Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Politically Correct

The first time I heard the term “Politically Correct” I was in Dr. Beausoliel’s sociology class. I remembered sitting there in the lecture hall horrified about this political correctness ideal, worried about how this might impact on free speech. If we all started censoring everything we had to say would anyone be able to really speak their minds? I raised my hand to bring this very point to the floor- thinking to myself there is no way she will ever know who I am, there are too many of us.

There was a little steel in her voice as she began her response but once she got into her grove she was all business. As far as she was concerned people had for too long exercised their right to free speech without any sense of responsibility. Negating the very real impact it had on other people’s lives. The jokes, the racial slurs, the offhand remarks kept people down. It kept them from the good jobs, the promotions; it colored how people saw who they were, and what they were capable of. Political correctness, she explained, was an effort to make broad social and political changes and redress injustices caused by prejudice. She reminded us of the power of the word- the destruction that it can cause, and that it is our responsibility to change or avoid using language that might offend anyone, especially with respect to gender, race, or ethnic background.

I could get behind that.

But the politically correct movement did not stop there.

That was the golden age of political correctness, when being politically correct meant speaking and acting in a considerate manner to others. Now the term suggests something that is very restrictive; almost oppressive. Cripes when Santa is warned 'Ho Ho Ho' is offensive to women, you know that the train ran off the rails somewhere. And now the backlash against political correctness seems to have given some the license to toss out the whole ideal of "speaking and acting in a considerate manner to others" and revert back to old habits that really were better off dead.

You may be wondering what exactly sent me off on this particular rant today.

Long story short, I host and visit several forums on Delphi. One of them is a Canadian based spot I am very fond of. These types of boards tend to build groups of people who remain at the forum for years, they get to know each other, they trade pictures of their kids, stories about their lives, send Christmas cards and birthday greetings. They become a little community of friends. Sure, some people come and go- but a hard core group of individuals remain and are the heart of that community. Lest you think this all sounds too rosy- it isn’t always so. No, each group usually has at least one member who likes to stir the pot, or assert their perceived intellectual, financial, or moral superiority over other members. Sometimes it is pretty obvious, sometimes it is more subtle. But it is a pattern of behavior that only ends when the member leaves (or is booted out).

So it was (yes we are getting down to the nitty gritty of it now) that I signed in yesterday to read yet another “Newfie Joke” from this poster. Again, pitting the Newfoundlander as some hapless fool, stupid by nature or by drink, a person who cannot reasonably manage their way through a paper bag. And I had enough. I don’t mind a good natured joke- I have been known to tell one myself, but when someone is constantly putting a specific group of people down and never in a manner that is clear it is in harmless fun- well let’s just say it gets old. Tired. Stale.

So, I turned the joke back on him- and he did not like that so much. He posted some garbage about having to be politically correct these days, and people not being able to take a joke. Isn’t it funny how when the shoe was on the other foot he did not like the fit?

Hey; if he can tell the "joke" I certainly have the right to call him on it, especially when it seems to be a pattern of poor behavior, in a public forum. What you do and say in your own home is your business- what you put out there for all to see, well that can net you something nasty. Something with teeth. After all, if we replaced the term Newfie in all those Newfie jokes with another n word, we would have a whole other kettle of fish.


Rob & Tina said...

On this same topic. I was blown away about a month ago when the word newfie was used in our store and our manager at the time became very offended. Seems "newfie" is a word that should no longer be used as it is (according to him) a derogatory term that was used in the 40s and 50s, and all newfoundlanders should be offended by it. I personally have never heard that before, being proud to call myself a newfie. The manager was also from newfoundland, which is why he found it offensive. You just never know what you can say these days!

Jay said...

I understand that is is cliqued and offensive and it is not a term I would ever use personally but it is interesting to see how different people respond to the term. I might stand up to someone who called you "a Newfie" but it seems if Rob&Tina were called a Newfie that is would not be a problem.

I think you steal something from a person when you deny them their identity and reduce them to a carticature of themselves. It is short sighted and dismissive and over all, hurtful.

emilie said...

hi nadine,
i liked this post a lot. i actually wrote a paper this term for my folklore class on fakelore and the stupid newfie that was similar!

Steve said...

Steve said:
I agree Nadine. It's kind of a fine line. There's a point when it becomes hurtful and pointed. You can get a vibe for when it is good natured or malicious.

I've posted about this on my blog before. Some of my posts were jokes, but others turned into serious debates.

I did what you did on that message board once; but I did it in real life. When I was 19, I was boarding at my Aunt's house in Montreal. My Uncle would come home from work every day with a different Newfie joke to "entertain" me. One day, I told him I had a great joke to tell his friends at work:

A UFO hovered over this Newfoundlander in a dory. The man was singing: "I'se da b'y dat builds da boat 'n' i'se da b'y dat sails 'er..."

The aliens decided this would be a good subject for their experiment. (Picture my Uncle nodding feverishly in anticipation... memorizing the joke for his buddies.) The aliens removed half of the man's brain. The man continued, not missing a beat: "I'se da b'y dat builds da boat 'n' i'se da b'y dat sails 'er..."

Puzzled, they decided to remove the rest of the man's brain. Again, without missing a beat: "Frere Jacques, frere Jacques, dormez vous, dormez vous..."

My Uncle's giggles turned to a frown and he didn't speak to me for two days.

This is not about taking what you give. It's about learning the hard way that what you give might be hurtful. My Uncle is a good man and had no intention to offend me. He felt the sting though, when the object of his taunts turned the tables on him.

Being politically correct is not only about words. It's about context as well. Even a good natured joke can be hurtful if told in the wrong situation. You might use vulgar language in certain company and it's acceptable; but around your kids or your mother, it's not proper.

Sorry... this is not a comment anymore... it's a post!

Anonymous said...

I agree with you...completely! Those "Newfie" jokes get old quick. I don't mind being called a "Newfie" depending on how and when it's said. However, my father hates the word and believes it's very derogatory.

nadinebc said...

Love this feedback everyone!

Rob & Tina: The word never used to bother me until after a few years living here, and having it used with such derision. I had never heard the term used that way before. Now when I hear it I cringe.

There are times when I hear it in certian circles, and contexts, and it doesn't bother me it all.

Jay; you are right it is demeaning when used to carticature people.

Emilie, I would love to read that paper!

Steve; it is funny when people get a meal of what has been served to you that they don't like the taste so much. Sometimes it is the only way to get them to see how it feels.

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