See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.
The Crisis of a Politically Correct World
In Jonathan Swift’s landmark satirical essay “A Modest Proposal” he offered a tongue in cheek opinion on the solution to Ireland’s impoverished: the selling and eating of their children. In one of the most quoted passages he persuades in a very black way: “A healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked or boiled; and I am not in doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”
As one half of a childless couple, I admit I can read this without the emotional concern a mother might have. But it is satire and Swift’s essay cleverly and humorously lampooned the prevailing, and equally questionable, suggestions circulating at the time meant to solve the economic issues of Ireland and it’s poor. Whether you find humour in the essay isn’t the discussion point. A much bigger issue looms. Although Swift’s essay was published in 1729 it’s more relevant than ever today and it sparks a scary question: could this essay be published today in our increasingly politically correct world?
To answer this, let’s consider the following points: the rise of social justice warriors on social media, Brands becoming wimps and comedy as the last man standing in the war against PC.
Whether you embrace it or not, social media is how the world communicates. To deny social media is to deny 21st century life. We are encouraged to share but these open platforms, with exposure, and accessibility to millions, have a dark side. For every cat video posted, there are two negative or hate mongering posts that are disturbing, not just for their content, but the speed in which they’re shared. When the ability to have a mere opinion, brash or tame, brings out half baked social justice warriors who, in an attempt to raise their own profile, (primarily), find/attack/ someone or something whether its justifiable, accurate, or otherwise, it’s a problem. I recently read an anonymous article, and yes, the word anonymous is key here, because a journalist, the very profession that requires freedom of speech, wrote it. He or she claimed they were scared about posting anything too ‘opinionated’ for fear of backlash, specifically on social media. They had witnessed other colleagues being harassed, threatened, stalked and or fired because individuals took offence to something they wrote and rallied the troops on social media.
This is troubling. For all it’s benefits, social media has become the new watch dog and is squeezing us into a neutered, genderless, opinion-less world deemed ‘safe’ (read: boring) and it’s impact is far reaching.
Brands have also responded to public and social media backlash and now, even a whiff of controversy is enough to sever ties with anyone or anything that could diminish their reputation. Food Network dropped Paula Deen for tolerating racist jokes in the workplace. Nordstrom dropped Ivanka Trump’s shoe line in the Trump-bashing aftermath of the 2016 US election.
I’m not suggesting, brands shouldn’t protect their public goodwill. When a celebrity like Tiger Woods blows up in a sex scandal it makes sense to question your support. But laughing at or making a redneck or racial joke? Is that a crime? Yes, according to a single former employee of Deen’s. Does Nordstrom really think the public believes dropping Ivanka’s line was about poor sales and not pressure from the #GrabYourWallet campaign? Puh-lease.
The main concern for brands, publicly traded or otherwise, is their bottom line, and they will do anything to protect their economic interests, but at the expense of what? In law, it’s innocent until proven guilty. In today’s highly charged politically correct environment, it’s guilt by association and brands wimp out. If Swift were sponsored by any of today’s major brands you can bet his ‘assay’ he would have been dropped faster than you can say scandal.
With social media hate mongering and brands making moral judgment calls, is there any place left in this world where an opinion can be uttered without fear of personal ruin? Thankfully, yes, although for how much longer comedy can be the last man standing against a vigilant PC army remains to be seen.
In the interim, if life is equal parts drama and comedy, we need to ensure comedy retains its half. A life of nothing but drama isn’t normal, despite what Reality TV depicts. Laughter is the best medicine and we should be able to laugh at anything whether it’s the disabled, the poor, the Italians or hell, even ourselves. When comedy has to worry about offending, what’s left? Do we end walking around in bubbles saying “sorry” for everything? (Trés Canadian, n’est ce pas?)
Comedic tastes are varied and what gets a chuckle out of one person, might offend someone else. If you’re a teenager or older, you have a pretty good idea of what your tolerance levels are and have the decision making ability to steer clear or people and/or situations that could ruffle your feathers. It’s really as easy as that. If you don’t like “Family Guy” watch “Modern Family.” If Russell Peters’ multi cultural jabs offend you, listen to Chris Rock.
Sometimes all we need is a laugh. Don’t take that simple pleasure away from us. Don’t judge us for laughing at a joke even if you’re the punch line. And for God’s sake, let’s make sure PC-ers don’t infiltrate and strip comedy of it’s ability to allow us to endure another day.
Freedom of speech is vital and Jonathan Swift’s essay is an uneasy reminder of the not so free times we are living in. If “A Modest Proposal” were to be published today, would the outcry be loud, and swift, Jonathon suffering an Assange-like exile? Or would it be taken as it was originally written, tongue in cheek, firmly satire, and, under the umbrella of humour, given a free pass? It’s difficult to say.
The takeaway from this is to look at our own behavior. How do we respond to social media and its sway? Do we agree if Brands pass judgment when the issues are muddled? Can we laugh at others, as well as ourselves? Are we part of the PC problem?
I suggest we all chill out. This doesn’t mean we don’t care or don’t stand up for what we believe in. The world never changes without the passion of humans at the helm. But hacking opinions or the viewpoints, or jokes of others off at the knees, just because we don’t like them, or agree, is the quickest way for modern society to die a slow death. Diversity is where the world is heading. Diversity means different. It will be impossible to survive if we don’t allow the differences of others.
Unless of course, we follow Swift’s advice and start to eat the people who we see as the problem.