On Political Correctness
Most movements, schools of thought, or things in general are often mischaracterized by some group who disagrees with them. Political correctness is a weird thing, because it’s mischaracterized to completely different extremes. On one end, you have the Trump stumps who clamor that saying a Apprentice contestant on her knees would be a pretty picture, or that Rand Paul’s face is plenty of material to make fun of, or that Megyn Kelly had blood coming out of her whatever – all of them are examples of things that can and should be said because they “don't frankly have time for total political correctness.” On the other end, you have the fear-of-white-folk that prevents the issues from even being talked about with the appropriate people, or the focus on the re-classification of women as ‘womyn’ and avoidance of terms like ‘fat’ when referring to people. The right sees the absurdity of the extent to which the left has taken the desire to not offend, and uses that as an example of why they should be allowed to say things that are truly absurd, which they do. How about this: let’s not eliminate the term ‘fat’ from our vernacular because it does tend to be an objective statement of fact, but let’s also not use the term in a malicious manner. Let’s not be offended when someone says a joke, and just recognize that it’s a poor attempt at humor.
(Quick Tangent: the term ‘radical islamists’ that the right is so hung up on using over the more accurate ‘radical Jihadists’… remember how ‘climate change’ actually used to be called by its more accurate term ‘global warming’ before George W. Bush mounted one of the most successful modern branding campaigns to destroy that term in the public dialogue?)
Take Mike Huckabee – two things he said recently (among the approximately 17 offensive things he says per year, see , ,  for examples) got him caught in some controversy. The first was when he said on Twitter that he’d trust Bernie Sanders “with my tax dollars like I trust a North Korean chef with my labrador!” The second was when he said on national TV “it’s time to wake up and smell the falafel”, when referring to rejecting Syrian immigrants. Barring the fact that Huckabee’s own son once hanged/cut/stoned a dog, and that falafel is more a part of the strategy of small Christian/Jewish business owners as opposed to ISIS, the internet exploded. Huckabee’s defenders – echoing Trump’s for the most part – claimed that he was just trying to be funny. His detractors claimed it was racist. Regardless of whether it was racist – it was moreso stereotyping than racism, but semantics notwithstanding – it was really just a bad joke. And once you recognize it as being humor instead of malice, it ceases to qualify as offensive; it’s either good or bad. The problem is, those who are in the business of running for political office – where interacting with other countries and making important decisions that directly relate to them is actually part of the job – shouldn’t be attempting to make jokes about world cultures living in times of famine or fleeing refugees.
Take Trevor Noah. Right after he got The Daily Show gig, tweets from several years ago – including those about Israelis being non-peaceful, running over Jewish kids with German cars, fat girls thinking alcohol makes them sexy – were unearthed and used as a rallying cry to get him fired. Again, bad jokes? Pretty much. A sign that he hates Jews and shames fat girls? Probably not. The worst thing about Twitter is that, well, anyone can have a Twitter. Bad jokes have been around forever – it’s only so recently that everyone else got the chance to see them. Noah probably defended it best, saying it’s an artificial inflation of the problem, because so many people are on the periphery of the argument.
Take cultural appropriation – not something that’s limited to a single person, but an idea. Blackface is pretty widely regarded as a “don’t do it” art form. Which kind of makes sense (given ASU TKE’s blackout party) until you consider that it can indeed be an art form (as seen in these UW students’ depiction of the Jamaican Olympic team or Jason Aldean’s take on Lil’ Wayne). If it’s just badly done – to the point of promoting stereotypes and ignorance, then sure. But the whole “your culture is not my costume” sentiment implies that you can’t even look or act like someone else without taking on the burden of that culture’s problems and issues. Why not? Can I not eat pasta without feeling the weight of Mussolini’s murderous rampage? Or rap along to Nelly’s guest verse on ‘NSYNC’s ‘Girlfriend’ without focusing on systematic oppression for a second? Ugh.
(Another Quick Tangent: You’d think that the N-word would be subject to a little progressivism. It’s like the Five Monkeys Experiment – we’ve been conditioned to hate it and be offended by it that we actively ignore its transformation into a term (for the most part) of camaraderie. Yes, there are still the assholes who use it derogatorily or with intent to hurt, but it’s no longer primarily use it in the context of slavery and oppression. The meaning which it had can’t be attributed to what it is today, just like Trevor Noah’s Twitter feed. Again, that’s not to say that institutionalized racism doesn’t still exist, because it does, but the N-word isn’t the primary medium through which it is communicated.)
There’s nothing you shouldn’t be able to joke about – it should be a discussion about the content, as opposed to the topic. You can find a painting of Nazi Germany beautiful even if there’s a Holocaust survivor in the room. The better the joke, the more fragile it is, and the more it’s dependent on syntax and context and visuals and tone – and the more those things are left out when people get upset about it.