Remember when we were kids and if someone said something that hurt your feelings, all it took was a few tears and you could have that person sent to the principal’s office? Then somewhere along the way, someone tells you that you can’t let these things get to you and that you need to build a thick shell if you’re going to make it in the real world? Here we are, in the real world now, seeing that the lines between what is politically correct and what is a violation of free speech have become so blurry. People with any influence have to be exceptionally careful as to what they say for fear of committing the worst of media crimes: political incorrectness.
Officially, the act of being politically correct means to conform to a belief that language and practices which could offend political sensibilities (as in matters of sex or race) should be eliminated, according to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. Since a majority of people do conform to this idea, that means that we have to be cautious to avoid saying anything that would offend any group at all times.
At what point does that cross paths with our freedom of speech? Recently, Saturday Night Live released a skit called “Djesus Uncrossed”, which has been considered by many as their most offensive skit to date. You can see it for yourself here. It caused a massive backlash among Christians and caused Sears and J.C. Penney to pull their ads from online versions of the show.
God forbid you say God, for it will anger atheists. Darwin forbid you say evolution, for it would do the same to creationists. Over the last few years, we have seen more than our fair share of overreactions to Facebook posts by major organizations or insensitive comments by CEOs of major restaurant chains. The word “bigot” has been thrown around more times than anyone cares to count. Yes, I am referring to the great Chick-Fil-A incident of 2012 where CEO Dan Cathy took a stance against gay marriage by saying that it is “inviting God’s judgment on the land” when we try to redefine what marriage is.
This led to what is arguably one of the biggest two-week protests of our generation that had everyone take a side and had Facebook igniting with political debates until the storm finally subsided.
In a recent poll (still underway) I conducted through the RU Memes Facebook page, more than 40 students still say they refuse to eat at Chick-Fil-A due to their stance on the issue or their dontation of company funds to anti-gay organizations. However, as expected, another handful of students also chose the opposite extreme, that the company’s stance against gay marriage is the reason they continue to support the organization. Granted that a majority did say that the stance did not affect their tendency to eat there, the fact that some use the political issues to determine where they eat shows how sensitive people have become to businesses showing political affiliation.
This is in no way a liberal or conservative, religious or nonreligious, gay or straight problem. Examples of overreactions to political incorrectness can be seen by all sides of every spectrum. As long as someone has an opinion, someone else has an opinion to conflict it. A few months after the Chick-Fil-A dilemma, a very similar, albeit smaller scale, Facebook firestorm came about when Dr Pepper’s Facebook page posted an image called “Evolution of Flavor”, which featured an ape walking from the left of the image, drinking a Dr Pepper and becoming human. It almost goes without saying that there was an immediate backlash from creationists that demanded the image be taken down.
For every creationist that commented in protest, there seemed to be another to comment in support, saying they were going to pick up a 12-pack on their way home. This is not the first instance in which Dr Pepper has used political incorrectness as a marketing ploy. For a while, they used an ad campaign for Dr Pepper Ten which featured the tagline “It’s not for women”, which came off as sexist and offensive to many people, but was effective in that people went out of their way to try it just to see what the fuss was about. If anything, it should serve to prove that overreactions and boycotting may often serve to do the opposite of the intended effect.
No one would make the argument that we should not be censoring what can and cannot be said in the many forms of media we have today. There clearly needs to be a boundary to ensure this nation’s children aren’t hearing something they shouldn’t be hearing. However, among grown adults, there needs to be a level of respect for the beliefs of others and room for civil debate. If a person can’t talk about their stance on life without being shamed or criticized, there is clearly a disincentive to express opinions on a public platform. Even someone like George Takei, an openly gay actor, has received multiple requests to take down posts that show support of marriage equality and has responded to them by saying that it is his Facebook page and he can say what he wants, and anyone who disagrees can simply unlike or ignore them.
As a general rule of thumb, when you are publishing any form of media, opinionated or otherwise, you must still take caution to avoid hurting any feelings. This entire article essentially served to be an alternative to simply telling the nation to grow a pair and get over it, as that may just end up offending a group because of possible implications that it takes a man to deal with hurt feelings. The rule of thumb should be less focused on being politically correct all the time, and more on using discretion to know what is appropriate without the need to worry that someone might disagree with you. If we can learn to have a civil disagreement, or even ignore what offends us, then maybe life would run a little more smoothly for all of us.