PC Culture Does Not Exist. It’s a Myth.
Times change and so do sensibilities. Regardless, I’m a good guy who sometimes laughs at offensive jokes. Now what?
“There are 400,000 words in the English language and there are seven of them that you can’t say on television. What a ratio that is! 399,993 to seven. They must really be bad. They’d have to be outrageous to be separated from a group that large. All of you over here, you seven, baaad words! That’s what they told us they were, remember? “That’s a bad word!” No bad words, bad thoughts, bad intentions and words! You know the seven, don’t you, that you can’t say on television? Shit, piss, fuck, cunt, cocksucker, motherfucker, and tits. Those are the heavy seven. Those are the ones that’ll infect your soul, curve your spine, and keep the country from winning the war.” — George Carlin, 1972
I am writing this on November 14, 2019, 47 Years following Carlin’s classic routine. Would you agree times have changed?
Those seven dirty words are, today, spoken regularly on premium cable television, but even basic cable has taken to relaxing their standards. Tune into “Mr. Robot” on the USA Network for example; they may have used them all in a single episode.
Why then, in this increasingly careful era, have those words been allowed to permeate our mass media … while, if used in comedy, they are considered “offensive” and sometimes beneath the pale?
Nearly two months ago, inspired by the firing of Shane Gillis — a comic who was intended to be a new “SNL” hire but was fired due to racist and homophobic slurs on his podcast — I posted the following on Facebook (which will be interrupted here and there with random parentheticals):
PC culture has run amok since comedian George Carlin’s 60–70s heyday, and in a sense is no different than entitled and coddled college students needing a safe space to protect their delicate sensibilities.
I miss Howard Stern on terrestrial radio. When he went to Sirius and was able to say anything, suddenly the fights with the FCC were over and what was once clever — because he had to find ways to get around being restrained — was now largely predictable. I still laugh, but those glory days were certainly something.
I’ve said it here before. I was raised on Dean Martin Roasts and Don Rickles. PC didn’t exist and when the presented entities insulted Jews, “the Blacks” (a term I dislike, though in truth few said “African Americans” back then), Asians, Hispanics, midgets … we all roared because it was so clear that behind the cameras they had real affection for one another.
(And they truly did. Behind the edge, Rickles always told his targets on-stage that he “loved” them. More than that, though, his subsequent words were often quite moving. He told the audience his reasons why.)
I learned a great deal about the world from Richard Pryor, Freddie Prinze and George Carlin, who were more of a positive influence than Richard Nixon. Lenny Bruce was before my time.
(Why did I find these men funny, you may ask? Because through their work they showed how ridiculous the practices of racism, homophobia, sexism and any other ism really were. Today, in my opinion, I believe Sarah Silverman has largely taken that mantle. And you know what? She’s damn cool — and concerned. Take a read of her Twitter on any given day. Comedy aside, she is truly concerned about the state of this country, as were the above examples. She, like the others had, uses absurdity and exaggeration in her comedy, and makes some truly salient points in the process. Kathy Griffin is equally daring.)
Many of you also know I love a good dirty joke — if I find it funny.
Somewhere along the lines, though, laughing at a sex joke equated with true sexual misconduct, or misogyny, and laughing at racially-tinged jokes made one a racist.
(A sensitive area, for sure, and one certainly worth exploring. Keep reading.)
What happened, and why?
And, due to the changing times, do you feel liberated or trapped by the new political correctness?
My questions were honest ones. Over the years, though I’ve generally lost my tolerance for racial and potty humor, I still find myself watching Rickles and crew on YouTube, and listening to old Stern recordings.
Regarding the above Facebook post, I was particularly taken by this response from writer Steven Barnes (who you should all check out on the Medium platform):
Part of what happened is that the POC groups being insulted did NOT enjoy it as much as white people wanted to believe. They had to go along to get along. As soon as they got the power to put their foot down, they did.
That was, honestly, unexpected. I let Steven’s post percolate a bit, allowing myself the open-mindedness to consider his words.
Could I, of all people, be racist? That one was quickly discounted, as I spend a great deal of my personal time as an activist.
By extension, in self-examination I asked myself if I was sexist, or a homophobe? No, and for the same reason. I knew the answer.
Why then, however, did I laugh so much at “dangerous” humor? Why do I still?
Do I need to apologize because of my sense of humor?
When I’ve asked the question of friends, here’s what has come back at me, and more than once, that has most penetrated:
“Would you laugh at a Holocaust joke?”
My answer is … I can’t. As a Jew with relatives who fled Germany, I just can’t because it hits home. Does that mean I believe Holocaust jokes should be banned, or made illegal?
No. I believe in freedom of speech but here’s the more interesting thing to me: I understand Steven Barnes’ point. I completely and utterly understand, so what this must mean, by extension, is that it’s okay for me to laugh at someone else’s expense, but not my own.
Regardless of how I try to dismiss that comment, apparently it’s true.
Apparently also I have my limits. I can never laugh at a joke about school shootings.
One of the other Facebook comments went thusly:
Man, things change, and very often these days it isn’t about jokes being sexist or racist so much as being hackneyed and uninspired. You mention Carlin; one of the great things about him is that he rarely “punched down,” his ire was directed at the powerful class. I do remember him doing a joke at the expense of fat people, but I feel certain that, if he was around now, he would have evolved, and grown, because that’s the real standard of a great comedic mind. PC culture doesn’t have to be a trap so much as an opportunity to re-direct, and if as many people who were concerned about PC culture were as concerned about inequality and prejudice, could you imagine what this world could be like?
Finally, in a sea of other comments that mostly railed against “over-sensitive PC culture,” there was this, from a comedian:
Lot of people giving opinions on humor here who aren’t going out six days a week trying to make an audience laugh. No one is “allowing” you to say one thing or another; there are no PC police. It comes down to what will make an audience laugh and what won’t. Poop jokes aren’t racist but don’t tend to get laughs. Punching down isn’t “bad” because it’s morally wrong, it just doesn’t get laughs. As one of my fellow performers refuses to learn, miscarriage jokes aren’t “edgy” and the audience isn’t “too PC for them” they don’t make people laugh.
Audiences not only change from year to year, they change from night to night and show to show. What’s changed is people are no comfortable hearing a racist joke -while sitting next to someone of that race- and that’s a -good thing-.
When I hear comedians complaining about not being able to get laughs ’cause of “PC Culture” I just think “do your damn job.” Look, I’ve only been working toward stand-up since February, and I’m not one of the greats yet by any means, but I’m perfectly capable of doing a five minute set with a good edge to it and getting solid laughs without “non-PC” stuff in it. And really, my stuff is no harder to write than any other kind of humor.
So who among those above are correct, and who among them are wrong? The answer to both: All of them.
Humor is personal. I’m soon to be 56. Depending on the circumstance, I’ll still laugh at a fart. Again, depending on the circumstance as fart humor isn’t typically my type of comedy. Neither is the work of Adam Sandler, or juvenilia in general. I laughed at Stern as he pushed the right buttons for me at the time; today, though his Sirius show still has its questionable moments, he regrets some of his past work and has become more mainstream.
Like I said, though, I still laugh at much of his old material.
However, “Whatever happened to Howard Stern?” is a typical refrain from disengaged fans. “The old Stern never would have appeared on a show like “America’s Got Talent,” they say.
They’re right, of course.
Regarding the ongoing debate about sex humor in general, of which Stern was a general …
Is it PC to acknowledge that over many years women have been sexually abused? Is it PC to acknowledge that too many women stayed quiet for years to protect their families, their jobs, and themselves?
Is it really a burden on us that we acknowledge that there is a larger issue here?
I’ve written before, and extensively, about this very subject.
We’re No Angels: An Honest Man’s Guide to What Some of Us Really Think About Sexual Harassment
Last I checked I have a penis.
We’re No Angels, The Sequel: An Honest Man’s Guide to What Some of Us Really Think About Sexual…
It was the most controversial article I’ve ever written. Many women applauded me. Many men were incensed by me. Here we…
An Honest Man’s Guild to What Some Of Us Really Think About Sexual Harassment, Part Three: The…
First, I am not a billionaire, so that perceived entitlement is out the window. I have never grabbed a woman by the…
We’re No Angels, Part Four: Revisiting The Message Behind Ric Flair’s “The Wooooo Compromise”
The latest in a continuing series about how some men really feel about sexual harassment. Hint: This writer considers…
My response regarding that burden was answered in the series of articles above. Check them out.
So, taking everything into consideration … do I now consider myself “evolved,” or “woke?”
No. Not at all, although as should be clear I have been reassessing my thoughts on the concept of political correctness. I’m not done, yet.
Three months or so ago, my wife and I went to dinner at a local salad joint. I randomly pulled up an “offensive jokes” page on my iPhone and read them. She had a long day, and I wanted to see her smile. By the end, we were crying. Neither of us could finish our dinner without laughing hysterically.
To that, my tentative conclusion:
There is a time and a place. Humor is, once more, personal. It is based on environmental and other factors too numerous to mention, and perhaps best analyzed by a professional.
I will say this much: Never be afraid to laugh. Never. People do so not only as a release of joy, but also a release of nerves. Nervous laughter is a thing too. It’s okay. We’re all human. You included.
As long as you refrain from acting upon your more questionable instincts, you’re fine.
“If a midget asks a woman to smell her hair, can that be considered sexual harassment?”
My wife loved that one in particular. So did I. My closest friend in Brooklyn as a man in my 20s-30s was a gentleman named Raymond Kessler, who wrestled for the then-WWF (now WWE) in the “midget division” as the character The Haiti Kid. He has long since passed, but knowing his humor he would have been rolling right along with us. That one was for you, bud.
Time and a place.
If you have enjoyed this article, feel free to recommend, share and follow me here on Medium (and I will follow you back), where I publish new stories daily on a variety of topics.