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OpEdNews Op Eds    H4'ed 12/27/17

Have a Nice Day in a Post-Joke World

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Message Prakash Kona

From the naive comments usually posted on YouTube clips of Family Guy, it is obvious that most of the viewers might not be getting the daring humor of Seth MacFarlane's avant-garde animated sitcom Family Guy. In those comments, characters are treated like real-life people: most of the comments are on Brian, who I call the "talking" dog, and who is usually evaluated in moral terms that are often infantile. If Family Guy can rightfully make claim to a place in television history, it is because it is able to take almost any subject at its disposal and create entertainment out of it.

I want to touch on one episode from the 16th Season of Family Guy with the title "The D in Apartment 23" about Brian's racist tweet which I found interesting for its take on political correctness. Political correctness is a disease that unfortunately is connected to Internet-related developments which created a parallel social world other than the ones where people actually meet and discuss in day to day life. To be politically correct is reactionary for a couple of reasons: one that it prevents an honest and truthful dialogue between different groups from ever taking place; more importantly, people cannot be themselves in public spaces while they continue to be what they are in their private worlds; third, and most importantly, they are eternally tagged with a label identifying them with a certain point of view making emotional and spiritual change literally impossible.

The ideologues espousing political correctness are dangerous because there is a dark, Kafkaesque side to how they view the world. "Reality is inside the skull" says O'Brien to Winston in Orwell's nightmarish novel 1984. A world filled with the politically correct is a dystopia where language is completely under the control of an all-powerful state and corporations. It is a dystopia that makes redundant all the accomplishments in science and technology only to leave the decision-making in the hands of amoral leaders to manipulate people's private lives and use the information to render the latter voiceless in public spaces. A politically correct world is where "reality" will be nowhere else but in the "skull."

The opening of the episode is probably the story of most universities on this planet with some inkling of social media. Stewie says, while looking at a group of students shouting, "Looks like a student rally. They probably forgot to study for an exam, so they organized a protest. In the '90s, you'd just pull a fire alarm. Now, you hold a protest. That is, when they're not looking down at their phones." A couple of memorable quotes are when Brian tells the protesting student: "Hey, if you don't want to get fired, - don't become a teacher, right?" The student, while missing the irony, responds, "Totally. You should tweet that. #FireEveryone." Seriously, I almost cried! Brian's defense of himself is perhaps the best part of the entire episode: "I'm not a racist, all right? I just told a bad joke. There's a huge difference. But nobody on the Internet ever takes the time to ask themselves, "Is this worth freaking out over?" Or, "Are there bigger problems in the world than this tweet?" Well, I assure you, there are."

But, we live in a "post-joke world" and there is a "sensitivity mob" out there to get you. George Carlin is never tired of making the distinction between the meanings of words and the intentions of the people who use the words. "I probably got some other group pissed off at me because I said 'fruit'. There's a different group to get pissed off at you in this country for everything you're not supposed to say"It's the user. It's the intention behind the words that makes them good or bad. The words are completely neutral. The words are innocent. I get tired of people talking about bad words and bad language"For instance, you take the word "n-word." There is absolutely nothing wrong with the word "n-word" in and of itself. It's the racist a**hole who's using it that you ought to be concerned about"You can't be afraid of words that speak the truth, even if it's an unpleasant truth, like the fact that there's a bigot and a racist in every living room on every street corner in this country."

To the "sensitivity mob" we owe completely wrong notions of the past. They have no knowledge of history, they are not willing to read anything that will open their minds, they are mortally scared to be themselves and by extension they are desperate to be part of a group. Reflections about oneself are deeply personal and in the end will change the world. The sensitivity mobs have successfully destroyed that space of both inner and outer reflection. Labeling people for remarks or jokes they might have made inadvertently because they come from a certain social context is to take away the chance of real change in the person. That kind of labeling is a crime against a person's individuality and Hester Prynne's guilt imprinted on her body in the form of the scarlet letter "A" by a puritanical order in Hawthorne's novel The Scarlet Letter is about the tyranny of such a majority. Hawthorne is talking about the sensitivity mobs of the premodern world. How different are the social and news media mobs in the 21st century!

Political correctness is majoritarian violence of the worst kind. The "post-joke world" where people have to live with bleeding mouths because they have to constantly bite their tongues out of fear that they might say something that could cost them their reputations or jobs is an unfair world. Most people deserve better than that to say the least. I cannot deny personally that I might not have countless times uttered or thought about things blatantly racist, sexist, casteist, misogynistic, anti-minority, anti-everything that did not suit my taste in that particular moment. It does not mean that I don't make the effort necessary to deal with the intentions that make me use those words. The same logic applies to people who might consciously use those words with a specific intention which needs to be addressed and argued against both in public and private spaces. When Brian says: "And just for the record, I love black people. I watch tons of black porn," you realize that he is not completely oblivious of the fact that he might be a racist. He is making the point that the sensitivity mobs are merely trying to look good in public while they are no different from Brian himself as far as the prejudices are concerned.

If race relations must make some progress in the 21st century, I mean, if they must evolve in a responsible manner, the childish and meaningless obsession with politically correct language and behavior must be challenged in an adult-like manner. The sensitivity mobs must be put in their place and not allowed to call the shots with the impunity that they do. This postmodern tendency to either be viewed as victims or be the declared friends of victims or to see everything in one single opposition -- either as victim or victimizer, is sickening to say the least. Like the student who tells Brian, "in our systemic rape culture no day is a nice day." That's a sad and pathetic view of life. Individually I am certain that most of these politically correct sorts are tortured souls looking for an avenue for the cynicism that has a stranglehold on their imagination.

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You cannot be human without ultimately accepting the presence of others in your life. I remembered how the film Jaws (1975) which I loved as a school going boy scared an entire generation from entering water without fear that there might be a shark somewhere lurking deep down. At the end of the day it is just a great movie and there is no reason to hold on to an imaginary fear and develop a complex against entering water. The politically correct sorts are holding on to imaginary fears and refusing to see the joke for a joke. Their refusal to either make or take a joke adds not only to their repertoire of imaginary fears but also fuels the need to be part of a sensitivity mob and thereby commit unforgivable acts of violence in the process of concealing their fear of the "shark" waiting to get them. People who are weak feel the need for the security that comes with mob membership. Life's problems are not as insurmountable as they appear to be. With a little conviction and empathy, it is not that difficult to "have a nice day" in a "post-joke world."

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Prakash Kona is a writer, teacher and researcher who lives in Hyderabad, India. He is currently Professor at the Department of English Literature, The English and Foreign Languages University (EFLU), Hyderabad.

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