I’ve always loved Shelley’s poem, ‘Ozymandius’. The very name conveys power and authority with a strong undercurrent of threat and menace.
And for some reason, I associate this concept of ominous threat with “political correctness” which is slowly but surely taking over our world, righteously stomping out any vestige of variation from what is considered (by whom I’ve never been sure) “acceptable”.
Like many things that get totally out of control, the basic idea behind political correctness is a good one: we should be aware of what we’re saying before we say it, and we should always be conscious of the feelings of others. But good Lord! It’s reached the point where no one can say anything without bringing down the ire of some group or another.
The recent brouhaha over radio show host Don Imus is a perfect example of the totally inane overreaction to an admittedly stupid comment. So it was stupid. So he acknowledged that it was stupid. So he apologized. And apologized. And apologized. Enough, already! Let it go! What do these people want: a public beheading?
What should dictate a response to a comment someone finds offensive is the speaker’s intent. I don’t like being called a “fag”, but if I’m sure the person using it doesn’t mean it in a derogatory way, it may still rankle a bit, but I can just let it go. I might even go so far as to let the user know that it might hurt some people. But I certainly wouldn’t demand his or her head on a platter.
I find the lyrics (if an unending string of explicatives can be considered lyrics) of a great portion of today’s popular music to be deeply offensive. Many of those who have dared to speak in Mr. Imus’ defense have pointed out that African American (Politically correct. Not “black” and definitely not “negro”) rap “artists” use the most derogatory filth when referring to women. But that’s okay. Somehow that slips under the P.C. radar. There is the odd double standard that I can call another gay man a “fag”, or an African American (sigh) can call another a “nigger” without being subject to attack, on the basis that “well, I am one, so I can say the word.” Bulls...t (to say “bullshit” would not be politically correct)!
Just consider for a moment the ridiculous lengths to which P.C. has already taken us. When’s the last time you heard Stephen Foster’s classic Amerian folk song “Old Black Joe”? Exactly what was derogatory in its message? No matter. Ban it!.
Did the children’s story “Little Black Sambo” have a strong message that this little boy was inferior to anyone else because of his being black? Of course not. But can you find a copy in any bookstore today? Of course not. Perhaps it was the powerful Defenders of Tigers League which objected to the tiger turning into a stack of pancakes. Well, that would certainly incur my righteous wrath.
What happened to the Irish jokes? And the Polish jokes? Oooooooooooooohhhh, we mustn’t demean the Irish and the Polish! The fact is that to forbid anyone from telling an ethnic joke is a perverse form of intolerance in itself. The implication is clearly that the sensibilities of Irish, for example, are obviously too fragile to withstand the blazing hatred clearly evident in a story about Paddy walking into a bar.
Political correctness is a form of blatant Puritism, which has done this country and our culture incalculable harm. And we all just sit back and let it happen.
Awareness and intent! Awareness and intent! That’s the key, and we’d better start replacing “political correctness” with those two simple concepts before we reach the rapidly-approaching point where no one dare say anything about anything.
But just as Shelley’s poem underscores the ultimate pointlessness of assuming that authority and control will last forever, I trust that one day common sense will prevail, and “political correctness” will be like those two “trunkless legs of stone” standing in the desert.
My name is Ozymandius, King of Kings. Look on my works, ye mighty, and despair!
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