Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Raising an index finger to PC?


"Borat raises an index finger to political correctness and all its exponents," claims Mail on Sunday reader Colin Veitch online, who obviously feels that were Borat to raise his middle finger, the finger traditionally used for giving offence, he may have been overstating his case.

Regular readers of this blog will be aware of the various rants that have appeared here over the last couple of years about attacks on PC (Political Correctness) and the motives behind such ludicrous non-stories as “Christmas” being banned, Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep replacing Baa Baa Black Sheep, and the splenetic outrage of various tabloid newpspers at the word “housewife” being reassessed by the Women’s Institute. So, it’s with great joy that I can link to a piece by my favourite comedian, Stewart Lee, who looks at what PC has given us and how it’s absurd to claim that comedy shows & films like Borat, Little Britain and The Office are anti-PC.

In the rush to attack PC, most commentators seem to have forgotten that its original raison d’etre was to prevent language causing offence to, and discrimination against, different groups in society: a noble aim in many respects. And they also forget how poisonous public discourse was in the 1970s about issues like race, mixed marriages and homosexuality. As Lee explains:

I'm 38, and old enough to remember comedy, and life in general, before political correctness. At secondary school in the Midlands in the early 80s, our maths teacher, who was a genuinely nice man, would routinely refer to the one Asian boy in our class as "the Black Spot", fondly imagining that this was in some way inclusive, like some pocket calculator-wielding version of David Brent™. And the idea of a comic performer like Little Britain's Matt Lucas being openly gay - let alone having photographs of his civil ceremony splashed across the tabloids - would have been unimaginable, however camp his on-stage persona.

Tabloids such as The Sun were quite happy to use a headline “Pooftas on Parade” in the 1980s when gay men were permitted to join the army, while popular culture was full of references to darkies, sooties and pakis – all words that PC helped clean up, well, maybe outside of certain pubs in Chingford anyway…

Lee goes on to discuss the language of PC, linking it to linguistic determinism & relativism adding:

There's a vast difference between the casual, inadvertent offence prevalent in my childhood and the choices made today by performers and writers of my generation, operating in a post-PC world, where they are aware of the power and meaning of the taboos they choose to break. Linguistic theorists who define the terminology of political correctness suggest that grammatical choices made in language influence both the speaker's and the listener's ideas and actions. This would seem to be common sense, so it would be churlish to argue against the idea of attempting to ensure basic levels of politeness and consideration in official, public discourse.


So, a reasoned and impassioned defence of PC, instead of my usual frothy-mouthed rantings about the cursed Daily Mail. For more info on the mighty Stewart Lee and his work, have a look at his website here.

Useful for:

ENA1 - Language & Representation
ENA5 – Language Change

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this commentary. Apparently being polite and courteous to others is a big inconvenience for a lot of the modern generation. To consider the feelings of a race or gender or culture is always interpreted as some kind of loss of a person's right to free speech (re: being allowed to use the 'n' or 'b' word without any reprocussions.). In my day it was called following the golden rule, i.e. doing onto others. Hopefully, we can get back to that way of thinking and realize it's not always about you.