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June 18, 2001
8:54 PM   Subscribe

From its origins as Stalinist rhetoric in the 30's, to ironic Left-wing jibe in the 70's, to Iconoclastic taunt in the 80's, to the Conservative pejorative of today, has the term Political Correctness had its day? It's probably just me but it seems to be used far more frequently by people who are in positions of power or by those more in tune with society's mainstream orthodoxy than by those who aren't. Of course, no one ever calls themselves politically correct. What do you think, what does the p.c. term mean to you?
posted by lagado (28 comments total)

 
Its a common phrase, a quick search of Metafilter brings back:

politically correct: 45 results
political correctness: 33 results

I didn't bother searching for PC for obvious reasons.
posted by lagado at 9:00 PM on June 18, 2001


I hope it will soon pass away; I expect it will as we slide evermore into the vast, right wing conspiracy called globalization, and weightier issues like the survival of the human race rise to prominence. PC is much overused and painful to hear.

PC used to mean someone who was overly sensitive to how something was said, as opposed to what was said, ie criticizing someone for using the word "history" because it had "his" in it, and then arguing about the word for twenty minutes in a way that was devoid of usefulness, and drove any sane person away from the left, perhaps forever.
posted by tranquileye at 9:16 PM on June 18, 2001


I thought that tired old phrase had its day long, long ago, if indeed it ever had one. It's a phrase that, really, has no meaning that the words forming it should give it.

Speech codes, for example. How is that "politically" correct, eh? Whose politics are we talking about here, anyway?

It's basically a perjorative used by those who enjoy easy catchphrases rather than critical thinking. It's an empty slogan.
posted by solistrato at 9:19 PM on June 18, 2001


Wouldn't the call to retire a phrase because its usage is now more in tune with those in society's mainstream orthodoxy than those who aren't be an example of political correctness (in the contemporary pejorative sense)?

I remember first seeing it in early 80s personal ads in the alternative newspaper. I don't remember its usage being ironic, more a proud shorthand for being on the proper side of the political fence.
posted by TimTypeZed at 9:35 PM on June 18, 2001


This is only anecdotal evidence, but just the other day I thought to myself that I was noticing a rather large increase in the use of the term of late. It would be nice if someone here with Nexis access could run a few searches to compare, say, the number of mentions in May 2001 compared with May 1996.

As for the term itself, it can either be used dismissively or as part of a legitimate argument, depending on the circumstances. But one certainly cannot broadly generalize that all uses of the term are nothing more than empty sloganeering without calling into question one's one ideological leanings. That's even more dismissive.
posted by aaron at 9:46 PM on June 18, 2001



Wouldn't the call to retire a phrase because its usage is now more in tune with those in society's mainstream orthodoxy than those who aren't be an example of political correctness (in the contemporary pejorative sense)

It certainly could be.

I was just thinking about how the phrase's original meaning had something to do with political orthodoxy attacking political heresy. Nowadays the established orthodoxy seems to be proudly "incorrect".
posted by lagado at 9:48 PM on June 18, 2001


solistrato: It's basically a perjorative used by those who enjoy easy catchphrases rather than critical thinking.

agreed.

as an alternate use, it's sometimes an excuse for someone to be mean or nasty; then they proudly proclaim that they're not PC (as if being mean equates somehow with speaking the truth.)

this particular flavor are just bullies without the balls to admit it.... - rcb
posted by rebeccablood at 10:43 PM on June 18, 2001


Well that blows my hypothesis. I had nothing to back it up but I was moving toward an idea where the usage of "politically correct" language (and hence the terminology) came from France in the 1960's -- having been disseminated through studies in areas of literary and film criticism.

Time to go to work on another crackpot idea.
posted by Dick Paris at 10:53 PM on June 18, 2001


I first heard of "political correctness" when Time (or Newsweek) did a cover story on in it in like 89-90ish. It was very anti-PC thought, and I was struck by the people who wanted to change women to "womyn" so that they wouldn't be seen as derivative of men. Struck me as odd.
posted by owillis at 11:40 PM on June 18, 2001


"It's not very politically correct, ha ha," means "It's irreverent and I am very stupid".

In most other contexts, however, use of the phrase "politically correct" or "political correctness" can be taken to mean "I am a reactionary".
posted by Mocata at 2:42 AM on June 19, 2001


Even the Maher show has jumped the shark.
posted by bilco at 3:21 AM on June 19, 2001


to me, being politically correct simply means being logical and sensitive.

it means not using ethnic slurs. it means taking every viewpoint as equally valid. it means not being prejudiced.
posted by will at 6:41 AM on June 19, 2001


"Taking every viewpoint as equally valid"? Oh sweet jesus - what are we teaching our children these days?

Look, let's roll out the old adage one more time for emphasis: if all things are equal, then all things are crap. And since we know that's not true, then we arrive at the vastly comforting notion of quality and that some things are, indeed, better than others - ideas, philosophies, cultures, people. (Unless anyone wants to stand up and argue for the Taliban's quality and validity. Bueller? Bueller?)

Political Correctness, as I learned it on a hyper crunchy liberal college campus of the early 90s, is a way for people - easily overwhelmed by the vast array of differences in the world - to avoid having to make up their own minds about anything, lest some precious get offended (oh, deliver us all from that particular evil!).

Bah and humbug. Moral relativism is still moral relativism.
posted by gsh at 6:58 AM on June 19, 2001


So now I'm interested. What makes your viewpoint, culture and people better than any one else's again, gsh?
posted by lagado at 7:12 AM on June 19, 2001


Political Correctness, as I learned it on a hyper crunchy liberal college campus of the early 90s, is a way for people - easily overwhelmed by the vast array of differences in the world - to avoid having to make up their own minds about anything, lest some precious get offended (oh, deliver us all from that particular evil!).

Been listening to Rush Limbaugh lately? You're right, lazy thought is exclusively a left-wing phenomenon. Or not, as you so aptly demonstrate.
posted by solistrato at 7:56 AM on June 19, 2001


Simmer down, brother man. I voted for Nader and consider myself to be a dyed in the wool lefty. Note, however, that lefty does not equal knee jerk, thoughtless sheep.

Right wingers are just as guilty of lazy thought as anyone (the recent mass testing as answer to education ills being the first of so very many examples) - however, they have yet to invent anything so ridiculous and Orwellian and pervasive as Political Correctness.

Okay, why is Western Culture better? Freedom. The ability to start with absolutely nothing and still ascend to great intellectual, social, political and material heights (or, better yet, to not do that - to drop out of a society you believe to be corrupting and evil and still have the right to gripe about it!) - of course, that will all entail a huge amount of work, but it's being done every day. Democracy. And yes, yes - it's not perfect (heaven forfend), but it works and no one else has a better game going.

Unless I'm missing out on the mass exodous to Libya.
posted by gsh at 8:09 AM on June 19, 2001


"Politically correct" is one of those vacuous dummy-phrases that the Left employed to its peril for years to mean precisely whatever that particular speaker wanted it to mean at the time. We (the Left, hi there) are paying for it much in the same way that the Right paid and continue to pay for another vacuous dummy-phrase, "family values."
posted by Skot at 8:16 AM on June 19, 2001


political correctness=a way for conservatives to categorically dismiss any political stance that they don't agree with.

You know, this was an alarmingly successful strategy. The general populace really got behind it. It was really easy to hate "political correctness."

I saw someone reading a photocopied grad school seminar-esque handout on the bus the other day - "an interview with Harold Bloom." I really was curious to see how that particular text was positioned within the course, but I didn't really feel like getting into a debate about politics and the canon while riding public transportation....
posted by preguicoso at 8:17 AM on June 19, 2001


Skot...

I don't think "political correctness" was ever a phrase/strategy deployed by the Left. I think you've got the story confused. "Politically correct" was pure Limbaugh...
posted by preguicoso at 8:18 AM on June 19, 2001


I dunno. I thought "political correctness" is generally a term used by the right to attack certain ideas of the left. Then again, I thought "values clarification" was just something knee-jerk conservatives invented to demonize liberals (esp. after hearing it in a song by some fundie) until my housing survey asked "Has living in on-campus housing clarified your values?"
posted by dagnyscott at 8:26 AM on June 19, 2001


Really? Well, chalk up another victory for talking out of my ass. So why did a whole ton of my leftie friends use this term around eight years ago?

Hmmm. Answer may be: We were stupid kids. That sounds about right.
posted by Skot at 8:29 AM on June 19, 2001


This site claims that the first example of the phrase in English was by Angela Davis in 1971.
posted by snarkout at 9:05 AM on June 19, 2001


Skot...

I don't think "political correctness" was ever a phrase/strategy deployed by the Left. I think you've got the story confused. "Politically correct" was pure Limbaugh...


Sorry, you're confused. 'Political correct' was a term used in a sincere fashion by the political left in the 1960s - 1970s. It later metamophasized into it's current use as a mocking term of those who once used it unironically.
posted by ljromanoff at 10:03 AM on June 19, 2001


"Politically correct" was pure Limbaugh...

If you want us to take your positions seriously, it might help to not make up "facts" that are so instantly provably wrong, as snarkout just did.
posted by aaron at 10:09 AM on June 19, 2001



When all else fails, I like the definition provided by This Modern World.
posted by turaho at 10:31 AM on June 19, 2001


I was too categorical in saying that "politically correct" was never a phrase used in earnest by the Left. However, the phrase as we now understand it gained its contemporary currency with the curriculum wars of the eighties/nineties - correct me if I'm wrong (I'm sure you all will), but it was my understanding that this term came about during the debates about "great books," the canon, and cultural studies within the academy. It was my understanding that it was deployed in order to discredit academic programs like African American Studies, Chicano/Latino/Latin American Studies, Gender Studies, Queer Studies, etc...
posted by preguicoso at 10:39 AM on June 19, 2001


aaron: Why was an addition "we don't take you seriously" type comment even necessary. The current use of politically incorrect most certainly has conservative origins. The original term was probably not all that widespread. (And really. How many people do you know who used "womyn.") So he made a boo-boo in the exact etymology. No, aaron's never made a boo-boo on metafilter. Ever.

Gratuitous use of PC is easily spotted, meantime. Caught myself doing it in criticizing "American Beauty" not long ago. The gay couple, I remarked, represents the only non-dysfunctional household on the block. This, I noted, was very PC. Actually, it was not so much PC as uncreative, unthinking and heavy-handed.

Oh, this question is so very 2000.
posted by raysmj at 12:09 PM on June 19, 2001


Oh, this question is so very 2000

yep. Time for a new thread...
posted by preguicoso at 2:02 PM on June 19, 2001


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