Thursday, March 01, 2007
That Trash Talkin' Genie 
by Lenka Reznicek [permalink] 
You've likely heard about the uproar surrounding "Why I Hate Blacks" [cached text of the editorial here] - an inexplicable editorial by columnist Kenneth Eng, published February 23rd in the San Francisco publication AsianWeek. Suffice it to say that whatever Eng personal's views on African-Americans may be, the paper should have had the common sense to know a priori no good would come from publishing that inflammatory piece. Even if the paper's underlying motive was to get tongues a-waggin' and papers a-sellin', the long-term results for AsianWeek - and by association, the communities it represents - would likely be negative, apologies and Eng's firing notwithstanding.

A quick perusal of news headlines makes it obvious something about our sense of discourse is changing, and not for the better. Think back to Michael Richards' racist stage tirade, which set off the obligatory "I can't believe he said that!" tempest, and stirred up much discussion about the "appropriate" use of the n-word. While Richards' outburst would have likely gone no further than the comedy club's environs without one audience member's cell phone video, his little detonation had the slo-mo car-crash feel of a washed-up entertainer's public breakdown. Tim Hardaway's "I Hate Gay People" diatribe in response to ex-NBA John Amaechi's self-outing has a similar 'off-the cuff hatin' vibe. Kenneth Eng's editorial had the luxury of time, the publishing process, and chief editorial oversight - and seems coldly calculated by comparison.

These and other fulminant "I just gotta be honest!" moments show up as sore spots in the mainstream media, but they're only the surface of the festering boil. We've twisted and satirized the meaning of "politically correct" to such an extent that it's now hip, edgy and "real" to openly flout its original message of tolerance and inclusivity. "Honesty" is now frequently an excuse for hateful speech of the worst kind; sincerity its own disclaimer.

On the other hand, one of the sillest manifestations of "P.C." is exemplified by the New York City Council's recent "ban" on the use of the n-word; as if eliminating the use of an utterance could have any effect whatsoever on the ugly historical stew of injustice and racism behind the word. Remember this, though: any censorship is false "P.C." It's like grinding off the sharp burrs of a plutonium casting, so the bomb-makers won't cut their fingers.

Societally, we're raising what I like to call the "inter-group intolerance public discomfort bar"; one loudmouth lets it rip, and even before the dust settles, those who may have been holding off on acting similarly feel freer to do so. It's the media's equivalent of the post-punch playground justification: "But he hit me first!" The problem is, when there is a overall greater level of openly-expressed hate and intolerance, what was once considered civil behavior starts being labeled "wishy-washy" or "P.C." Another problem is that none wants to let the other side have the last word - and once the Trash Talking Genie is out, it's hard to stuff his billowy beergut back in the jar.