Rowyn (rowyn) wrote,

Politically Correct

A couple of days ago, haikujaguar pointed to the front page of SF Site. One of the book reviews contained the following quote (from the reviewer, not the book): "Sometimes, in fact, we seem to be a massive waste of cells -- Nazis, serial killers, Republicans". I'm pleased to say that the review author has since thought better of the line and revised it, although the new version no longer has a punchline. ("Republicans" has been replaced by "pedophiles".)

And I'm thinking about why I'm pleased.

I was one of a number of people who wrote to the site editor to complain about the "Republicans=serial killers" joke. I spent a little while trying to decide how to phrase my complaint. I didn't want to say "This isn't funny" because, frankly, I thought it was funny. It was unexpected and absurd, and met my qualifications for "funny". But I still didn't like it.

Partly, I didn't like it because this was a site about reviewing science fiction books, and it seems pointless to invoke 21st century politics in review of a book that clearly has nothing to do with politics. In one of my two emails to the editor, I wrote, "I think you would perform a more valuable service for science fiction fans everywhere by reviewing books based on the content of the novel, rather than using the "review" as a platform to air the politics of the reviewer."

This is a reasonable objection -- a simple request to "stay on topic". But it wasn't why the review really bothered me.

What really bothered me was that it was such a pointless jab. If you don't like Republicans and think their policies are dreadful, I can understand that. But what I can't understand is why you'd want to further alienate the half of the country that doesn't agree with you. Is there a Republican in the world who is going to think "Oh no! This woman thinks I'm as bad as a serial killer! I must run out and register as a Democrat right now"? I very much doubt it.

But there are, I am sure, plenty of Republicans who will be happy to seize on this quote as evidence of the hypocrisy and intolerance of Democrats. (And never mind that, for all we know, the reviewer is a Republican.) "Why should I join the 'party of diversity'? Their desire for diversity clearly doesn't extend to me." It made me want to shake the reviewer: "Don't you see you're hurting your own cause?"

That's what offended me, more than anything else. Not that the remark was unfunny or inappropriate, but that it was going to make enemies instead of allies, and if people in the USA want to get the Republicans out of power, they're going to need a lot more friends. They already have plenty of enemies.

The other thing that struck me about this was the "funny" quotient. As I said, I thought the original line was amusing. It annoyed me more than it amused me, but there was still some humor to it. I thought about substitutions, and whether or not they'd be funny. What if, instead of Republicans, she had used:

Democrats Less funny than Republicans. I think this is because Republicans are solidly in power right now (at least at the federal level), and picking on Democrats feels like kicking someone who's down. Besides, since Democrats aren't in power, it's hard to accuse them of having done anything worse than be rather ineffectual.
Blacks/Caucasians/Hispanics etc.: Just racist. Not remotely funny.
Women: Just sexist. Not funny.
Men: This makes me smile. It ought to be "just sexist" but for some reason the idea of "Nazis, serial killers, and men" is making me giggle. I don't know why.
Christians/Jews/atheists: Not funny, probably because there's too much bad blood between various religious groups already.
Pagans/Muslims: Completely offensive; not remotely funny. Too many ignorant people imply that all pagans are baby-killers and all Muslims are terrorists for me to think that slams on those groups are amusing.
Lawyers: Funnier than Republicans, but it still itches at me. Lawyers get a lot of flak in our society, and while they're mostly a rich and successful bunch and can presumably take the ribbing, it's still ... meh. I don't like it.
Blondes: A bit less funny than lawyers, largely because lawyer jokes revolve around lawyer=evil while blonde jokes are all blonde=dumb. "Massive waste of cells" might still apply to stupid people, but the Nazi/serial killer progression no longer makes any sense.
Book critics: In the reviewer's place, this is the one I would have chosen. Book reviewers aren't akin to Nazis or serial killers either, but in some circles, critics are highly disliked. Moreover: the reviewer is one. And if you're going to mock someone, it's most tasteful to mock yourself. If a joke isn't funny when you're the butt of it ... well, it may not be so funny at someone else's expense, either.

"Politically correct" became a joke itself, a decade or more ago. It's true that many advocates of PC-ness stepped way over the line in their efforts to root out offensive language ("niggardly" is not an ethnic slur! And "womyn" is just silly.) There's a stifling of speech to it. Should I ruin a joke because someone might be offended by it?

And on the other hand: is "politically incorrect" really all that funny?
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