0214A: Political Correctness

I first learned about the concept of political correctness trough comedy magazines like MAD and Cracked. And because of this contest, I learned about the concept through the lens of humor - that political-correctness would easily slip down the slope of ridiculousness and a notion of being way too sensitive about just about everything. In my childhood I had also indulged with a number of politically-correct fairy tale books which only continued to fuel the notion in my head that it can become quite the silly thing. It probably still does.

There's a lot of back and forth this weekend about this or that costume and whether or not it was politically incorrect or that it somehow represented cultural appropriation and whatnot. And right now, I won't even delve into that debate just yet since it really becomes a matter perspective and who is the one doing the condemning. A lot of times those who are first to condemn aren't even actual representatives of said culture but instead of choosing to speaking for them through their own free well because they're all forward-thinking like that. But it's hard to establish some sort of a general rule when a depiction is appropriate or not. There are just way too many factors in play.

This weekend a friend of mind attended a Halloween party in a gorgeous geisha-style outfit complete with make-up and such. Him not actually not being Japanese (or even a woman) wasn't an issue - we all just celebrated how fabulous he looked. I've seen drag queens pay homage to various celebrities by darkening their make-up to represent darker skin (the dreaded black face) or even using make-up techniques to exaggerate features to appear more Chinese and such. And yet for the most part the crowd enjoy the performance while it's doing on and are quite to praise the drag queen about how realistic she looked. There are just so many cases out there and it's hard to separate one from the other.

Is it about intent maybe? Do we have to determine if their depiction of other cultures is somehow more about respect and less about comedy? Is it about racial ties - could I dress up as a Native American since  can trace that maybe 1% of my genetic heritage is somewhat Navajo or Iroquois? Should culturally significant costumes only be portrayed by those who can claim racial or cultural ties?

Then what about dressing up like Ken and Ryu from Street Fighter? What cultures do they represent? If I decide to dress up as old WWF Wrestler the Iron Shiek, is this an appropriate depiction of an American-created wrestler personality or an inappropriate depiction of an already inappropriate cultural stereotype?

There's a middle ground to be found here, but it's definitely not an easy one to figure out. Where does humor end and insensitivity begin? When does good fun stop being that and becomes offensive and rude? Should we take offense out of habit or should we wait for a statement from an official representative of the cultural group / minority / foreign country to weight if the depiction is offensive or not? Should people just relax and stop being so sensitive about every last thing?

Politics has a nasty habit of complicating what is already simple. This clearly extends to efforts of attempting to be politically correct as well.