HELP ME I’M POLITICALLY CORRECT; Or, what the hell, Bill Maher?
I stopped keeping up with South Park years ago.
/puts on hipster glasses
I prefer the old episodes, the ones that focused on Stan, Kyle, Kenny and Cartman getting into wacky misadventures just because Matt Stone and Trey Parker were trying to push the limit, to see exactly how much their demented little cartoon could get away with. Points were made and celebrities were roasted, but there was an irreverence to it all that’s been lost. Recent episodes, to me, commit worse sins than being overly-topical; they’re flat, dull. Unfunny.
But I caught the latest one and genuinely laughed. A meta commentary on what can and can’t be said in entertainment (and media in general), it poked fun at “PC police”, roping in Caitlyn Jenner, Tom Brady, Jared Fogle, caricatured frat bros and, just to play with fire, Syrian refugees in the process. The episode didn’t change my views on 2015 South Park being a cook tossing as many ingredients as possible into a pot and hoping the soup tastes alright (you can’t tell a good story in 21 minutes with so many moving parts), but, in a vacuum, it worked.
And it made a pretty clear point about the direction our always-correcting-you culture is heading: in the eyes of Parker and Stone, two white men who have earned millions by poking fun at every corner of society, marginalized or privileged, political correctness handcuffs us. All finger-pointing, no discussion, plenty of pontification from holier-than-thou douches.
Bill Burr agrees. In a sit down with Bill Maher (more on him in a bit) taped last January, Burr referred to political correctness as “manufactured strategic outrage,” saying that PC-ness is killing comedy. Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock won’t play to college crowds anymore because of it. In France, Charlie Hebdo is, again, embroiled in controversy for producing a cartoon that, if you’ve been following the news, is difficult to look at, but then we’re probably all too PC to appreciate it.
It’s a lot to take in.
Can political correctness be taken to an extreme level? Absolutely. One of the best pop culture critiques I’ve read over the last month defended the observation of movies through a feminist lens*:
Feminist criticism isn’t about ripping something to shreds or making others feel guilty for liking it. It’s simply about pointing out a specific creative weakness and then taking that a step further to explain the real-world social ramifications of that weakness, all in the hopes of dissuading future filmmakers from making the same mistake.
The fact that Caroline Siede was moved to write that in the first place says two things about western culture:
- There are plenty of people who are threatened by/flat-out disagree with feminism, and
- There are plenty of people who don’t understand feminism, mistaking it with extreme commentary (and possible uber-PCness) from corners of the Internet like Jezebel, where the line between feminism and clickbait is blurry at best
Best of luck to everyone in group 1; those that don’t wish for equality can go sit in a corner.
Everyone in group 2, on the other hand, might be a bit confused and frustrated at the overly-PC culture that South Park was laughing at. And it’s understandable. Getting corrected by someone is such a grating feeling (even if you deserve it), and getting slapped with the racist/sexist label is a serious charge that gets tossed around with the type of frequency that can, at times, make it all seem like a lazy, conversation-ending trump card.
But South Park, Burr, Seinfeld and Rock all fell short in actually creating a discussion about why we got here; they were too busy focusing on the fact that we’re here.
Let’s go back to Bill Maher for a second. A man with plenty of left-wing opinions (he supports same-sex marriage and the legalization of marijuana, and is an animal rights champion), the HBO star has, in recent years, taken on some disgusting Islamophobic viewpoints. Take this quote, from a (nearly) year-old episode of HBO’s Real Time:
Liberals need to stand up for liberal principles… All I’m saying is that liberal principles like freedom of speech, freedom to practice any religion you want without fear of violence, freedom to leave a religion, freedom for women, freedom for minorities, including homosexuals… these are liberal principles that liberals applaud, but then when you say in the Muslim world, this is what’s lacking, that’s when they get upset.
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Ben Affleck did all he could to put Maher in his place but nothing’s changed. Maher’s damaging opinions hold firm. When talking about the Ahmed Mohamed controversy, Maher, again on Real Time, said:
Over the last 30 years, it’s been one culture that has been been blowing shit up over and over again... This kid deserves an apology. No doubt about it… But can we have a little perspective about this? Did the teacher really do the wrong thing?
YES! YES! YES! Holy shit, a thousand times, yes! Even if the teacher was threatened by the (admittedly, not clock-looking) clock, the escalation from “hey, this looks odd” to “I think we should get the police involved” is absurd, and falls in line with the school district’s troubling, racist pattern.
And then you have Maher, encouraging this behavior by distilling a group of over 1.5 billion people into the worst possible stereotypes**. But he seems to think that what he’s saying is okay, that we’re all too sensitive to handle his #truth. Circling back to the interview that Maher conducted with Burr, Maher kicks things off with some playful commiseration:
I thought tonight, we would share a cry together. I think we have something in common… we think that political correctness may be ruining comedy.
Comedy, commentary; whatever it is that Maher does nowadays is dangerous, insensitive and should not be broadcasted. He’s a bully, the antithesis to the liberal agenda he claims to defend, and the reason why it’s so important for people to be politically correct: because there are just so many jackasses out there who use freedom of speech in the worst possible way. And, frankly, if he has the right to make such disgusting comments, the educated members of society have a responsibility to call him out.
And if his type use the “you’re being too PC” argument to justify what he’s saying? Well… fuck ‘em. I think erring on the side of caution and not offending (and harming) entire populations of people — when, really, it’s so easy not to — is a better alternative to, you know, offending (and harming) entire populations of people. Is there a genuine argument to be made about over-censorship and extreme political correctness? Absolutely. But the problems that Maher is stirring up are much, much graver than a comedian getting into some hot water for telling a particularly dark joke. We can’t let people like that walk around unchecked just because we’re afraid of being slapped with a “sensitive” label by people who clearly have no interest in understanding how different groups think, feel and operate.
Last week’s episode of South Park more or less ended with a promise that this theme will be explored more as the season progresses. Parker and Stone have opened up a conversation that in a lot of ways needs to be had. Their first point was heard, loud and clear, by plenty. Let’s hope the show explores the other side of the coin.
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*Feminism and political correctness are obviously different things, but in defending the equality that feminism demands, Siede was fighting against similar enemies of political correctness, which, if I can go Merriam-Webster for just a second, is defined as “agreeing with the idea that people should be careful to not use language or behave in a way that could offend a particular group of people.”
**Another fun Maher opinion: in a Charlie Rose interview, Maher posited that the Muslim world, as a whole, supports ISIS, which is not only incorrect, but lazy. Even other jihadist groups are put off by ISIS. Wanna know how long it took for me to Google “ISIS Criticism” and find that article? About five seconds. Maybe less. Maher’s opinions are not only dangerous, but factually wrong and incredibly lazy.