This posting was stimulated by reading a truly excellent column by Michael Chabon of the Atlantic (via Jay Lake’s link salad) titled The Unspeakable, in Its Jammies. Thanks Jay.
In my humble opinion, the US has far more political correctness than my homeland, but Australia isn’t that far behind. I understand that we should be thoughtful about how we communicate, particularly among the impressionable, but I believe we have gone way over the mark. With the kerfuffle on censoring Mark Twain in the US, which spurred on debate, including Chabon’s, I realized that I have been outraged on numerous occasions on the political correctness theme over recent years. For many reasons.
Let’s use Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn as an example, and the word ‘nigger’. This book was written for the younger set, and the word ‘nigger’ was an accepted part of language. Whether the symbolism of the word, and its actual usage, was right or wrong is irrelevant. It was the word that was used in Twain’s generation. More importantly, it seems to me that reading Huckleberry Finn (or more pertinently, Tom Sawyer, which uses the N word a heck of a lot more) in its original idiom, is an excellent way to provide historical, cultural context, and current linguistic nuances to the uninitiated. It is educational, and it is insightful. It allows a child, or adult, to grow. Of course this requires the right attitude by the person who reads the tome, or who writes the monograph, etc. Responsibility. The antithesis of this viewpoint, are those who want to wrench this responsibility from individuals and instead impose censorship. Frankly, it disgusts me.
I am rather glad I still can hear ‘Merry Christmas’ from people’s lips during late December, instead of some compulsory "Happy Holidays" or whatever, to ensure we don’t offend those precious little ears who aren’t supposed to be infused too heavily in Christianity. Here in Australia the retail industry nearly did away with it, but managed to find some common sense.
As a writer, my skill is in part measured by the way I can harness words and anticipate the way they will be received by readers. This relationship (words/readers’ minds) is what excites me. There are some in society who feel that they have a better grasp of what is decent and what isn’t, what is right and what is wrong. Under normal circumstances I would just have a chuckle about such folk (for after all, ignorance and control freakishness has existed since humanity walked upright on the plains), but I am not laughing any more. They seem to have succeeded in gaining a good measure of control, using spurious arguments to gain support (or mitigate opposition).