Wednesday, 12 December 2012

Anti-PC gone mad

I've previously posted about my satirical efforts ruffling feathers. Recent complaints about Powershop's latest "same power, different attitude" advert have prompted me to go into further detail on the phenomenon known as 'anti-PC gone mad'. The Powershop advert in question depicts the Pope marrying a same-sex couple, in keeping with the company's irreverent themes of free consumer choice. It's gotten up the nose of the local Catholic Church, Family First, and anti-abortionists, among others. Which is a bit rich, given Family First especially has made its raison d'être to complain about PC gone mad destroying society.

Not too long ago, there were whines about 'political correctness gone mad', in which a reasoned debate couldn't be engaged without accusations of redneckery or wowserism. If anything, the pendulum has swung to the opposite extreme - it's difficult to engage in a debate without being labelled 'politically correct' or a 'bleeding heart', or words to that effect. It's like an echo of Senator McCarthy's Red Scare witch-hunts, if not a direct descendant.
The anti-PC gone mad brigade have been egged on by reactionary sympathisers in talkback media like Rush Limbaugh - who reputedly made the term 'political correctness' infamous - although the phone-hacking scandal that derailed the News of the World, and the subsequent Leveson Inquiry, could prove a turning point.

To name just a few examples of anti-PC gone mad:

  • Massey university scientist Mike Joy has copped flak simply for being a bit too honest about the state of New Zealand's rivers. PR hack Mark Unsworth has compared him to the 'foot-and-mouth disease of the tourism industry', and blogger turned Truth NZ editor WhaleOil has called for him to be taken to the firing squad for 'economic sabotage'. Talk about attacking the symptom.
  • Actors' Equity official Todd Rippon has been sacked as a tour guide on the basis of rumours alone, in the wake of the Hobbit industrial controversy.
  • Paul Henry's departure from TVNZ's Breakfast in 2011 over his dissing of Sheila Dikshit and Anand Satyanand split the nation down the middle. People either thought Henry was a victim of PC gone mad, or they thought he made the nation look like backwater hicks.
  • A safe sex advert in Brisbane - and a perfectly SFW one too - was removed after a complaint by the Australian Christian Lobby, much to the disgust of almost everyone else.
  • A 7-year-old girl put in the naughty corner because her parents opted out of a fundamentalist religious studies class.
  • A more laughable example of anti-PC gone mad is the American Family Association's Web site filter, which notoriously invoked the Scunthorpe problem by replacing every occurrence of 'gay' with 'homosexual'. As a result, an article on athlete Tyson Gay was instead about 'Tyson Homosexual'.
  • Another laughable example: the reaction of fundies to any billboard by St Matthews in the City in Auckland. They seem to dismiss it as not being a real church, when their own churches are often of the nouveau riche mega-church variety.

Taken to its logical conclusion, anti-PC gone mad has, in very rare cases, gone as far as mass political murder. And when it happens, the usual suspects, in typical No True Scotsman fashion, simplistically dismiss it as the kind of thing only Reds and Koran-thumpers do. Anders Breivik and Timothy McVeigh come to mind.

Video blogger Moviebob has deconstructed anti-PC gone mad in his Big Picture video, "Correctitude". Closer to home, Steve Kilgallon described urban myths being taken as fact - such as Baa Baa Black Sheep being renamed Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep - to the point where "they're all rubbish, but 1984 has finally come to pass: we're all stupid enough to believe them". Libertarian writer Jim Peron, who lived in NZ for a few years and is no fan of political correctness himself, has previously written of a "new anti-PC problem".

So, what do haters of 'political correctness' hold sacred? The most obvious answer is a 1950s utopia which never really existed to begin with. A utopia where petrol grows on trees, everything was stable and whitebread, mum stayed home in the car-dependent suburbs to raise the kids, dad brought home the bacon, everyone saluted the national flag and put their trust in the police and military, society's misfits were out of sight and out of mind, and the 'civilised and savage' were clearly identifiable. More likely, it was some kind of Stepford paradise that couldn't last, as the upheavals of Vietnam, Watergate and economic globalisation in the subsequent decades illustrated. Black-and-white solutions no longer worked in a world increasingly shaded in gray.

If there's one common thread tying the anti-PC gone mad brigade together, it's a sense of preserving the old born-to-rule order at any cost. Anti-PC gone mad, it seems, is the new PC-gone-mad - it has effectively become what it hates.

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