The Limitations of Political Correctness

Do you disagree? Image Courtesy: KAZ Vorpal
Do you disagree? Image Courtesy: KAZ Vorpal

The Unexpected Virtue of Malevolence

By Peter Gerstenzang

It’s funny how you can use certain terms for years and years, only to find out you were completely wrong about their definition. Take “waterboarding,” for instance. I was sure it was what young kids did until they were ready for actual surfing. No wonder that girl didn’t go out with me this summer when I suggested it as our first date.

That same misconception goes for the term “political correctness.” I always was sure it was simply invented to stop racial slurs. The use of which, I’m totally against. Especially when the end result is you being shot in the head and getting car-jacked.

So, being a liberal, I basically was for the idea of being “PC.”

However, like everything else that starts out well-intentioned, political correctness has grown moth-eaten and meaningless over the years. I knew the expression was bankrupt when I recently heard Rush Limbaugh refer to someone as an “African-American gentleman.” It just didn’t ring true. Especially from a guy whose favorite song is Old Black Joe. So I decided to do some research among a variety of my fellow Americans and ask them what PC words, titles, and phrases they now found absurd. Sometimes their honesty was refreshing. Other times, painful. Like the guy who said I wasn’t a “satirist” at all. He’d read my stuff and said I was an unfunny “Jew boy” who told crappy jokes. Most of which hadn’t “needed a few more years of aging in that swill pail I call a brain.” Which made me think maybe we shouldn’t get rid of political correctness just yet. Simply fine-tune it a bit.

Andy L., a construction worker who lives on Cape Cod, is essentially a liberal. But he’s also tired of feeling, like in a sci-fi movie, that he should have an auto-correct chip implanted in his head. Just in case his brain contains a politically incorrect synapse, which makes him say the wrong thing. And subsequently gets him slapped in the face.

“I mean, where do I begin?” Andy asks, like he’s been waiting 20 years to be asked this question. “I was dating this girl, excuse me, woman (what’s the cutoff date anyway?). It was wintertime and we were building with snow a very familiar site to anyone not from the planet Klingon. We molded it into human form, made a head, legs, arms,  everything you find in Grey’s Anatomy, except for the genitals. I figured, these days, there’s a patrol out there,  checking for Snow Porn!

After we put the scarf around the neck and pipe in the mouth, I said to my date, ‘Now, that’s a snowman.’ This gal actually got angry at me. She said, ‘You mean Snow Person, right?’ I was in a kind of cheeky mood, so I replied, ‘Well, we did build most of it with snowballs. So, it seems to me, it’s a snow man.’ She got really angry and said that was sexist. The rest of the date was pretty tense, as you can imagine. I was glad of one thing, though. That I found out how PC this lady was. One year of marriage to her and I’d probably have no more snowballs myself. That was my last date with her.”

Andy, who sounds like he could write a book on the subject, also told me that this PC business, now filtering into football, has driven him crazy. Like pretty much the rest of America.

“Here’s the deal,” Andy said. “If The Washington Redskins are offensive to Native Americans, are The New York Giants offensive to midgets? I mean ‘Little People.’ Or, uh, people who are ‘vertically-challenged’? No short people have stopped going to see the Giants, I’ve noticed. So what’s all this crap about the Redskins?”

Finally, Andy remembered a time when golfing great and sex machine Tiger Woods once said at a post-tournament press conference, that he “putted like a spaz.” And was taken to task for it, by some group that probably formed last week and is getting tax breaks up the wazoo (quick question, is “wazoo” an Indian, I mean Native-American term?).

Andy tells me, he laughed when he heard Tiger’s term. But a certain portion of PC viewers were very upset at his fifth grade language.

“It was after a match and he was tired,” Andy says. “Was he supposed to say that he stroked it like someone with a ‘muscular motor disorder’? Where the hell is this going to end?!”

Liz K.. a waitress from Missouri, has more problems with political correctness than she does admitting she comes from St Louis. She told me, not long ago, she got caught up in the jellied napalm fight Fox News has subtlety titled, “The War On Christmas.” She meant well, did Liz. But she got reamed regardless by a guy who might as well have been a proctologist administering a barium enema.

“Last year,” says this outspoken Midwestern gal, “I got an amazing amount of crap for wishing someone a ‘Happy Holiday.’ And this was a friend! They went on to bitch about season’s greetings cards as well. For God’s sake, I have vintage cards that go back to the freaking Edwardian Era that say ‘Happy Holidays’! Because they were holidays! You know, plural. Like Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve. I also told them that not everyone is a Christian (although Fox News has a name for them: “Communists”!). It worked out nicely though. Because it  knocked a lot of people off my Christmas card list. I have a bad wrist and I think it will improve considerably this year what with all the PC dopes who will not be getting cards. So, thank you guys for being so hypersensitive. My mother thanks you, my father thanks you, probably your mother and father thank you, too. I bet they’re not sending you cards, either!”

Artie F., a high school teacher from The Bronx, has two complaints. Which is sort of amazing. Because neither of them has anything to do with coming from the Bronx. But, he also feels slightly shackled by the chains of being so darn careful when you write or speak. Of course, he gets in trouble even when he says the simplest things. Which are usually misinterpreted. But that’s definitely because he’s from The Bronx.

“I know it may sound insensitive,” Artie says, “but I hate the term, ‘differently abled.’ Also, I can’t stand anything that ends in ‘challenged.’ The one exception was when I was teaching in the South Bronx and was usually the only white guy in the room. One of my students said that it wasn’t my fault for being white. And that I was ‘melanistically challenged.’ I thought that was a good one.”

It’s hard not to agree with Artie regarding that last appellation. Certainly, because it’s clever. Also, it takes so long to say. And as someone who hated school, anything that eats up time that might otherwise be devoted to algebra is okay with me.

Race came up again, thousands of miles from The Bronx. Where, let’s face it, most sensible people want to be. Unless they’re “geographically challenged.” Lewis K., who works in TV in Portland, has a couple of his own PC bitches. No, that’s not anti-woman talk. So please don’t send me a missive telling me how nonplussed you are (see, I can do PC talk, too).

Lewis’ problems?

“My personal pet peeve is the use of the word “folks” by white empowered people when they want to make themselves sound like they care about the contributions of all “stake holders” (another word I can’t stand). I find it patronizing because white empowered people still do whatever they want. If you want to get your statement through all the bureaucracy you have to deal with these days, always make sure to stick in the phrase, ‘racial and social   justice.’ That always seems to slide stuff through without these nuts holding a town meeting. Or looking at you like you should be hanging from the nearest Dutch Elm tree. Which hopefully is full of disease. And please tell any Dutch person reading this that I mean no offense. I know you didn’t create this disease intentionally. And even if your  forbearers did, I forgive you. Now, since, we’re on the subject of forgiveness, I’m Jewish. So, can you do the same for my people and Jesus Christ? Maybe my Uncle Pincus was involved in the Crucifixion. But it was a really long time ago. Pick on someone whose ancestors wore Roman sandals and a toga for a change, okay?”

Being PC is particularly hard for Gerry S. a sound engineer hailing from Minneapolis. Gerry’s one of those guys who makes life more vibrant and fun for the rest of us, because he’s simply a colorful guy (“colorful” is okay, I had it cleared by a special committee that appreciates that no particular color is specified.) Gerry takes a certain indecent pleasure in giving uptight people a poke in the ribs when it comes to their deeply held political correctness. Which is why he makes a good poster boy for being Un-PC, at least part of the time. He is, unfortunately, hampered by his sense of humor. But, he can’t help it. That’s genetic.

“One of the things I hate not being able to do in public,” says this large, jolly man, is yell, ‘Bitch, be cool,’ to the person I’m with, gal or guy. I do a great Samuel L. Jackson and it bothers me that a white guy can’t imitate him without getting wrathful stares. It does seem to offend everybody in the room. So sometimes I do it, just because it makes me feel good.”

What else Gerry?

“Also, I can’t believe tension gathers in the room if I ever use euphemisms for certain acts of self-gratification. Which I mostly do when something goes wrong and I don’t want to curse in front of people. In the past year I’ve been chided for saying stuff like, ‘Flogging the dolphin’ or ‘Wrestling the Bishop.’ The second one really gets me in trouble if there are any religious people nearby. I know that folks have no sense of humor anymore. But have they forgotten what symbolism is, too? It’s heartbreaking,” he says, before exploding into peals of laughter.

So finally, one wonders if there’s a moral here. Certainly, bigotry is atrocious. And making fun of the physically-impaired is wrong, too. But what about those who are mentally impaired? That would include most talk radio personalities and pretty much all of the on-air talent of Fox News. Who have the combined IQ of a softball. It seems that right-wingers have made the use of politically-correct language pretty much meaningless. Because they’re the only people still using it.

So, as in all sticky situations in life, everyone, just do the best you can. As a writer, I can assure you, that words are important. But they will just take you so far. But now that an indescribably bigoted jerk like Rush Limbaugh, that drug-addicted, hateful, fat clown (okay, “portly”) uses words like “mentally challenged,” and “African-American,” you can see that a lot of this careful talk is just ridiculous.

So, dear readers, be politically correct whenever possible. But judging from the folks in America who now employ this questionable way of speaking? Well, in our great Republic? In this still new century? When it comes to how you express yourself, pretty much all bets are off.