Political correctness? Nah. It’s all about respect
Whenever I hear people complaining loudly about ‘Political Correctness gone mad’, I usually respond in the same way as when Sarah Silverman hears someone describe themselves as a “Diva”. (Note: NSFW)
‘Political Correctness’ is actually just an over-used (typically, and strangely, pejorative) buzzword for ‘being respectful to people’. And, call me crazy, but I don’t think anyone has the right to be disrespectful, rude, sexist, racist or homophobic without consequence.
So, when people complain about “political correctness gone crazy!” I think to myself, “no, you’re probably just a c—t.”
But it’s hard sometimes not to think that we’re way too sensitive to inconsequential things that aren’t really even that offensive.
A good case in point is Tim Mathieson’s recent comments about prostate examinations.
Petra Starke was onto something last week in her Punch column, noting that while it was a silly, tasteless joke, it was also (in the grand scheme of things) a completely insignificant one too. And, it should have been quickly forgotten.
Everyone has said things in their life that they instantly wished had never crossed the threshold of their lips. So, most people ignored it. But, because the media is always desperate to jump on a gaffe and point fingers at public figures, it became a big story in a full day’s news cycle.
I don’t know, maybe Asian women around the country were deeply offended (“How dare you insinuate that my fingers are probably slightly smaller than someone of a difference ethic background!”). However, I suspect they probably just shook their heads and moved on with other, far more important, things. Perhaps the slightly anxious middle-aged male patient standing before them.
It is not dissimilar to the controversy over The Chaser’s ‘Make a Realistic Wish’ sketch a few years back.
Yes, that was an unfunny joke which tried (and failed) to extract humour from a completely awful place. The outrage that followed, however, was lead primarily by talkback radio hosts who whipped up outrage among their listeners – most of whom had never even seen the supposedly offensive material in the first place.
People who had lost children to cancer had every right to be hurt (and thus Julian Morrow publically apologised to them), but thanks to it being amped up in that media feedback loop, a whole lot of people got angry because, well, they just felt they should.
Which brings us to the latest bit of controversy, which is cropping up around this Volkswagen ad, which is probably going to air right about now, during the Superbowl in the US.
It has, it seems, “struck many as being offensive since it suggests that all people in the Caribbean are relaxed and don’t feel stress” . How terribly offensive.
Accusing a group of people being upbeat… Does that even count as racism?
The fact is, some might see it as being in bad taste, which is fine. But many (most?) others would see it differently: as a very light-hearted bit of fun that is completely free of any malicious intent whatsoever.
It’s not just a simple case of something being racist or not racist, because everyone interprets things a little bit differently, and sometimes wildly differently.
Declaring something like this – which is clearly created in a spirit of fun, not insult – as ‘racist’ is quite difficult.
Another critic – Charles M. Blow, whose writing I really admire – was a bit more specific with his criticism. He declared that the ad is “like blackface with voices”.
That’s definitely bad, then. Right?
Well, I would argue that it totally depends.
Sure, when it was those guys on Hey, Hey smearing nugget on their cheeks and pretending to be the Jackson Five, it was completely awful.
But John Safran donned black makeup and pretended to be African American in an episode of Race Relations and it was great television. Chris Lilley played black rapper ‘S.Mouse’ for an entire series of Angry Boys, and we didn’t exactly see much outcry.
Robert Downey Jr. did it in Tropic Thunder, and he was roundly praised for his amazing performance. It even landed him an Oscar nomination.
The point is, just because someone draws on racial stereotypes in the pursuit of entertainment, doesn’t necessarily mean that our finely-tuned racism meters should be sounding alarm bells.
Like I said, interpretations can vary wildly. But people, for the most part, know when something is approached in the right spirit.
Indeed, it has nothing to do with ‘Political Correctness’, or ‘Incorrectness’ at all, because there’s quite clearly no disrespectful intent.
As much as the loudest voices in the media like to draw neat lines around what’s acceptable, and what is not, for most people who live in reality, things aren’t (if you’ll excuse the lame expression) quite so black and white.
And, after-all, what do Jamaicans themselves think of the VW ad? Apparently they love it...
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