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February 09, 2008

Somebody Kill Me Now

I'm back in the family womb for the weekend for a family ... occasion ... and we're sitting at dinner tonight. My relative is talking about the movie Juno, which I found entertaining but empty when I watched it, and came to loathe while thinking about shortly thereafter. (Some hints as to why here.)

So my relative is describing the movie and gets to the character of Juno herself and describes her as a wiseass and "politically incorrect." What? I dug in about that. What was "politically incorrect" about the character? Both her politics and her indie cred are flawless. He couldn't say or give me examples, just repeated that she's a wiseacre and makes funny comments.

Argh!

I've been picking up on this for a while now but I can't avoid the conclusion anymore. "Politically incorrect" is now a synonym for "smartass" or "irreverent!" Just kill me now!

It wouldn't be so bad if "politically incorrect" would just wholesale replace the word "irreverent," since the latter appears to be hard for some people to pronounce and those same people get so much joy out of declaring themselves the former.

But that's not what's happening here. What's happening is that people are still aware of the term's current denotation--referring to language and ideas that are, from the liberal point of view, politically regressive and potentially discriminatory--but have added strong connotations. Those are, of course, "irreverent," "smartass," and, wandering a little further afield, "cool." "Politically incorrect" is now spoken or written with an almost universal sense of delicious, naughty approval.

Or put another way, social justice activists never use the term at all.

So let's go back to the drawing board, shall we, children? Let's start with Frank Chin:

Political correctness" seems to be a too serious and fascist, demagogic way of saying "civil language". Of course, when civility is not our purpose, there are other languages and vocabularies available to us. With the need for a language of civility and doing business with strangers without betraying our secrets or slashing our wrists or starting a war in mind, I suggest PC stand for "pidgin contest".

Civil language and tolerant behavior can't be imposed from the top without exercising heavy police-state censorship and driving everyone with a discouraging word underground. But in the bustling, competitive, passionate marketplace atmosphere of a port city or corner store, civil language and tolerant behavior are invented, or you go broke, brah.

Yep, that's right, folks, "civil language." That's what people are referring to when they say "political correctness." I'll spell it out, though: if you replace "politically incorrect" with "speaking without civility," it becomes a lot less cool.

  • "Juno was a wonderful character because she was such a wiseass ... she really spoke without civility!"
  • "That Bill O'Reilly He's great! He speaks so uncivilly all the time!"
  • "You're just mad because I spoke to you rudely. But your stupid civility is fascist!"
  • "Don't you just find rude speech refreshing sometimes? I mean, I get so tired of being polite to strangers all the time!"

Yeah, I'm overplaying the point. Because, as we all know, political correctness isn't just about polite language. It's about giving over the power of naming to the people being named; the power of description to the ones being described. And that's a lot more profound than just being polite. What it means is that your public speech, to a certain extent, is buffeted by somebody else's winds of change--without your input or say so--and you're still responsible for keeping up with it. Why, that's ... that's ... undemocratic!

The term "politically incorrect" is the ultimate expression of privilege. I think everyone would find it obnoxious if a stranger, on being introduced to "John," insisted on calling him "Telly." But when a whole group of people prefer to be called "disabled" rather than "handicapped," this is somehow an imposition on the non-disabled speaker.

Considering oneself a victim of fascist political incorrectness because you can't call women "girls" or champion sportswomen "nappy-headed hos" or refer to spoken Chinese as "ching chong ching chong" or call South Asian journalists "Macaca" is nothing but the tantrum of someone whose speech has never been limited by those of lesser socioeconomic status before.

Boo-fuckin'-hoo to you. Grow the fuck up and start treating people with minimum respect. All your childish tantrums aside, it's not gonna stop, so get used to it.

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Comments

It's true what you say, about civility and PC, and all that. But I think that in addition, we don't have any more swear words. I mean, dammit doesn't bother anyone nowadays, so if you want to transgress and talk dirty, it's got to be a racial epithet. I'm not saying I do want to do that, but I think that's another reason why PC became conflated with irreverent. Some folks can't stand being denied a chance to be naughty, and they think it's cute. And the easiest way to be naughty is to make some bigoted remark. It's not cute though, and they think they're being cute.

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