Wikipedia Commons - Credit: Michael Vadon
You can’t watch television these days without hearing people talk about political correctness. The term is constantly used and misused to many ends. Donald Trump’s campaign revels in the idea of a need to be rid of political correctness and not-so-subtly proposes that this concept is destroying America. His message is clear. If we want to make America great again, we need to ignore the liberal agenda that bars us from offending anyone and ignores the truth. Political correctness is the reason why people no longer speak their minds and is to blame for the surge of Mexican immigrants destroying America. The danger of this refreshing idea that we need to stop being politically correct is it became a kind of code-speak for racism and bullying. Trump claimed that Mexican immigrants were criminals and rapists, that John McCain wasn’t a hero because he was captured, and compared Ben Carson’s temper (also a champion of political incorrectness) to child molestation. However inane and unfounded in fact Trump is, his blatant disregard of political correctness is a large part of his popularity that has lasted much longer than any reasonable person would have assumed was possible some months back. But Trump is for the crazies and the naïve. I still believe if he goes against Hillary in the general election, it’ll be the most devastating blow to the Republican party, since Watergate, if not ever. Most of the semi-rational minds in his party agree with this assessment. In spite of this, Trump has locked onto two key ideas are that are too powerful to ignore. Firstly, that the government is bought and sold by corporations and secondly, that political correctness is a cancer on the heart of America and the modern world. When I speak of political correctness, I don’t believe in blaming Mexican immigrants for the decline in American greatness, or the right to call women pigs judged solely by the merits of their bone structure, but I do believe political correctness is making honest discourse more and more difficult, if not impossible.
When I began thinking about how I would address this topic, I wanted to relate Trump to the sentimental narratives in the culture that the older white male demographic was fed up with. Things that I agree and disagree with to varying degrees, like the new ideal that there needs to be a term called cis gender to relate to the 99.7% of the population that is not transgender and whether, or whether or not it is racist to place minority actors in subordinate roles to white characters (taxi drivers, maids, etc.) in television and film. I wanted to explore whether Effie, the producer on Project Greenlight, was crazy for freaking out about a black man cast as a limo driver in the very bad movie they were producing. Then I wanted to counterbalance that point with Aziz Ansari’s brilliantly funny, ideologically sound depiction of a childhood where all the Indian characters were racist caricatures on Master of None. How could we find the balance in society without limiting the freedom of the artists making the movies?
I was interested in the ridiculous notion that movies should not be judged on their aesthetic merits, but on their ideological aims. Specifically, I wanted to tackle the absurd notion that the internet was aghast at Quentin Tarantino when he said in an interview profile by Bret Easton Ellis that Selma should have won an Emmy, comparing the Martin Luther King biopic to a TV movie, and compare that to the fury aimed at Francine Prose sixteen years ago for making the “shocking” statement that Maya Angelou’s heavily metaphor-laden prose was bad writing. And then came Paris.
In the grand scheme of things, does anyone really care that self-important filmmakers usually win awards over better filmmakers? It no longer felt all that important to discuss the aesthetic merits of a few heavily lauded minority writers and filmmakers (some good and some bad). I know that it’s not racist to have aesthetic problems with 12 Years a Slave or Schindler’s List (or any film for that matter), because I look at films in a nuanced way the general population doesn’t care to. I know it is un-American to not let someone have a poor opinion about a movie tackling social issues. Then I came to the conclusion that the very levers that make it racist to criticize a fairly good movie about Martin Luther King also are to blame for the fact it is considered racist by some to criticize Europe opening its doors to 60,000,000 refugees.
I know that social progress comes with some speed bumps, as people navigate the politically correct means of delivering messages. One day you can say something one way and the next, only a drunk uncle at Thanksgiving dinner can say it. I get it. America has a long history of racism, sexism and has been fairly horrible to most if not all minorities at some time or another and this horrifyingly continues to this day in spite of the best intentions of the majority of Americans. In our attempt to improve this undignified treatment of everyone excepting white males with money in their pockets, we need to alter language to ensure we don’t hurt each other quite as much. For the most part this is a good thing. The problem with political correctness is that it tends to ignore nuance and truth in the service of not hurting feelings.
Generally these little hiccups that disallow opinions are not so important. The problem with political correctness broadly is that people cannot criticize anything or anyone in a disadvantaged situation, for fear of going against the corporatized politically correct narrative. Sometimes when I defend Israel, I feel like I’m living in 1984. This is part of the reason Israel gets blamed for everything going on in Gaza, instead of Hamas and the other neighboring Arab nations, and it is entirely the reason that the backward Fundamentalist Muslim beliefs of hundreds of millions of the nearly two billion Muslims in the world get a free pass. We have been conditioned to believe that criticizing anything to do with a minority is fundamentally wrong. The forward thinking people have also been trained to believe that any idea coming from the right is entirely wrong. Again, a lack of nuance.
As a child of the 90s, I was indoctrinated with political correctness from an early age. One day in third grade, we were led into an assembly where we heard the thoughts of a well-meaning person Upper Middle Class woman explaining prejudice to my mostly-white Upper Middle Class Connecticut elementary school. We heard a woman consider what it was to be politically correct and why it was necessary not to call black people black. Instead, we were supposed to say African American. We were told discrimination was wrong. Towards the end, she kind of lost track of her argument and went on a soliloquy about judgment. How we should be prejudiced in our decision-making. That it was necessary to prejudge things from our experience. She gave the example of buying a car and not buying an English car because the prejudiced opinion was that those cars often had engine failure and a boatload of others problems. However, we should not make the same judgments about people.
In spite of all a lot of the other nonsense she was spewing, she was right. Individuals should always be given the benefit of the doubt. It is patently wrong to prejudge them. However, it is not patently wrong to examine the ideologies that influence these people. When we look at Paris, we should remember that Fundamentalist Islam is responsible for the death of Charlie Hebdo last year and 129 more last week. We can’t blindly follow the liberal agenda that it was a heroic act to allow tens of millions of Muslims, many of whom have been infected with Fundamentalist ideology, into Europe and expect everything to run smoothly. We cannot let our well-meaning liberal intentions confuse us into blindly accepting cultures that oppress people and endanger the freedoms we fought so hard to attain and are still fighting for. As much as I would like to help those being oppressed by ISIS, if we do not look at the world realistically for fear of offending people, what values of freedom will we be fighting for?