by Joyce Marcel
American Reporter Correspondent
May 4, 2007
FREE TO BE AN IDIOT
DUMMERSTON, Vt. -- Until 9/11, I could take political correctness or leave it alone. But watching it run amok has reminded me of the German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen.
Remember his comments after he watched the World Trade Center spectacularly go down in fire and ash on Sept. 11, 2001? He called it "the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos." Afterward, of course, he was forced to apologize. At about the same time, the artist Damien Hirst called the television images "visually stunning." Later he, too, was forced to apologize.
And poor Bill Maher on his television show, "Politically Incorrect," said, "We have been the cowards, lobbing Cruise missiles from 2,000 miles away. That's cowardly. Staying in the airplane when it hits the building, say what you want about it: not cowardly."
I don't remember if he got a chance to apologize. He just lost his gig. Afterwards, the then-White House press secretary Ari Fleischer warned, "There are reminders to all Americans that they need to watch what they say, watch what they do. This is not a time for remarks like that. There never is."
The sanctimony was out of the bag. Mel Gibson got drunk and made anti-Semitic comments. He had to apologize and go to rehab. Senator Joe Biden called Barrack Obama "the first mainstream African-American who who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy..." Even Oprah hit the roof. And then? "I deeply regret..."
On stage during a standup comedy routine, Michael Richards threw the "N" word at some hecklers. He lost what was left of his career. On the set of "Grey's Anatomy," Isaiah Washington (for my money, the real Dr. McDreamy), angry about being kept waiting, called actor T. R. Knight a "faggot." He too apologized and went to rehab. (The blogs called it "gayhab.")
Earlier this month, Bryan Ferry of Roxy Music praised Nazi iconography in a German magazine. "The films of Leni Riefenstahl and the buildings of Albert Speer and the mass marches and the flags - just fantastic," he said. And later? "I, like every right-minded individual, find the Nazi regime, and all it stood for, evil and abhorrent."
Do you see where I'm going with this?
I wasn't going to touch the Don Imus "nappy-headed ho's" debate. He's an idiot for saying what he said, but so what? I'm saddened that he still thinks like that, but Rush Limbaugh, Bill O'Reilly and that skinny blonde woman make big money saying worse things all the time.
But then, after the Virginia Tech murders, there was another example. A college professor was leading a discussion on gun control, on responding with violence to violence and on the "celebration of victimhood" in our culture. He pretended to shoot some students by pointing a marker and saying, "Pow." He was fired the next day. "Emmanuel College... does not in any way condone the use of discriminatory or obscene language," the school self-righteously announced.
"Pow," it seems, has joined "nappy-headed ho's" and "greatest work of art" on the forbidden language list. (In 2006, "macaca" headed the list, according to the Global Language Monitor's Most Politically Incorrect Words of 2006.)
In the beginning, I naively thought that putting a damper on hate speech would put a damper on hate. But I was wrong. We live in a world drenched with political correctness, but America has been on a murderous six-year rampage throughout the world and the death toll, when it's finally counted, may be in the millions. Political correctness has done nothing to alleviate the pain we're causing to our fellow human beings.
Instead, political correctness has introduced a climate of fear into our social and political debate. If you've ever wondered why our politicians seem wooden, timid and scripted, look no further.
When the late philosopher Susan Sontag wrote a piece for The New Yorker on Sept. 24, 2001, it unleashed a fire storm of criticism.
She wrote, "The disconnect between last Tuesday's monstrous dose of reality and the self-righteous drivel and outright deceptions being peddled by public figures and tv commentators is startling, depressing. The voices licensed to follow the event seem to have joined together in a campaign to infantilize the public... Our leaders are bent on convincing us that everything is O.K. "
Instead, she strongly promoted "the politics of a democracy - which entails disagreement, which promotes candor... Who doubts that America is strong? But that's not all America has to be."
Sontag was right. We are being infantilized. Candor and free speech are gone. We hear something we don't like and we run to mommy, begging for the speaker to be punished.
Who are these mommies? Who are these thought police? Who appointed them? What uniforms do they wear? Rehab or gayhab, in reality they're "indoctrination centers." Doesn't that have a totalitarian ring to it?
Certainly, there are racists among us. I'd rather know who they are rather than silence them before they speak. Certainly, there are idiots among us - a lot more of them in politics than entertainment, by the way. I'd like to be able to identify them.
As an American and as a writer, I will always take the First Amendment seriously. I believe in freedom of speech as well as freedom of thought. Any other way lies totalitarianism, propaganda and madness.
As a human being who has been the target of racial, social and professional insults, I deeply oppose the pain that thoughtless words can cause.
But more and more, people seem to be uncomfortable with free speech and with ideas that take them out of their comfort zone. You mean we're not bringing democracy to Iraq?
But the cure for offensive speech is more speech to counter it, not silencing someone and trundling them off to a reeducation camp.
I am frequently amused, shocked or horrified by what people say and think. But in America everyone is free to be an idiot. As an adult, I reserve the right to make my decisions for myself.
A collection of Joyce Marcel's columns, "A Thousand Words or Less," is available through joycemarcel.com. And write her at firstname.lastname@example.org.