On “Pimp”

Obviously, MSNBC was right to suspend David Shuster for his comments about Chelsea Clinton. They were widely interpreted as sexist, and Shuster should have been more careful in his language.
But I have trouble believing that Shuster used the term “pimp” out of misogyny. As Shuster put it in his on-air apology, “I used a phrase — some slang about her efforts. I didn’t think that people would take it literally, but some people have.” That’s how I understand Shuster’s usage of the word when I first heard his quote – not as a conscious attempt to compare Chelsea to a prostitute, but as a use of the word’s colloquial sense.
“Pimp”, as a verb, has taken on a meaning in the vernacular separate from its literal one. As riffle says in the comments at Ezra Klein’s blog, it’s often used as a synonym for “promote”; see riffle’s example sentence, “he’s pimping his book on the talk shows”.
But Shuster’s usage seems closer to “pimp” as a synonym for “exploit”. For example, when I was in 8th grade, there was an anti-smoking group in our school handing out t-shirts in exchange for a pledge card saying we’d never try smoking. The group’s representative asked me and my friend Fin if we wanted to sign, and she responded, “No thanks, I don’t feel like pimping out my autonomy for a t-shirt”. That’s a perfectly non-sexist, casual usage of the term. It’s what it seems Shuster was aiming for.
This is probably a generational issue; I don’t suspect people the age of Hillary Clinton or Howard Wolfson use “pimp” in this manner. Indeed, I suspect if Wolfson hadn’t flipped his shit on a campaign conference call, this would have been just another Media Matters story: offensive to many, yes, but not worthy of the two news cycles it’s dominated so far. But the Clinton campaign isn’t like the Obama campaign. When Bill Clinton went out of his way to compare Obama’s win in South Carolina to Jesse Jackson’s, Obama responded graciously, interpreting it in the most flattering light possible. The Clinton campaign responded to Shuster by, as Greg Sargent put it, “going to war”. Of course the Clintons never play the “victim card”; no, they’d never do a thing like that.

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