The real PC

Dashiell

The term “politically correct” has been with us so long now that it can be indicated by the initials “pc” and be understood by most people. If you look past its genesis in dour Maoist rhetoric, however, you’ll see that it actually gained currency as a humorous phrase used by leftists to satirize their own tendencies to rigidity and judgmentalism.

But then the Wingnut Nation, crawling out from the slime after the Reagan catastrophe, latched onto it, turning it into one of their attack-mode catchphrases, and without any humor at all, other than the oafish variety. “Politically correct” came to mean an attempt to prohibit language perceived as insensitive to women and minorities. The educational establishments at the colleges and universities were targeted, not just for policing language, but for their identity-based curricula—women’s studies, black studies, and so forth.

If you were to believe the rightists, political correctness was a tidal wave threatening to engulf free speech. The threat, however, was hugely exaggerated. Yes, there were misguided attempts to control language through speech codes or through individual cases in which someone’s use of words became a focus of protest. They were very few, and what few there were turned out to be ineffectual. But it was to the right’s advantage to continue to exaggerate this phenomenon, because it served to inflame the tempers of its reactionary supporters—white men, for the most part, who felt threatened by feminist gains, and resentful of the black civil rights movement as well.

To accuse someone, or a group of people, or an institution, of being “politically correct,” therefore, has become a mere code word for “left wing.” “Politically incorrect” is a label denoting someone with independence of thought, even an iconoclast. In general practice, though, it tends to indicate the view that sexism, racism, and homophobia are not really problems any more, if they ever were, and that everything would be just fine if the left would stop complaining.

Such are the tortuous highways of language in our sound-bite culture.

But if you think about the implications of “politically correct” without regard to how it’s been twisted by wingnut rhetoric, there’s a basic sense of restraint of speech, of the possibility of getting into trouble for saying something objectionable, something that goes against the “correct” view. And if you really examine what is considered objectionable in the mainstream discourse, in the controversies that go on within the establishment and its media, you will discover that it is the “left” that is overwhelmingly labeled incorrect. In other words, conservative ideology is the dominant form of accepted thought, it is “politically correct,” not some professor at Columbia teaching Marxist studies.

Remember Ward Churchill? He was nothing but an obscure professor at the University of Colorado. He didn’t hold elective office or host an AM radio show. But the wingnuts, always looking for someone to demonize, seized on an essay he wrote about 9/11 called “On the Justice of Roosting Chickens” and played it for all it was worth. Churchill said some stupid things, including the phrase “little Eichmanns” in reference to the victims of the WTC attacks. Were there consequences for his speech? Yes, he was later fired, supposedly for other reasons, but if you believe he would have been fired anyway, without having his essay pilloried on Fox News, you probably believe that Saddam was friends with Bin Laden.

Now, on the other hand, we have Anne Coulter saying that the 9/11 widows are enjoying their widowhood too much and should shut up. She’s actually an extreme example of wingnuttery, but did she continue to be invited on Fox and MSNBC? Did she continue to publish books? Yes. So which one is “politically correct,” Churchill or Coulter?

Other examples abound. Right-wingers can say just about anything, free of consequences. Once in a while there’s an idiot like Imus who forgets to use the right code words and he gets slammed temporarily. Most of them have learned how to speak loud and clear to their racist fans without saying “nigger.” They have less compunction about using sexist smears and language, which are still acceptable to the good old boy network.

Recently we have witnessed a “controversy” about the pastor of Barack Obama’s church. It was a controversy because it was made into one by a group of wingnuts, and the media played along as they usually do. This pastor said “God damn America.” The context didn’t matter—those magic words were enough to alarm the guardians of right-wing political correctness. America is good and holy and can never be wrong. If you are a black man and you say such a thing, you are made into an object of fear and loathing. This fear and loathing can then be associated with Obama, simply because he goes to that church.

Conservatives, among them right-wing Christians like Jerry Falwell, hung out with Jesse Helms for years, made alliances with him, and praised him. Jesse Helms was one of the most racist, hate-filled legislators of modern times. Were any of these people told to disavow their association with Helms, or even to distance themselves from him? Of course not. Helms was a white Senator, therefore respectable. A black man, on the other hand, must step carefully, even if he’s a minister, even if he’s a Senator.

Have you ever seen Republican politicians urged to distance themselves from Pat Robertson, James Dobson, Ralph Reed, Randall Terry, and their ilk? No, they embrace them publicly. The president confers with them. Yet they preach hatred against feminists, gays, liberals, and (ever so subtly) African Americans who seek justice and equality.

So you see, political correctness, in the only ways that matter—in terms of power, influence, and consequences—is a right-wing affair. Wingnuts continue to portray themselves as victims, as courageous crusaders against liberal orthodoxy, and even after years of conservative domination of the government and media, people believe it. The right is the establishment—they guard the speech to make sure it’s pure. There are still no actual antiwar voices in the mainstream media, after five years of this fiasco. And when push comes to shove, it’s the right-wing that tells you to burn your Dixie Chicks records. I don’t notice any liberals trying to ban Toby Keith.

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~ by cdash on April 4, 2008.

14 Responses to “The real PC”

  1. Excellent post. Well thought out and executed. Fuck Toby Keith, and where, oh where is this generation’s Edward R. Murrow?

  2. Some very good points, Dashiell.

  3. … but the mall sold my 11 year-old daughter a t-shirt that said, “Mustache RIdes $1.”.

    I hate the mall… unless I want a big pretzel or to feel like a fat, poor, consumer.

    (WIll you do your moderation magic on the duplicate, fairlane?)

  4. Well, fuck. That comment was for the other post and that is where I wanted …. Crap.

    Nevermind.

    By the way, Dashiell, this is a great post.

    I know it was pc to be non-pc, until the non-conformists bought all those t-shirts at the mall saying “FUck the System, and then being a playa was hip. But, now my mom thinks tattoos are cute on the ankle and I couldn’t be uncool if I tried… unless the styles of the 80’s came back and they were a statement of rebellion and now slam is to dance as American is to Idol. However you stack it, I’m a loser, which, like Beck, makes me ask, “So, why don’t you kill me?” (Was that cool?)

  5. A friend sent me a definition of politically correct…. I lost the exact verbiage….
    but it was basically to the tune of trying to pick-up a turd by the clean end. Nice post.

  6. Great post, Dashiell! I love you last line. It’s so true. I just wrote today about how Republicans can say “sorry” and move on when they do something shitty, but if a Dem does the same thing, their career is over. Vilification is not handed out in any just manner.

    And Republicans pretty much behave opposite of what they espouse. And they love to have it pointed out.

  7. Hello, Dashiell.
    Good post.

    This reminds of of the War on Christmas stuff you get to hear every year.
    Most of the so-called evidence is made up of anecdotes concerning persons hyper-sensitive to claims of favoring one group over another.
    Which brings to mind…
    Is it right that little atheist kids would get toys for Christmas?
    Goodness!

    I stand by my proposal to make the observance of Easter more authentic by passing out Jesus pinatas to all the Italian kids.

    Comparing Ward Churchill to Ann Coulter is a no-go.
    Churchill was a tenured professor who plagiarized a part of his work.
    Coulter is a celebrity consultant that scribbles out a column or two for newsrags unattentive to journalistic integrity.
    Not sure how she got to be such a celebrity, but she is.

    The point is not lost. Just saying that you could have made a better comparison.

  8. Nothing beats their all-but-standard reply of questioning the listener’s ability to comprehend and understand that it was all done in good fun. Which, even if that was the case – ha ha – doesn’t excuse them from their hypocrisy. It all boils down to “can’t you take a [racist/sexist/homophobic] joke? Everyone *I* know can.”

  9. DASH: Great work. Good history lesson on the origins of the term.

    I believe it’s always better to be the aggressor than the aggrieved, so I’m going to continue to make un_PC remarks about the wars and religion and Republicans and the dumb fucking American flag and will continue to criicize Wingnuts for racism, sexism, homophobia, etc.

    it’s not fair, but what in life is?

  10. You know, “PC” serves as a good qualifying statement, as in, “I know it’s not PC to say this, but….”

  11. Didn’t one of those Wingnut Evangelists say, in essence, that we deserved the attacks on 9/11 because of our tolerance for Fags, Feminists, Atheists, and other such Riff-Raff?

    And wasn’t said Evangelist lauded by Chimpy when Hell finally called him home?

    You have to remember, despite the rhetoric, the Wingnuts are, in fact, a minority.

    By dividing people, they increase their chances for success.

    Even Johnny Wingnut will concede, without these divisive issues, Reps would have an extremely difficult time winning any national elections.

  12. Freakin AWESOME POST – this essay out to be published somewhere in the PRESS. It goes to the heart of lingistics and political language and so much more. The way things are framed. How people react.

    Send it in at least the Nation or The Progressive Mag. or even Znet
    its that good.

    yours in the struggle, to get america thinking again

    proggie

  13. Can anybody tell me exactly how it was that anybody ever condiered Ann Coulter a voice to be listened to?

    How was it that she got to be such a celebrity?

    What is the deal?

    That’s just too crazy. Even for America.
    I don’t get it.

  14. Forget politically correct is Ann Coulter anatomically correct

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