Plaguing this country for at least the last decade has been the desire to describe everything we dislike as being “PC.” For a while it was “PC gone mad,” but now people can’t even be bothered saying that. Particularly in the land of talk-back radio and newspaper letters to the editor (not to mention nauseating columns by former mayors of medium-sized towns), if you dislike something, just say it’s PC. Or say that the host who you disagree with is PC. Or the writer, or the politician etc. Its one-size-fits-all laziness bothers me, but so too my on-air attempts at explaining why I hate the expression. Almost without fail, listeners mistakenly agree, saying, “Yeah I hate PC too! Everything in this country is so PC!”
There are two main strands of thought. One is that what is so wrong with being correct? You could have a discussion on the history of the word n**ger and vast tracts of the population believe it’s their right to still be able to use the word because 50 years ago growing up in mono-cultural New Zealand it wasn’t offensive. And sure the word may have had semi-innocuous beginnings, but being that some white-folks in the States in the 18th & 19th Century decided it sounded better when spat out as a racial epithet, it’s meaning (and more crucially) it’s usage have forever changed. With all language, context is key. But regardless, the word is vile and just because it wasn’t in 1955 in Masterton doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be “correct” and not use it now. “Black people do though.” Of course they do! Wouldn’t you try and reclaim the most offensive word used to describe you and try and take the heat out of it?
Another strand relates to the aforementioned one-size-fits-all usage of PC. Someone might accuse me of being PC, not knowing my favourite humour stems from the likes of Jerry Seinfeld, Larry David, Ricky Gervais, Steve Carrel as well as Airplane and Family Guy – hardly what you’d call “safe” comedy. The best comedians aren’t just the ones unafraid to say things you can’t quite believe they’ve said. They are the ones who are smart enough to be tackle social taboos with their humour without actually being racist. The less erudite of their audience might laugh and only get half the joke.
I had a lady ring up once talking about a tunnel in Wellington known for drivers honking their horns when they drive through. She was a lovely lady and all was going well until she said, “But the PC brigade probably don’t like people honking their horns.” Is this the same brigade who think anyone against using the n-word is PC? Hardly. I can’t imagine that grumpy old Norman of Wellington who likes the n-word also likes tunnel-horn-honking. All that racket would annoy him, like most things.
Wanting to see both sides of an argument also gets mistaken for being PC. The current fiasco over water rights in New Zealand is at heart an issue far more complex than either the National Party or the Maori Party can be bothered articulating. Lawyer / columnist Mai Chen attempted to explain the finer details, but most people probably lost interest wading through all the legalese. Tapu Misa nailed it though in this column and it’s well worth a read. On-air I tried to explain that the discussion had been reduced to extremist Maori vs ultra-conservative New Zealand and all in all it was counter-productive for the country. Sure enough: “You’re just one of the those typical PC radio announcers.” Excuse me? Why? Because I disagree with you? Or because I sometimes deal in shades of grey – not to be confused for sitting on the fence.
In this country, indeed this world, there are so many actual problems to worry about it makes me laugh that sometimes people feel the need to invent ones that don’t even exist: “I’m just so livid that because of PC there are no chapels or church groups allowed at our universities anymore, but the Muslims get their prayer rooms,” said a caller with a misplaced love of current-affairs. Undoubtedly there is a growing trend around the world to secularise everything and tales of hot cross buns minus the crosses etc. are on the rise (though on the rise in reality, or just their media coverage?) Maybe that is PC gone mad, but I’d rather call it idiocy, more often than not on behalf of non-religous people assuming Muslims in Western countries are terrified of crucifixes.
As for New Zealand universities not being allowed chapels or church groups, the caller almost didn’t want to hear me mention the still functioning Auckland University Chapel, nor Knox and Selwyn Colleges in Dunedin. Nor did it occur to him that a devout Muslim who wants to face Mecca and pray five times a day might feel a little uncomfortable doing it in the cafeteria or classroom. More importantly, their classmates might feel that way too. So providing prayer rooms is arguably PC, but for the opposite reason.
For more about Newstalk ZB, please visit newstalkzb.co.nz. You can listen to me Sunday evenings with Pam Corkery on The Two from 9pm-midnight, as well as Thursday, Friday and Saturday mornings midnight-6am.