There once was a time in this country when “political correctness” was something that only people on the Right complained about: “Why do the Redskins have to change their team’s name?”; “Wait, ‘colored’ is all of a sudden off limits?”; “So now we can’t say ‘midget’ anymore?”
No, you can’t. And you’d better not opt for “People McNuggets” either. . . .
(That, by the way, is a case in point: I seriously debated whether or not to include that line above because it is potentially offensive to little people (I think that’s what we’re supposed to call them now). But the thing is, it’s also funny. Come on, admit it. It got a snicker out of you at least, perhaps even a chortle.)
But the PC issue is no longer ruffling the feathers of conservatives only, but people on the left are now doing some eye-rolling of their own. Political talk show host Bill Maher is a perfect example: he is about as Left-wing as they come, and yet he is constantly lectured and tsk-tsked by his fellow liberals for his insistence that Islam is not a religion of peace, and that maybe kids shouldn’t be constantly told by parents and teachers that they’re special and that everything they do is wonderful and praiseworthy.
It has gotten so bad that comedian Jerry Seinfeld — hardly edgy or offensive — refuses to play college campuses anymore. In his mind the constant need to tip-toe around controversial topics for fear of hurting people’s feelings isn’t worth the hassle. Other comedians, like Sarah Silverman and Louis CK, don’t give a toss about political correctness at all (the latter uses terms like f*gg*t and n*gg*r with seeming impunity).
Here’s the thing. While we owe it to our fellow humans to define them by the labels they themselves prefer, there has to be some leeway here. Factors like intent and track-record should play a role. When you actually listen to Louis CK’s stand-up comedy, it is clear that he is a friend to the gay and black communities and would in no way put them down or malign them. When someone is on the record as an open-minded and compassionate advocate for the disenfranchised, he or she shouldn’t be judged by the same standards as Rush Limbaugh or Glenn Beck (whose track records show the exact opposite). Indeed, the inability to see the difference is to embrace precisely the nuance-free world that many fundamentalists on the Right inhabit.
Pot, meet kettle.
Furthermore, comedy should also be a mitigating factor. As people with senses of humor know, all good comics push the boundaries in what they do in order to subvert existing norms and make us think about things that are often left unquestioned and unexamined. If they weren’t allowed to be politically incorrect and occasionally offensive, they would be doing us a major disservice. Also, they’d be boring (which may be even worse than unfunny).
So when it comes to my own little contribution to subversive open-mindedness, my co-host and I will continue to talk the way we talk, even if that involves being occasionally indelicate or off-color. And if people can’t get past the style to the substance, then maybe they should stay out of the deep end and stick to safer, shallower waters.
So if I think hip hop- or Islamic culture is misogynistic, I’m going to say it. If I think a specific point can be made more powerfully (or funnily) by invoking an edgy phrase, I’m going to invoke it. If I think it’s OK to warn a woman against walking down the street in an unsafe neighborhood after dark (despite being labeled a victim-blamer if something bad happens), I’m going to do so. And when my own political or religious community is on the receiving end of biting sarcasm or stern rebuke, well, I’ma put on my big-boy pants and face whatever music I need to face.
Because that’s how we avoid stagnancy and actually grow.