This is a guest post by Michael Vaughan, a former journalist with The Age, crikey.com and a few other joints.
He has been on the road for the past five and a half years and spends most time in the Territory.
It’s time to give the arse to the overworked, overcooked and inaccurate term “political correctness“. Yeah, really, flick it.
Now before you start accusing me of being a champion of some sort of misogynistic bullshit or no doubt myriad other things, a moment if you please.
The evolution of the term political correctness had its origins, if you believe the interweb thing, in the mid-20th century when Marxists and Leninists used it to describe a class-conscious, militant political leader. As in someone who was a politically correct fit (think party lines here) for the job at hand and who could uncompromisingly wield a big stick (no, that is not a euphemism, thanks very much) and get things done.
Yeah, it really was a political term.
Today, it’s a whole new ball game.
Anyone who takes umbrage at something you say, however innocent it may seem to you, will lead to the jack-booted PC coppers coming down on you quicker than a priest RSVPing to an invite for a children’s party.
Seriously, what does the term have to do with politics? Well, jack shit really, unless you’re describing those foolhardy, look-after-themselves bludgers (insert laughter track here) running Australia at the moment (and those in just about every other country although New Zealand, under the crackerjack, Jacinda Ardern, is a standout exception).
The feds here are the epitome of political incorrectness, according to the Marxist/Leninist definition. And just for balance, those in the Opposition parties are not the flashest mob going around and are certainly not on my dinner party guest list. But I digress.
Political correctness (the current definition is “Avoidance of expressions or actions that can be perceived to exclude or marginalise or insult people who are socially disadvantaged or discriminated against“) has taken madness to a new level. Note well that there is no mention of politics in that definition.
The most productive thing political correctness has done is to keep dictionary editors in jobs. The Macquarie Dictionary word of the year in 2018 was #metoo … I always thought it was two words (the year before it was, for fuck’s sake, Milkshake Duck) … but let’s include the likes of slut shaming, mansplain, victim shaming, bropropriating (stealing an idea from a woman and putting it out there as your own) or manterrupting and a million others finding their way into the lexicon.
Seriously? It’s time those editors got off their collective fat arse and redefined political correctness for what it really is.
And anyway, I prefer the definition attributed by some to former US president Harry S Truman in 1945: “Political correctness is a doctrine, recently fostered by a delusional, illogical minority and promoted by a sick mainstream media, which holds forth the proposition that it is entirely possible to pick up a piece of shit by the clean end.” Amen to that.
When I was a kid, in another century, we used to refer to it as name calling and, yeah, we did it a lot. Everyone did then. From memory, Catholics were most often on the receiving end during my primary school years (nothing has changed for me. I enjoy giving those hypocrites as hard a time as I can. My favourite these days is “No, Jesus is not coming back. He wasn’t nailed to a fucking boomerang).
Now it all comes under the heading of bullying. We lived by the adage “sticks and stones will break my bones, but names will never hurt me“. It was drummed into us at home and at school or by anyone else who cared and it stood us in good stead. Maybe that adage should be taught to the kids of today. OK, not maybe, it should be taught to kids.
Even British singer Joan Armatrading had a song “I Love It When You Call Me Names” although that song is about a couple indulging in some, as Norman Gunston used to say, funny business discipline-type behaviour, so that’s perhaps forcing the issue on several levels.
An ex-wife, Monica, (yeah, I’ve had several wives and two of them have been mine) always refers to females as birds, probably a throw-back to the ’60s when girls were referred to as birds, brush, cuties, babes, skanks, spunks, sheilas, charlies et al. I can’t think of anyone getting their tits in a tangle when my ex calls them a bird.
I have a former journalist mate, Robert, who has been a very dear friend for more than 45 years. Robert is proudly gay and because of that, I tagged him early on in the ’70s with the name Bondi. Why, you ask? Bondi is a fair way from Manly (that’s a geographical joke). Rob still sends me missives often on social media, the world’s most easily offended collection of sooky la las, and 40-odd years on he still signs them “Love, Bondi”. I love him for that.
Another former journalist mate, Ron, is Chinese-Singaporean. He came to Australia, studied at a WA university and got a newspaper cadetship in a small town in the wilds of Western Australia. Both of Ronnie’s kids have Aboriginal middle names. Ronnie assimilated so well that (in his words and laughing) “I saw my family after a fair time here and they told me I was like a banana. You know, yellow on the outside and white on the inside.” We still laugh about it when I call him the banana we get together. No offence taken, none meant.
The reporting of politically incorrect things, for me, came to a head a while ago in an excellent Jane Caro yarn in The Sydney Morning Herald.
A boxer was in the witness box at the Downing Centre Magistrates Court. He was charged with affray, but was pleading self-defence and said he had gone to the aid of a friend who was being viciously attacked.
He was asked what the attacker had said to him.
Defendant: (looking at magistrate Jacqueline Milledge) Can I say it?
Milledge: Yeah, please.
Defendant: You sure?
Milledge: We won’t faint, I promise you.
Defendant: You f—ing c—.
Milledge: Heard that before.
Defendant: Sorry, darl.
Milledge (quickly): But don’t call me darl. That’s where we fall out with each other.
You see the folly there? The SMH’s censoring of the words that didn’t offend the magistrate, yet the offensive term, darl, didn’t get the d— treatment. Go figure.
Thankfully, magistrate Milledge doesn’t operate in the Northern Territory because she’d be at loggerheads with almost the entire Territory population because it is, for me, the epicentre of what is perceived in some quarters as socially unacceptable comments and behaviour.
I could make a long list of comments, names and tags that, by society’s current conventions, should have me behaving as if I’m offended.
Here are a few.
Recently I had reason to do some business with a Palmerston-based travel agent to organise some flights and accommodation for a trip to Melbourne.
The agent’s representative, a pleasant, outgoing and bubbly three-wheeler, (that’s rhyming slang for sheila in case you were wondering) who is old enough to be my great granddaughter, but that hasn’t stopped her from referring to me as love, darls or (the more formal) darling. Why would I take offence? Well I wouldn’t. That’s her, that’s the way she is and I’m comfortable with that.
The women in the tobacco shop, the check-out chicks at supermarkets and barmaids have variously labelled me as darls, love, mate and, my favourite, toots. I have a dear friend, Jodie, and I call her toots. She a feminist and isn’t offended by it because she knows it is a term of endearment. Me too.
Even the woman in the bottleshop (yeah, I’m a regular) offers me a chirpy “g’day, mate/darl/love/hon/honey/buddy”. In another bottleshop (yeah, I’m a regular) a woman greeted with “g’day, bloke”. My immediate reaction was not to ask “did you just assume my fucking gender?” Nah, I went with it. In fact, I have a good mate who greets men and women with “g’day, bloke”. Then again, he’s a strange one. He’s the only person I know who will order a hamburger with the lot, but “No salad. I don’t like that green shit”. Again I digress.
Yeah, there are tit shows sometimes at the local pub (and no, I haven’t been) and I even saw a bumper sticker on a 4×4 in inner Darwin. It read: “Stop the population explosion, start doing it up the arse“. There is all manner of non-PC merchandise from tea towels, T-shirts to bumper stickers for the tourism slogan CU in the NT. Even the nearest newsagent sells them.
In the Territory, very few people even bat an eyelid over these sorts of things although there is now a push from some councillors to have the merchandise banned from sale on council land such as markets. Even the Nine News site ran the yarn with a pissant, censored headline “Fresh push to ban ‘See you the NT’ merchandise from being sold on council land”.
Really? Whatever happened to becoming a journal of record? Anyway I reckon the councillors must be blow-ins from down south. I spoke to the newsagent about it and he summed it up well: “We’re Territorians, we need something to laugh about. It’s bullshit.” Having said all that, I did burr up when some bastard put an “I love gay porn” sticker on the back of my ute.
That’s messing with personal property and it got fair up my frock. I didn’t like it.
Anyway, the thrust of this yarn is to get together and rid the world of the expression political correctness unless we’re talking about those grossly overpaid public servants laughingly masquerading as state and federal governments.
Socially correct or incorrect is a better fit for those things that, sadly, so easily often offend.
As George Orwell wrote in Politics of the English Language, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.”