PC World

A few years ago, I saw a comment to the effect that the term “politically correct” had come to be too vague, and to encompass so many different things that it’s unclear what someone is actually talking about when they use the term. I had thought the term had fallen out of favor, but I still come across it from time to time. I would say that the term often refers to two related but quite different ideas. One is politeness, and the idea that we should use words that cause the least offense possible. The other is actual censorship, which I suppose can be seen as forced politeness. It should come as no surprise that I’m opposed to censorship, and find the fact that it’s still commonly proposed by the Sarah Palins of the world to be very frightening. That said, however, I also think people are prone to apply the word “censorship” incorrectly. For instance, the much ballyhooed edition of Huckleberry Finn that leaves out the word “nigger” isn’t censorship per se, as publishing this version doesn’t do away with earlier ones with the racial slurs intact. I do think it could be a problem if schools try to teach that the new edition is the book as Mark Twain originally wrote it, but that’s a potential problem, not one I think has actually come up as of yet. Anyway, I think confusing the two different ideas involved in political correctness can lead to some absurd conclusions. While I know Christmas is over and you probably don’t want to think about it again for another several months, I’d say the War on Christmas devised by the right-wing media is a good example. With some rare exceptions (which Bill O’Reilly somehow always manages to find; I think he has a Jingle Bell Alarm or something, or else he’s just making stuff up), I don’t think anyone is FORCING people to say “Happy Holidays” instead of “Merry Christmas.” They’re just advising people that not everyone celebrates Christmas, and something more inclusive could be the polite way to go. But by lumping this under the umbrella of political correctness, O’Reilly and his ilk can make it seem like everyone not constantly using the word “Christmas” is part of a vast left-wing conspiracy to do away with the baby Jesus, and you’re somehow fighting the power by using the more exclusive greeting.

The other problem with the term “politically correct” is…well, what the hell does it have to do with politics? I suppose the traditional meaning was that it was the kind of language politicians would use in order to avoid causing offense to their constituents, but how many politicians do you see these days making an effort to avoid causing offense? Some do, sure, but hardly a day goes by without there being news of some major language gaffe made by a politician. So why still hang out to the “political” part when it’s not particularly relevant? I think it has to do with the term primarily being used as a perjorative these days (as opposed to its historical usage as cautionary self-satire by the left wing), and since politics are generally considered to be a bad thing, this keeps the idea sounding ugly.

I am not, mind you, saying that there isn’t still a good amount of material to debate in the political correctness arena. For instance, are terms like “people of color” and “little people,” which are favored by those not wanting to cause offense, actually MORE offensive? I think you could make a case for that, but as someone who isn’t a member of either group, my opinion probably isn’t that valuable in this situation. I’ve also heard that some Native Americans prefer to be called Indians, despite the fact that the PC term is the technically accurate one. But if the issue is misplaced politeness, then why not just take this issue on its own, without throwing “politically correct” into the mix?

This entry was posted in Christmas, Fox News, Holidays, Language, Politics, Television and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to PC World

  1. vilajunkie says:

    Although I’m still not sure if it’s always the best idea, because I think kids can handle intellectual stuff a lot better than adults think, it might be best if younger kids were taught the “safe” versions of certain stories (like Huck Finn, and Tom Sawyer while you’re at it with “Injun Joe”) and built up their maturity level to hear the “true” versions. We do it already with Greco-Roman myths, where college students who take a Mythology/World Religion class are really the only ones who learn the “true” versions of said myths. And we also do it with scientific and mathematical and linguistic facts, as we hear “The vowels are A, E, I, O, and U” first, then “..and sometimes Y”, and if the teacher is really truthful, “…and also sometimes W”. Or how “You can’t subtract larger numbers from smaller numbers”, AKA find negative integers as the solution, then “You can’t find the square root of negative numbers”, then “So there’s this number called i…” And really only the highest-level maths discuss bases other than 10, or that, yes, you can find a way to make 2+2=5.

    Anyway, back to political (over) correctness, I do hear people in daily life say, “Don’t say ‘Merry Christmas’! Didn’t you know it’s ‘Happy Holidays’ now? Those silly liberal wingnuts. *wink wink” I’m sure it’s intended to be a harmless joke, but as with how it’s “cool” now to make racist jokes and then say “…But I’m not racist!”, I think the sarcasm disguised as implied intent to be PC is just covering up the fact that whomever’s saying it really does believe in the -ism but is afraid to admit it. Besides, I think after so many decades of hearing “Merry Christmas!” over and over, average non-Christians filter it out and just hear the sentiment, not the supposed “Ha ha! I’m better than you because I celebrate a holiday with universal paid vacation time!” I think it’s worse when someone tries too hard by saying “Happy Chaw-noo-kuh! Did I say that right? I bet spinning that dreidl is really fun, isn’t it?” Because in reality, Hanukkah is a pretty minor, unimportant holiday with more meaning for young kids than anyone else and just an excuse to call up your adult siblings. I mean, hell, non-Christians (I hope) don’t ask cutesy questions about someone’s Christmas or Easter when they see a cross necklace.

    • Nathan says:

      Well, I was in eighth grade when I first read Huck Finn, and that’s probably old enough for most kids to recognize the historical baggage behind ethnic slurs. Some schools might teach it earlier, though.

      I think a lot of both the jokes and complaints about political correctness are based on the idea that upper-class white Christian men are being persecuted because the minorities aren’t forced to shut up like they were in the past. If atheists are allowed to express their beliefs, that’s almost as bad as feeding Christians to the lions!

      As for “Merry Christmas” vs. “Happy Holidays,” I usually just repeat what people say to me. I do find it a little odd when people say “Merry Christmas” when it isn’t actually Christmas, though. I mean, nobody says “Happy Birthday” to someone when it’s three weeks before their actual birthday, do they? “Happy Holidays,” being broader in scope, can be appropriately used pretty much whenever.

      • vilajunkie says:

        “the idea that upper-class white Christian men are being persecuted…”

        Probably the entire reasoning behind the Culture of Fear, as I think Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert have called it. I guess those in “majority” power are frightened of the imaginary future that they’re going to end up as the slaves or victims of inquisitions as a means of revenge against past treatment. And some of them are mad enough to encourage or at least place bets on the “downfall” of mainstream culture as a way of bringing about the End Times so they can get to Heaven faster.

  2. Will says:

    One thing I’m sure of. Whenever a comic goes on stage & complain about “political correctness” you can be sure he or she will say something offensive, racist, sexist and most importantly…unfunny.

    • Nathan says:

      At one point, it was possible to get some humor out of exaggeration of inoffensive terms, but that’s quite played out by this point. Complaints that the mainstream is being persecuted were never funny nor accurate, though.

      • vilajunkie says:

        There are plenty of comedians who do this as a major part of their routine, but the one I have in mind is Lewis Black. He’s always going on about how stupid being PC is and that “I ain’t got no respect!” when he rants to the wrong type of audience.

        Denis Leary does a lot of the same anti-PC material, but he comes at it more from a “culture of idiocy” dynamic rather than “government/bureaucratic conspiracies” like Black.

  3. It always seems to me that people use “politically correct” to mean the opposite of whatever philosophy is their own. So a liberal thinks “politically correct” means not pushing the envelope, and a conservative thinks “politically correct” means pushing Liberal Agendas. So, yeah, it’s kind of a term that means nothing anymore.

    “Political” and “polite” come from the same root word….

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