it's fairly harmless and pretty funny - until someone gets shot.
posted by klarck at 11:15 PM on September 2, 2010 [1 favorite]


1. It was editorializing. Give me information. Don't tell me how to feel about it.

2. It was trivializing a) the hostage situation b) mental illness.

3. It demonizes the person, rather than trying to understand them. I am not saying, "Let's all feel sympathy for the gunman." But only but understanding what goes wrong can we hope to avert it in the future.

There is already a stigma around mental illness, which prevents people from seeking treatment and others from recommending it. By stigmatizing mental illness, you're only encouraging further situations like this. So don't.

Sting had it precisely wrong when he said, "Men go crazy in congregations but they only get better one by one." When folks are marginalized, pushed off to the side, or otherwise isolate themselves from other individuals, it makes things worse. There is no one to call you on your bullshit, so you get entrenched in your thinking. We are each other's debuggers; we can call one another on the little errors introduced to our mental programming as it's continuously rewritten. But without any checks, the program in your brain just reinforces itself. Unfortunately, instead of treating people who show signs of mental illness like they're showing signs of the flu (hey man, you have a fever and chills, get to the doctor, get yourself checked out), it's dicey-er than that. You may get a "What, are you saying I'm crazy? I don't need a shrink!" thanks to that stigma. Calling something "batshit insane" may allow you to apply some distance to it, which lowers your own anxiety, but is that really what's best? Sometimes, you need to draw them closer.

We're all human. Yes, we're capable of great violence, but I like to think we're capable of greater mercy.
posted by Eideteker at 6:01 AM on September 3, 2010 [2 favorites]


Batshit insane is too cute a term for people that actually commit violent crimes. It didn't take a real danger seriously enough.
posted by I Foody at 10:55 AM on September 3, 2010


I've been away for several days, so I'm way late to post. I just wanted to point out that if "ass rape" isn't an ok bit of hyperbole for something that's really bad, "batshitinsane" isn't an okay hyperbole for someone acting outside the norm. Pretty much the same as "retard" and all those other fun ways of pointing out differences that people have no control over.

I say this as someone who works in disability-related civil rights.
posted by TomMelee at 12:22 PM on September 3, 2010


Thanks to

Here's an Ask Metafilter thread about the etymology of "Batshit Insane".
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 3:24 PM on September 2 [+] [!]


and

I could say "John went frogshit wild at the bar last Saturday," and be understood.
posted by headspace at 9:50 AM on March 21, 2006 [+] [!]


I just added the term "frogshit wild" to my vocabulary and intend to use it at every available opportunity until it catches on amongst my friends and family.

MetaFilter enriches my life in so many ways.
posted by Jacqueline at 3:01 PM on September 3, 2010


The phrase itself isn't totally offensive in every circumstance, but it does lead to video-game-like 'fucker is dead!' comments, as if a mentally ill person is just like scoring 100 in the game of who we can laugh at dying.

I have no idea what the differences are between us but it's really noticeable that the vast majority of 'burn in hell, fucker' comments when an ill person kills people come from US posters (not here that I've noticed, just in general). It is gratingly obvious that there's some cultural disconnect - a few years ago a man parked his car on a train line and the number of people cheering that he was dead was sickening. Same when women kill their children, it's just a really really noticable difference from 'oh how awful' to 'I'd have tortured her first'.

There's also a lot of US posters who will defend the mentally ill and try to explain mental illness in general, so it's not a national characteristic or anything. It's just that framing people as batshit insane will likely lead to those comments, which make me close the metafilter tab and go away for a few hours until I stop hating the internet.
posted by shinybaum at 5:28 PM on September 3, 2010


My questions were answered. Metafilter does not have a batshitinsane policy (thank you MeFi) and some people regard the term as very offensive. Okay. I am an old guy. I remember when "Negro" (replacing "colored people") was the term, then became unacceptable and was replaced by "black", but I was okay when it changed. I didn't much care for "African-American" though, but I'm Canadian, after all. I've seen other terms come and go in acceptance, not going to bore you with that1. I'm more interested in the terms that survive being spat upon, "handicapped" for instance. So I'm watching the BSI term and recalling (hey, comics fans) that "bugfuck crazy" was once the basis for a lawsuit.
1 "deaf and dumb", "retarded", etc. I'm waiting for "special" to hit the wall of non-acceptance (if it hasn't already).
posted by CCBC at 2:40 AM on September 4, 2010


"some people regard the term as very offensive."

Wow, did you not even read my reply? Because I promise I invested a lot of time and thought into it, just for you.

It's not about "some folks are sensitive" or "the word is offensive." This was a case of blatant editorializing. It's about context.
posted by Eideteker at 7:47 AM on September 4, 2010


Eideteker: For you it's about context, for some people it's about being offensive.
posted by CCBC at 1:09 PM on September 4, 2010


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