We’ve become so politically correct that the fun has been sucked out of the room―say those who’ve been called out for saying inappropriate jokes. In the best circumstances, they mean no harm; in the worst, they did mean to offend under the notion of doing some “truth-telling.” “People are so sensitive,” they add. “Is everything a sacred cow now?”
Well, it’s somewhere between yes and no.
In a world made smaller by the internet, hitherto unheard of points of view found a wider-reaching platform. Information became easier to disseminate―just as easily as misinformation―and we discover more and more that the way we’d believed the world works is very much an incomplete story told by those who had the means to direct how it goes and is remembered. It’s no longer the victor alone that gets to write history, because anyone can now chime in to introduce crucial twists, subplots, and ideas, complete with receipts; the worldwide web isn’t the breeding ground for skeptics and conspiracy theorists for nothing. What is truthful, what is revisionist―the debates may never stop, but at least we’re aware that history isn’t as cut and dried as we thought it was. Pleading monolithic ignorance in a time when the average Pinoy spends more than 360 minutes online a day is plain lazy and disingenuous because hello, GMG (Google mo, g@go).
Multiple perspectives affect not only the documentation of civilization but also culture. What was seen as funny in, say, 1997 isn’t quite as hilarious in 2017. See: black/brown/yellowface. Ninety-nine percent of rape jokes (only Wanda Sykes’s and those that make fun of rapists belong to the one percent). Fat person goes boom. Exaggerated racial stereotypes that are already exaggerations on their own. “Retarded” as an insult. Most stuff that were played for hyucks and chuckles have since been scalped and revealed to be insidious ways of degrading other people, and insisting on still using them proves only a few things. Well, just one: that the “joker” has a shitty, outdated sense of humor they don’t mind exposing even at someone else’s expense.
But not everything has to be treated as sacred cows in a “neutered” PC world. Cows and lesser beasts get falsely gilded only when the conversation ends with the offended party not clearly explaining what caused them offense, and the alleged offender crying “PC police!” and using edgy humor, honesty, or both as a final, unimpeachable umbrella defense. It takes considerable self-examination on both sides to move the dialogue further than that.
For the offended and those who ardently defend the offended, a.k.a. the Social Justice Warriors (SJW), it’s crucial to determine what exactly was offensive and why. Is it symptomatic of a bigger problem? Who else benefits should an apology be offered? Is calling out someone’s behavior motivated by the desire to see significant cultural change or simply to straddle a high horse, which is undoubtedly a very attractive position? The line between wanting to put things to right and getting sucked into the victim complex can be quite fine, given the many ways any person can be maligned (by their appearance, gender, race, age, economic and social status, educational level, etc.), but limiting the problem to merely a personal level and crying offense at every single thing also derail from constructive conversation.
Victim complex is evidence of someone taking themselves too seriously and is a form of absolution from the responsibility of listening to other people’s perspectives. When you’re fixated on the idea that a whole world of haters is out to get you, maybe it’s not them; maybe it’s you. (It’s definitely you, Taylor Swift.) To quote Raylan Givens, “You encounter an @sshole in the morning, you met an @sshole. You encounter @ssholes all day, you’re the @sshole.”
As for those who’ve been told that what they’ve written or said is offensive, this may be foolishly naïve but surely, most people don’t really mean to offend (Donald Trump and Rodrigo Duterte aren’t most people, obviously). Most just open their mouths without thinking first. But carelessness doesn’t get a free pass, either. If you had no intention of hurting others, admission of not taking the time to think things through goes a long way in fostering an educational dialogue; an apology, an even longer one. But when you dig in your heels, all “Sorry not sorry,” and you ironically police the so-called SJWs for calling you out then you can also chew then choke on that @sshole quote. (Coining the terms “SJW,” “snowflakes,” and “triggered” polices those with dissenting feedback in the first place.)
Being too careful with words is censorious, sure, but being careless with them is equally harmful because words have impact. If a punchline or a term already sparked moral outrage the first thousand times it was told, maybe it’s wise to hold off from regurgitating it even in a modified form, no? It may not affect you or anyone you know personally, but you and your squad aren’t the center of the universe and neither do you exist in a vacuum. If you can’t get why certain people can’t just shrug off certain terms and concepts, again: GMG, or ask your friendly neighborhood SJW. Say what you want about them but SJWs are not shy with explanations, and the best ones are lucid, rational, informed, even funny. Here’s a bone: go on YouTube, search “Last Week Tonight with John Oliver,” and giggle while getting educated on myriad issues and growing a conscience.
“It shouldn’t be called being ‘politically correct,’ but, ‘stop being an oppressive jerk.’”
Now, if you’ve received sufficient, legitimate explanation but still chalk it up to people being too PC, if garnering hyucks is worth more to you than not deliberately hurting someone else, if Other People Getting Offended Is Almost Offensive™ (trademark: Jennifer Lawrence) to you, then okay, ur juz bein’ rill. A rill @sshole. Quit playing the censored victim when you get called out for being offensive.
As for comedians, causing offense through jokes can be a means of jarring the audience awake. Satire slices through prevalent prejudices and exposes certain truths that the public is unaware of or reticent to unearth, never mind discuss. But for that to happen, satire needs to be smart, subversive, sharp. It’s not just for eliciting laughs, it’s also for piercing the audience awake, and not every comedian has the skills to wield it properly. Plenty end up hurting those already systematically, institutionally, historically cut down (the poor, the disabled, ethnic cultures, people of color, women, LGBT).
Now, comedians don’t spring into the scene fully formed and cognizant of what they say and do, but their comedy needs to evolve with the times. There are many ways to be funny, and it’s their life work to explore them for the benefit of their craft and the audience that supports them. Those who felt licensed by their art to make a hit on the already disenfranchised should be ready to deal with the resulting criticism, and those who opt out of even listening properly to the less-than-fawning reactions should be able to deal when people also opt out of watching and listening to them, Tina Fey and Ricky Gervais. (Who knew money and adulation could make famous comedians so f*cking sensitive.)
The PC culture isn’t about being inoffensive to the point of dull ambiguity, about releasing the hounds at the drop of an inappropriate comment. It’s about consciously being more inclusive with one’s words and actions, of taking stock of what you’d really like to say because you don’t want to marginalize others unnecessarily.
Breanna Khorrami of www.femmagazine.com even posits in “How to Not Be an Oppressive Jerk: A Lesson on ‘Political Correctness’” that we’ll all do better with doing away with the term because it implies being considerate only on a superficial level, “meaning that people do not actually talk that way in their everyday lives so it is only ‘politically’ relevant.” For her, it implies that behind closed doors, we’re all inconsiderate @ssholes. “It shouldn’t be called being ‘politically correct,’ but, ‘stop being an oppressive jerk.’” Well that’s a mouthful, but it also has a succinct ring to it. Aspirational, even. “We live in a time when people have stopped being oppressive jerks.” Sounds good, right?
But should the need to make a joke that you know will get you side-eyes feels impossible to ignore, please tell it only to people who know you really well, warts and all, and for some reason still sticks by you. If you’re gonna make an offensive strike, at least try to lessen the collateral damage. Do that for the good of humanity, you unfunny, offensive jerk.
Illustrator: Martin Diegor
All gifs via Giphy.
This story originally appeared in Garage Magazine’s February 2016 issue.