Saturday, June 26, 2010

Politically Not Incorrect

Can we have a moratorium on the use of the words "politically correct" when having a discussion?

Look, when Andrew Dice Clay (who? Exactly) started doing his anti-PC shtick back in the '80s, it meant something. There really were certain mass unspoken thoughts that needed to be vented that people were uncomfortable saying because of prevailing social pressures. There needed to be some sort of counterweight to that. (Just like there probably was a real liberal opposed to "liberal" holding the conveniently circular definition as "anything that doesn't support a conservative worldview" 1988. Don't get me started on that topic. We'll be here all day, and I'm planning to go hiking later)

These are now different times, and partly due to the influence of hundreds of media figures who've made their living taking Clay (who was a comedian, gang) to further and further outer extremes, the words "politically correct" (like the word "liberal") have become so toxic that it makes anybody who would dare defend the concept out to be a nutball.

And so I'm going to defend it right now. Look, anytime I hear someone go "this may be politically incorrect to say, but..." what I hear is "I am going to say something that normally would reveal me to be a bigoted asshole, but by invoking the words 'politically correct' I am going to put anyone who would might call me on it on the defensive by pre-emptively implying them to be thought-policing, rigid, humourless jerks."

I have zero -- zero -- respect for this. It just makes me roll my eyes. If you have a controversial opinion, if you think it's going to offend somebody, don't be a pussy. SAY it, have the courage of your convictions, and take your lumps like everybody else. Because here's the thing: the root of the whole anti-politically correct ethos isn't just about free speech. It's also saying people who get offended should just lighten up and take a joke. OK, that's a valid viewpoint as far as it goes, BUT at the same time, if you go there and then won't stand for the payback, you're just a bully. In playground terms, if you can't dish it out, don't take it. And the funny thing about people who like to sling the words "politically correct" around: they're usually people that have the power to throw these ideas out there, and then walk away without any accountability. Once again, I have zero -- zero -- respect for that.

But the original "politically correct" movement went too far, right? Sure, probably...but it's 25 years since Andrew Dice Clay, PC has gone from being a target deserving of the ridicule to a tired toothless whipping boy, and still folks invoke the phrase in an era where I hear people becoming more and more openly bigoted every day, and when called on it, often accuse the other people of being racist. To me it's like beating up on your sister when you're 33 because she stole a cookie when you were 12. When I hear folks talking about "politically correct" I hear people that want carte blanche to say whatever they please about anybody, but then go hide behind a rock when they're called on it. What a load of crap. In what way is that a dialogue? In what way is that constructive? How is that going to lead to any kind of understanding or solution? Oh yeah, that's right, that's not the point anymore...the point these days is just to complain and let everyone know we're unhappy...I forgot.

PC-bashers like to think of themselves as being on the cutting edge of free speech, even though this has become as vapid and mainstream as, I don't know, cable news. I like hearing ideas that are truly out of the box, myself. Here's one to consider: I once expressed my concerns about the oppressiveness of the politically correct movement (this was in about 1992, OK?) to a liberal friend of mine who said, "to me, 'politically correct' just means good manners."

I hadn't thought of it that way before, but the more I did, the more I thought she had a really good point. With the debatable exception of hate crimes, "politically correct" is not enforceable law. It's simply an idea that suggests that if a certain group of people is going to be offended by being called something, then we should respect that, or at least have to think about it. As individuals we have a choice whether to observe that or not -- e.g., I generally call black people black, not African American, because when I was a kid that's what we were taught and the new phrase is a bit unwieldy -- we're perfectly free in this country to express just about any idea we please.

Just as any kind of collective effort isn't the same as socialism, being asked to consider someone else's point of view isn't the same as oppression. It blows my mind that we've gotten to the point as a society where that distinction would need to be explained to anybody. Every social order makes a decision where to draw the line for what is and isn't considered acceptable, and clearly we have moved far, far away from political correctness, to the point where basic ideas about how we should respect and tolerate one another that were just common sense when I was a kid have nearly gone out the window.

We could use a little political correctness right now -- to the degree that it means we remember that the people we criticize are real human beings with real concerns and problems and most of all, feelings, and that maybe, just maybe, we should come to grips with that perspective before we open our yaps. That doesn't mean, say, that one shouldn't come out strongly against illegal immigration -- there's nothing racist about saying people have to respect the law. But if you start throwing around blanket statements about Mexicans being filthy and lazy, for example, you should damn well take your lumps for that. I saw a few people on a message board make this exact same assertion, and when an understandably outraged Latina woman responded, the same people all called her a "hater." I mean, wtf? Again, the first rule of the playground is that if you can't take it, don't dish it out. What deranged universe do we live in where this is considered OK?

Maybe this is the best way I can make my point:

I don't think it's politically correct to say so, but I think people who hide behind this two word phrase in making a point are bullying cowards who are afraid to stand behind and justify their own ideas in the face of real criticism.

But that's just my opinion. Which I now have to defend. And that's how it's supposed to work.


  1. Man, I wrote this whole long comment using my iPhone, and it got lost. ARGHHHH! Whatta pain.

    I refuse to BE PC and refuse to hide behind a label like that. If people don't like me, that's fine.

    This is why I don't do political posts....

    "Every social order makes a decision where to draw the line for what is and isn't considered acceptable." True. Where the problem lies is when that social order moves in a different direction over time, yet a particular person (say, my aunt who uses the "n" word,) sticks with old ways.

  2. OK, how's this for irony. I reposted this blog on a different site, and got the following comment (with my response added):

    "Hold the horses - you didn't just try to rewrite history with Andrew Dice Clay as some hero of political incorrectness did you? Ew. I saw that jackass in concert. I feared for my life in that crowd of essentially little boys having their childish views legitimized. He enjoyed inciting the worst in people. His marketing team sold him as the antidote for the PC movement but he was the real deal - a bigoted, sexist asshole. Trust me.

    And the people he attracted were some of the nastiest people I've ever met. The unfortunate thing is that this made me not want to read anything else you wrote here and you actually seem to be making some interesting points. It's like walking into a party with a rapist - hope you don't have a follow-up post whining about why women aren't contacting you or why you only get attention from bimbos. You can't, on the one hand, define PC as being about politeness and kindness, and on the other defend someone as disgusting as Clay. Does not compute. I can forgive this if all you ever saw of the man was his TV show or some cleaned up HBO special - like I said, his PR team sold him perfectly but I'd seriously reconsider using this guy as your prophet. "

    To which I responded:

    "Wow. In all your name calling, assumptions about my dating life, and fixating on one very minor rhetorical point in a blog (using Clay's point in history as a kick off point, which had nothing to do with my approval or disapproval of the specifics of what he said and did, just a broader point about where our society was in 1988 as opposed to now), did you realize that the entire blog was IN DEFENSE of political correctness? You basically said it yourself: you have a strong personal reaction to Clay, and the minute you saw his name, you didn't bother to read anything else I wrote, and instead just starting hurling a bunch of insults at me that have nothing to do with who I am, what I was really saying, or what I believe. In fact, you took the exact opposite point from what I wrote, because you couldn't open your mind past an understandable, but totally knee-jerk, reaction to one minor data point that really, really bugs you. I get it, I really do. But you're doing exactly what you so despise -- taking one data point and using it to make a cheap, personal shot that bears no resemblance to the actual perspective of the person you're criticizing. I was making the opposite point that you thought I was trying to make. And you, without realizing this, have done the exact same having such a knee-jerk, hostile, black and white reaction to a nuanced thought, you're reinforcing CLAY's view of political correctness. I have nothing to apologize for, because I can't be responsible for other peoples' projections, OK? Clay is not my hero nor prophet, I don't think of women as bimbos, and to say I was "defending" him is to stretch a point way beyond belief. All that exists in your head. It's not what I wrote. "

    What blows my mind about this exchange is that the commenter, in taking me to task in classic miss-the-forest-for-the-trees PC fashion for the Clay part of the blog, inadvertently almost single-handedly blew my entire point -- that it's time to cut political correctness some slack -- out of the water.

  3. lol. Clay was pretty bad; a one-joke comic. That was hardly the point of your post, and the comment was kind of nuts.

    Which is another reason I don't post politics. Most issues up for discussion these days raise all kinds of bile up from all sides, and comments get so out of hand. As you note, some people pick on an inane piece of info and beat it to death. Discussing it becomes a chore, and too many people hear what they want to hear. Been there; finished with that.

    What's funny about some PC things is this: if you're not in agreement with what's currently acceptable, and keep it to yourself, you might be surprised just how many others share that view with you.

    People are afraid to put themselves out there and risk it.

  4. That's exactly right, Nat.

    One thing that's interesting; I'm nominally liberal (though I would call myself a moderate, actually, but by 2010-imposed definitions as opposed to the ones I grew up with I'm definitely left of center), and I absolutely deplore far right wing media, as I have repeatedly said. And yet, the nastiest comments I have gotten when I've made posts calling out right wing extremism was from people that criticized me for not being liberal ENOUGH.

    It used to matter more what you truly believed and who you truly were than what team you were on. At least in theory.

  5. I love to listen to far left and right media, even if I disagree. They have lots in common, including the inability to see things another way. It's almost humorous. My favorite idiots are Olbermann and Beck, who, aside from the politics, are quite alike (in that they both seem to be highly impressed with themselves).

  6. Any information is good if it's not taken in isolation...that's my take on it.

  7. Without taking a stand either way, as I think that the whole issue has become so amorphous as to resist rational discussion, let me add this thought to discussing ideas in public:

    Go watch the first two seasons of All in the Family. Reflect upon the fact that this was prime time TV in 1970/71. Then ask yourself if this TV show would still be possible to show in this form in today's culture. Some things are no longer available for discussion topics for whatever reason today.

  8. I can dig that.
    So true about All in the Family. Archie beat Diceman to the punch.

  9. I think you make a great post, Jeff, and I agree with all of it. However, let me take it even one step further:

    Let's not forget that "All In The Family" came at a unique and pivotal time in our cultural history vis a vis race. It was only five years before that some southern affiliates would not carry the excellent "I Spy" because one of the lead actors was *gasp* black, and only two years before that Kirk and Uhura were not allowed to have an on-camera interracial kiss on an episode of STAR TREK. "All In The Family" literally broke new ground. It was the first time these issues had been, or could have been, addressed, and there really were no rules or boundaries. And I remember this show fondly because social change took place right before our very eyes, and as a very small child, I absorbed a lot of it. It did help shape my worldview.

    But it was a special time and a special place. There was a reaction, and a counterreaction, and peoples' views and the way the media portrayed these views got more and more complex. It may be that it got to the point that it was complex, the powers that be decided it was better to not go there. I could go on a long dissertation on how this plays out with the whole "liberal media" -- er, THEORY, but that's a can of worms I don't want to open.

    I had an acquaintance recently make a similar point -- one which I also agree with and have made myself -- that you could never make BLAZING SADDLES today, because it drops the N bomb about 9 zillion times among other things, despite the fact that I think it is one of the funniest and most brilliant movies ever made and, along with BULWORTH, one of the two most honest movies about race ever made my a mainstream (e.g. white) studio.

    That's fine, except my friend's point was to say that if it's stupidly PC to object to BLAZING SADDLES, it's also stupidly PC to object to public officials sending out racist jokes via e-mail, or some of the borderline racist or xenophobic comments on his own blog. And that's the exact reductive illogical bullshit that I find so maddening about the way people hold discussions these days -- as if context or intent didn't matter at all...or for that matter, whether something is really funny and thought-provoking, as opposed to just stupid. So I hear you, Jeff, and I agree with you, but some people take that very same argument and run with it very, very far. Which is to bring us back to the main point, that PC is another label that doesn't engender discussion, but prevents it, and that the trend in our culture has been to dumb things down to the point where nobody even knows how to have a rational discussion, just as you say.

    On a happier note, does anyone here watch BONES? I find this show very comforting in the way that is main protagonists so well represent the spectrum of pure faith vs. pure rationalism, and through the debates and conflicts on the show it shows that each have value, and when people transcend these differences through love and respect, the diversity makes for a stronger whole. And this is the whole point of tolerance...bringing together people with different talents and viewpoints, giving them common ground and a common goal to work toward, will generally produce better results than a polarized system where everybody competes and nobody shares information. Tolerance and diversity aren't just noble and utopian ideas -- they're the most efficient way to run a peaceful society.