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Monday, November 14, 2011

My favorite quote right now

TheTweetofGod is the Twitter account of David Javerbaum, author of The Last Testament: A Memoir By God. I follow it because somebody retweeted something hilarious he said one day and I decided that my day could do with some more ongoing hilarity. But he also makes some interesting observations, such as the one above. It seems especially relevant today, in light of this bit from a GQ interview with Herman Cain that everyone seems to be talking about:
Chris Heath: You've said that you find it hard to be politically correct. Why do you find it hard? 
Herman Cain: When you learn how to be politically correct, you sound like all of the other politicians. People like my directness and my bluntness. What happens when you become so worried about being politically correct, you find yourself not saying anything. Because you're trying to offend the least number of people. I'm trying to attract the greatest number of people. Different strategy.
Does this count as "bragging"? I'd say so. Because Cain is contrasting himself positively to "all of the other politicians" who, presumably, are dishonest because they're trying not to offend people. Whereas Cain is blunt and direct-- he gives it to you straight, and people like that.

But people also like not being offended, don't they? It sure seems that way. So are politicians who are politically correct mistaken about what will offend people? Or are they aware of what will offend people, but avoiding offending people requires dishonesty so it's better to be direct and blunt?

The answer that most people who pride themselves on not being politically correct would give is: yes. That is precisely what they think. Because every time they are direct and honest, somebody gets offended.  And it couldn't be the case that what they're saying is legitimately offensive, so it must be that they're simply politically incorrect. This is how "politically incorrect" as a label of pride has come to be a code word for "asshole." It rests on the assumption that all attempts to avoid offending people are based in dishonesty. That if everybody  were honest, everybody would say things that are commonly considered offensive. A person who proclaims that he or she is politically incorrect, "just telling it like it is," is in fact doing so because he/she assumes we're all assholes too...it's just that the rest of us insist on hiding it.

Political incorrectness that isn't legitimately offensive usually takes the form of comedy. Making jokes out of things that would otherwise be considered horrible to say is an art form, and one of the things that makes a comedian excel in this is making it obvious that he or she doesn't mean it. If your audience leaves a performance thinking that you are actually a bigot, they probably won't be your audience again-- unless, of course, they're bigots themselves. I'm sure there are actual racists and homophobes who find Lisa Lampanelli funny, because they enjoy her jokes on a very base, literal, let's just call it "moron" level of comedy comprehension and don't understand that she's actually making fun of them.

Non-comedic political incorrectness that is not legitimately offensive also exists. It must, if illegitimate offense can exist. It will always be tricky to clarify what should count as such and what shouldn't, but it's important to do so in order to avoid allowing people like Cain to claim that everything they say falls into that category. Whatever you might think about the ethics of using the word "niggardly," for example, it shouldn't be placed in the same category as a statement of belief such as branding Muslims in general as terrorists or declaring that a pizza with lots of vegetables on it is a "sissy pizza." I have to use that example because it's from the same interview with Cain quoted above, and it seems to be what people are talking about today. Advocate.com notes:
In an interview with GQ, Cain decries any adherence to political correctness and then uses a term that will probably offend. . .
Over a pizza lunch, Cain offered his take on what makes a "manly" pizza. The use of sausage was high on his list. But vegetables were "sissy" pizza.
"I'm very particular about the pizza that I eat," he explained, saying men want a harmony of "abundance" and "taste."
"What can you tell about a man by the type of pizza that he likes?" asked reporter Chris Heath.
"The more toppings a man has on his pizza, I believe the more manly he is," Cain declared. "Because the more manly man is not afraid of abundance," he added with a laugh.
"A manly man don't want it piled high with vegetables! He would call that a sissy pizza," Cain said.
Yes, we are talking about a presidential candidate with the sensibilities of a twelve year old boy.* Talking this way isn't just "politically incorrect"; it's offensive and frankly stupid. It is, to return to our initial quote, as sign that the speaker is also dozens of other kinds of incorrect. It is not a state of being of which a person should be proud, nor one for which he deserves respect and admiration except by others who are equally incorrect. Lisa Lampanelli is cleverer, funnier, and less offensive. Maybe she should run for president.

* Apologies to all of the bright, mature twelve year old boys out there who know better and would never say such things.

2 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. I deleted the comment above cause I didn't like the way it came off.

    I've told the right-wingers in my little corner of the world that they'll end up having to vote for Romney if they want to win the general election, because the candidates that they've got right now - their "heroes" - are transparently stupid, and in the case of Cain (as you pointed out), frighteningly immature. Not that Romney is any better, but he stands the best chance. I'm not sure which is better: the fact that I'm likely right or the fact that they know I'm likely right and it chaffs them so much, being the extreme liberal I am (I've been known to introduce myself as "the liberal Bill O'Reilly warned you about").

    I've looked at the PC accusations before and I've come to the interesting conclusions that accusations of PC are really nothing more than a dual way to silence the victim and blame the victim at the same time. I recently put up my definition on my blog (as in, roughly an hour before stumbling here), so it's a happy coincidence.

    But anyway, just popping in to comment. Nice blog! :)

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