As we watched tonight’s episode, “Fall of a Legend,” I noticed a couple of amusing similarities to an episode of The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.. In “Brisco for the Defense,” our Harvard-educated pal introduced the people of that story’s community to the concept of fingerprints, which Bartok does here. Both shows also hold their trials in the town saloon, to save the expense of building a new set. Taking the budget issues even further on Legend, Robert Donner, in his final appearance as Chamberlain Brown, acts as both judge and prosecuting attorney, and explains that his medical testimony as town taxidermist will have to do because the real doc is miles away battling a flu outbreak. Three speaking parts for the price of one!
After the episode, we chatted a little about Legend, Bartok, and Ramos disguising themselves as traveling fortune tellers. They use the word “gypsy” at least twice in the dialogue and it’s also painted on the side of their wagon. That’s certainly a word that would have been used in the 1870s, and I’m not surprised that a program made in 1995 – you guys, that was a quarter of a century ago! – would use the word casually, even as they came up with a tamer-for-1995 word, “Mex,” for a bigot to use in place of several other, harsher words that a nasty creep in the 1870s might have actually said about a Spanish-speaking field worker.
I personally had no idea that many Romani people considered “gypsy” a crude pejorative term, if not an outright hostile insult, for several years after 1995, because I honestly knew so little about the Romani people. So we talked as a family about how we don’t need to use the term anymore; it comes with too much of a history of hate.
It takes a while for language to evolve and for people to quit using words. Elvis Costello, Bob Dylan, and Patti Smith all deployed “the N word” in well-known songs in the seventies, all in different contexts, but while two of the three still perform those songs in concerts, I doubt they’d use that word in a new song today. I’ve been known to sing along to “Oliver’s Army” or “Hurricane” but replace the word with “figure,” even when alone. “Gypsy” isn’t there yet. It’s not “the G word” yet. Changing the behavior of decades isn’t easy. Maybe catching these things at age eight will help.