Monday, 4 June 2012

Easy PC

Greetings once more, my five glorious readers! Our numbers have almost doubled since my last blog post - what a triumph! - though I'm afraid to say that such late to the party readers will be sorely disappointed with my future offerings and we are sure to dwindle once more. To those who expressed their delight over my Chinese take-away based quips last time and are expecting more where that came from, do note that such references to my oily past will be sporadic from here on in, if not entirely non-existent. I'm a serious person with serious things to say about serious issues; I will not be reduced to a one trick lemon chicken. Number 80, £4.60.

I won't bother apologising over my abominable efforts to regulate my blogging. I am wholly irregular. One must accept these things in life, much as I have come to accept (though by no means approve of) menstrual cramps, suede, people who breath loudly and queue jumpers. But you are in for a treat: I have been storing up this rant for a very long time. I'll make a 'bold' statement to get us started: I love political correctness. And I shall tell you for why.

I work in a popular pub in Southampton, frequented predominantly by locals but with the odd spattering of students during prime nacho/pre-drink hours. I have become hardened to the racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic rhetoric I so often have the displeasure of overhearing from those that sit at the bar, but every once in a while I hear something so vile a glare of contempt simply won't suffice. The "enraged feminist psychopath" in me was beyond all realms of riled when I was conversing with one such regular punter, a middle aged white fellow with a penchant for Stella Artois. On requesting his drink of choice, I kindly complied. He took a sip and muttered "Mmm, I love a good wife beater". Now I'm not so far removed from mainstream culture to be unaware of Stella's unfortunate colloquial re-branding, so I casually shared my disapproval (of the name generally, not his specific usage) with the drinker:

Chloe: What an unfortunate nickname for a beer, eh?
Punter: Why is it unfortunate?
Chloe: (pause) Because 'wife beater' is hardly an image you'd want your brand to be aligned with, surely?
Punter: (looks confused) Why not?
Chloe: (slightly perplexed) Because domestic violence is ... really unpleasant, isn't it?
Punter: (starts to smirk) Is it? I've got no problem with it. (laughs)
Chloe: Domestic violence is appalling, I think you're being rather insensitive.
Punter: Oh heeeeere we go, am I not allowed to say anything 'politically incorrect' in here?
Chloe: (dumbfounded) Excuse me? I think it's a fair request that you don't mock domestic violence. It's certainly not funny.
Punter: What's it to you?

This absurd conversation has since been playing heavily on my mind. Who was the bad guy here? Of course I'm biased, but I have to say that all my observations point me to the conclusion that I reacted as a perfectly normal human being in this scenario, while he was a complete f*ckwit. The evidence is conclusive and undeniable for an abundance of reasons, but his pejorative reference to 'political correctness' has to be the most convincing and represents a prevailing and infuriating trend in the usage of the phrase.

The concept of political correctness came into public consciousness throughout the backlash of America's New Left against the staunchly traditional, conservative values of the Republican party during the second half of the twentieth century. Though often ironically used within leftist communities, the notion was that language and ideas and behaviours should concern itself with equal opportunities. Political correctness was an instant way of calling bullshit on someone's bigotry and a way of trying to cope and tackle that bigotry: a giant umbrella protecting people from a never ending shit storm of discrimination. Thus, political correctness is inherently excellent. However, it was adopted, reappropriated and warped by the political right in the 1990s due to the perceived Culture Wars, a societal dance-off between the two groups of ideologically opposed citizens and their collective senses of morality. The argument from here can get pretty academic and since I've now finished my degree, I must let go of such discourse. However, in simple terms: it makes bugger all sense that when somebody makes a discriminatory statement and somebody else is offended by that statement, 'political correctness' becomes the scapegoat. Somehow it is not the offender's ignorance, insensitivity or reckless cruelty that is to blame, but the very existence of the offended themselves. Those selfish bastards. Rather than the offender being held to account for outdated ideas of women, black people, homosexuals et al, they can instantly trump the oncoming outrage by playing the card of "political correctness gone mad". This mind-numbingly stupid phrase therefore renders the offended as someone who "can't take a joke" or "takes themselves too seriously": it silences people who are already alienated and sublimated within society. Make a heartless joke about domestic abuse towards women after centuries of fighting for equality and safety within our own homes and funnily enough, I refuse to be apologetic for taking that seriously. It's no coincidence that the most infamously bigoted and slanderous newspaper around, The Daily Mail, is actually responsible for the catchphrase 'political correctness gone mad'.

I recognise that some people will occasionally get a little overworked about not offending people and the results can be rather silly. People not being allowed to wear religious garb, or Cbeebies' Rasta Mouse coming under attack from a lot of whiny white mums, spring to mind. But that shouldn't be deemed the work of political correctness: that's just outright fear. Fear has gone mad. Being terrified of offending women, black people, homosexuals et al and therefore treating them as awkward aliens, I'd argue, illustrates just as much ignorance as shameless hate speech. I champion social sensitivity and that is what political correctness, by definition, is. Unfortunately, just like Stella Artois, political correctness requires a dramatic re-brand.

If you're not convinced, feel free to take me on. But I warn you: I am right. I wrote part of a novel dedicated to fictionalising this rant and did my dissertation on homophobia, and while they may have been inane, self-indulgent undergraduate ramblings, I am super well versed in this argument. Alternatively, trust in the wise words of Stewart Lee. I don't think he wrote a blog about it, but I'm pretty sure he's legit.