Friday, August 22, 2008

Is political correctness a danger?

One of my concerns as a writer is that our culture of political correctness is restricting what writers and artists are willing to say, that thinkers will hesitate to say certain things because of the possible backlash that they could be subject to. Powerful lobbying groups, churches, politicians, academics, the blogosphere, and your grandmother can ruin your career, or at least make your life miserable if they feel that you are insensitive and/or do not like what you are saying.

I became acutely aware of the effect of this threat recently. I was working on a possible Campus Comedian column for CCD Campus Connection, the student newspaper of the Community College of Denver. Several of my jokes made fun of several of my former professors. I also made jokes about the upcoming Democratic National Convention. And periodically, I found myself asking myself if I really wanted to be saying what I was saying.

It is not just my reputation on the line, but the reputations of the editors, and possibly the entire staff, that could be drag though the mud if some hothead decides that I have crossed the line. Last year, I watched with horror the fuss made over the “F*** Bush” headline and editorial that appeared in a college newspaper; and recently, the tar and feathering of the New Yorker for their Obama cover (with him in a turban, and Michelle carrying an assault rifle).

I am not sure when this political correct culture started. Or when we lost the ability to talk about politicians and the fears that we feel as a people, but it does not bode well for your county. And it does not bode well for me as a writer either.

I wasn’t aware of the extent of political correctness was having on my writing until the Campus Comedian attempt. And a couple of weeks later, it was really driven home. I went down to the newspaper office to get my headshot done for an editorial that I wrote about students complaining that they do not need some of the classes that colleges are forcing them to take.

While I was at the office, I got to see the cover of the August 19th issue of the newspaper. My first thought was “That is brilliant; that is exactly how some people think about Barack Obama; they act as if it is the Second Coming, or that he is the Messiah.” My second thought was “Does the newspaper really want to use that picture for the cover?”

This thought was horrifying to me. Just a couple of years ago, I was appalled when the Artist Coop that I belonged to was more concerned that none of the artists displayed anything that would upset people than attracting attention and customers. I had even thought up a few art ideas that would possibly get me burned at the stake. And today, I am more worried about what people will think about something than if it is worth saying. Sad but true; fortunately, knowing that I am in danger of becoming a cog in the political correctness machine is half the battle.

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