PC University

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There’s been quite a lot of swill in the air lately about political correctness. Mostly on how our society has devolved to the point where you can’t say anything anymore and how the nation’s college campuses have greatly contributed to this trend with affirmative action-based helicopter parenting under a doctrinaire, left wing manifesto of bland, overly sensitive inoffensiveness.

Bull crap.   Or horseshit if one prefers the non-p.c. version of bull crap.   And this is particularly the case when it has to do with college campuses and, more broadly, the millennial generation.

Interestingly enough, a lot of this criticism has been coming from any number of aging baby boomers that are no doubt pissed off at a slightly more benevolent world (well, in some sectors) that they no longer understand and thus feel excluded from.  Or perhaps now that many have college-age children, or need them in their audience to stay relevant, they simply mourn the days when they (or others) could utter a racial epithet, gay joke or sexist remark without having their reputations twittered to death all over the world. Though they could simply resent the fact that their kids don’t have to endure the hard knocks that they believe made them into the strong, successful adults they are today. It could be just that.

Is this how boomers see millennials?

Is this how boomers see millennials?

I feel like I can say this because I am a baby boomer. I am also a college professor who gets along quite well with my students – even when we vehemently disagree – which we often do in everything from movies to politics to Beyoncé (Note: Don’t hate me, she’s talented but I just don’t get what the big deal is).

Still, I find a great kinship with them because in some small ways – even if only generally – they seem to be living their lives by the sort of mythical moral code that was set forth in the 1960s in Broadway shows like Hair and albums like the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. That would be a world where it was not cool to disrespect people of other races, sexual preferences and religions “just because” you want to make a point and are too lazy or annoyed to do otherwise. For these views, some of my students have granted me honorary millennial status. Though I’m sure in the minds of many of my fellow boomers I am simply the cause of their limited thinking – exhibit A for why our educational system is a disaster and, in turn, our American Empire will continue to decline. How can you lead when you’re so willing to go the extra mile for peace of any kind? And how can you wind up being #1 when you make a conscience choice to use equal amounts of intellectualism, heart and reality to make the most important decisions in life?

How? The same way Barack Obama was elected president of the U.S. twice. And why he would probably win a third time. The. World. Has. Changed. Have a seat or deal with the alternative. The latter is the option almost everyone I know 55 or over is desperately trying to keep at bay these days – irrelevancy, death or, perish the thought, The Republican Apprentice. (Note: Yeah, you know who I mean. Don’t make me say it).

He who should not be named

He who should not be named

Here are two articles that surfaced this week in The Atlantic that brought this on, were forwarded all over the web and much discussed on TV and the media platform of your choice.

The Coddling of the American Mind – In the name of emotional well being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like.

&

That’s Not Funny – Today’s college students can’t seem to take a joke

As refutation to these I would offer up a third piece in Vanity Fair this month entitled,

Tinder and the Dawn of the Dating Apocalypse 

It will reassure anyone who believes recent college grads have a too-politically correct view of the world or that sensitivity TRUMPS boorishness.

The four writers of these pieces – three of whom are boomers, the other of whom is merely 41 years old – were on various news and entertainment outlets promoting their work, including HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher.

The fifty-something Caitlin Flanagan (That’s Not Funny) essentially covered the National Association for Campus Activities annual convention in Minnesota where 350 colleges came to book numerous acts, including comedians, for appearances at their schools that year. Essentially, she seemed in shock that two white students from a college in Iowa didn’t want to hire one of the convention’s most popular performers – Kevin Yee, a gay comic with a Broadway background who closed with a song about a gay man and his “sassy black friend.” Yes, he got hired by other schools but – Imagine, they thought the kids at their small Midwestern school wouldn’t get what he did??? How PC of them!!!

Look at your life, look at your choices

The writer and Mr. Maher essentially backed up that and numerous other groundbreaking revelations with quotes from comedians like Jerry Seinfeld and Chris Rock, both of whom recently noted they won’t play college campuses anymore because the environment is too-PC.

Question: What Jerry Seinfeld joke could possibly step over the line of political correctness?

Answer: Well, it was actually a line where he says people are scrolling through cell phones these days like they’re a gay French king. Right. Okay. Judge for yourself.

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Full confession: I didn’t think it was funny because it was perpetuating a straight guy stereotype and had no context within the rest of the joke. Yet when an edgy comic like Lisa Lampanelli rides the gay guys in her audience by calling them “faggots” and insults the sexual appetites of her GBF (Note: Uh, gay best friend?) I’m on the floor because in that same moment she lets us know where heart really is.

More troubling is the idea in Coddling, which bemoans the fact that certain words and phrases that either are or can be perceived as sexist, racist, or homophobic are listed as microagressions and discouraged in college classrooms. That is unless they are put into context. The authors vehemently write this way of thinking contributes to students being in a constant stage of outrage, even towards well-meaning speakers trying to engage in genuine discussion. They further argue shielding students from this is bad for the workplace and…bad for American democracy, which is already paralyzed by worsening partisanship.

Huh?

Here’s the thing. No one is saying you can’t use most words or phrases in a campus-based discussion – only that in an open learning environment what you say is positioned in a context. What makes colleges special is that they are a safe space where you can discuss tricky issues in a way that is too often NOT done in the real world. Does this mean college is NOT the real world, and sensitive matters demand guidelines upfront, especially for 18-22 year olds? If we’re at all to cover new ground and empower them as they get older to create new and perhaps even more innovative ways to move society forward in any sort of productive manner — Yes.

Gear up

Gear up

Of course, there’s another reason for this – words change. When I was in elementary school African-Americans weren’t even called Black people, they were Negroes. Actually, THE Negroes. That’s also the term Martin Luther King used in his I Had A Dream Speech. Not to mention queer was an insult to gays – who at best were referred to clinically as The homosexual. Yet queer has been adopted by many under 30 in the LGBT movement as their current word of choice. Not by me, of course, because, well, I AM a BOOMER.
My autobiography

My autobiography

Oh – and lest any of us forget – the time period I’m referring to was also a time where crude sexist men could diminish a woman’s thoughts or questions by saying or even implying she was having her period. What’s that – you still can? Oh.

The final refutation to all of this should, of course, rightfully come from the millennials themselves. This is what you will get when you read about the group of Wall Street, marketing and other types of college grads as they wax poetic about scrolling through pages and pages of nubile, sexy or otherwise available young prospects on the dating app Tinder even as they are sitting in a bar with other real live prospective sexual conquests right there before them. One guy in the story bragged he slept with 5 women in 8 days – Tinderellas, he called them – noting with those numbers you could rack up 100 girls you’ve slept with in a year! Another guy said he scored 30-40 per year via Hinge, another app, by selling himself as a boyfriend kind of guy even though he wasn’t and had no intention of changing. (Note: In fairness, Mr. 100 did chastise him by saying, ‘dude, not cool.’).

Don't go looking for the Goslings

Don’t go looking for the Goslings

This is not so much the end of the world but a mere continuation of the one they inherited. When I was a younger gay man I couldn’t understand the idea that when you picked up someone at a bar you called them a trick – as if you were a prostitute turning over customers. To me, it devalued the sexual act and myself as an individual. Of course, that was my feeling and hardly anyone else’s. I remember being called a nun, part of the skirt and sweater set and by one boyfriend, hopelessly middle class.

Yes, I’ve written about him before and he called me that a lot. I suppose there are worse things. In fact, I know there are. But you can’t say them to someone on any number of college campuses. Thank God. God, that is, as you know Him. Or Her. Or even if you don’t.

The Fox and the Hair

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Fox News and The Daily Show, particularly The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, were made for each other. They’re like Kennedy v. Nixon, Bush v. Gore – and hell, let’s go even further – Angie v. Jen. That any of these pairs are indeed feuding at any given time is something we will never know for sure. What we do know is there have been many moments in time where they have strongly disagreed on what is correct and proper policy and/or behavior.

And then there’s this week’s Republican Debates with Donald Trump – which should really be reclassified as this season’s debut of The Apprentice. The new arc will clearly be pitting Mr. Trump against…um, everyone, but with a particular emphasis on uppity women. The latter is probably an oxymoron in Mr. Trump’s mind since he tends to see women – nee people, really – in two categories: those who agree with him and those who dare to speak their minds and disagree with him. Or pose direct questions that challenge him on what he says. Okay, that’s three categories. Whatever.

Mr. Stewart was an expert on challenging and certainly it’s more fun to write about him, especially if you’re a snide liberal like me. Still, it’s near impossible to do without boring your audience to death because you can never be as witty as he was in his 16-year stint as host of The Daily Show – a job that he voluntarily ended this past Thursday night. Coincidentally, that was the same night as the launch of The Republican Apprentice (Note: I think that’s a better name for those debates, don’t you?) and the national breakout of another new light-haired star of the small screen (Note #2 – And a woman, no less!) who dared to challenge the bashful billionaire to the center stage of the public square – Fox News’ own Megyn Kelly.

Yes, Jon... her

Yes, Jon… her

I’ve written before about endings and beginnings but if there was ever a Ying and Yang moment in the pop culture landscape it was the almost simultaneous departure of Mr. Stewart from our daily lives (for the time being) with the international skewering of America’s #1 new Bloviator-in-Chief (that would be Mr. Trump) by a surprising source, albeit one in a dress. Or, if you prefer – from the real press. Well, sort of. True, she had a much more direct and less playful style than Mr. Stewart but as hundreds of media outlets have already detailed we all knew that he would be irreplaceable. Nevertheless, like Mr. Stewart she punctured his pomposity with countless well-placed pricks – namely his own words that is – and hung him with them. It was both uncomfortable and sort of funny, though with Mr. Stewart it would have been funny and sort of uncomfortable. But again – different person, different style.

A Jon Stewart approved burn?

A Jon Stewart approved burn?

In case you didn’t catch the festivities, Ms. Kelly’s first question out of the gate to Mr. Trump – who at the time of the debate was the runaway favorite among Republican voters in the polls at nearly 25% – was about his treatment of women. Noting he had previously referred to women as fat pigs, dogs, slobs and disgusting animals – to which he instantly retorted, Only Rosie O’Donnell!, to cheers from the live audience, she wondered if he thought this was the temperament of a man who should be president. He responded the country’s big problem was political correctness and that if Ms. Kelly (and by inference other women) didn’t understand things said for fun and kidding around he was sorry for her. Actually, let’s be really specific here and print exactly what he said:

Megyn, if you don’t like it I’m sorry – I’ve been very nice to you although I could probably not be based on the way you’ve treated me but I wouldn’t do that.

Of course, Mr. Trump did do exactly that in an interview several days later when, speaking of Ms. Kelly during the debate, he said, you could see there was blood coming out of her eyes, blood coming out of her wherever, not so subtly implying that perhaps the real explanation for her demeanor and questioning during those two hours was that she was hormonal.

Fear the wrath

Debate prep?

Mr. Stewart has had a decade and a half of field days with this kind of stuff. We’re talking about idiotic, wrong-headed or just plain offensive comments from public figures, politicians, corporations and the media in general where, in an actual fun and kidding around way he takes them apart intellectually. Of course, being a comedian and not an aspirant to political office, or even a reporter, he then has the carte blanche to end his diatribe against them by doing things like leading a gospel choir in a rousing song and dance chorus of Go F-K YOURSELF (Note: One of my favorite bits ever, but well, I’m not running for political office either). And hey, that’s just one of the many perks of his kind of success – speaking his mind – right?

Interestingly enough, that particular bit was first done towards a Fox News commentator and then the media in general.   As Mr. Stewart noted in a very strong summation of his POV during his final show, his main beef over the years has always been with the BULLSH-T in the world these days. Warning us all not to be seduced by the cunning acumen with which these lies are told to us daily he offered up several cogent examples as cautionary tales, including this one:

Whenever something’s been titled freedom, family, fairness, health, America, take a good long sniff, because chances are it has been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bull – (well, you know the rest).

He then concluded with one very simple overarching piece of advice for us all:

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This quite literally brings me back to Fox News, Mr. Trump and Ms. Kelly.

I, for one, don’t give them too much credit. Though clearly I can’t really know their motivations. The whole idea that this network has taken up the high road of journalistic integrity by suddenly confronting the Republican candidates they throw softball questions to and tout nightly with the really tough questions they won’t answer from anyone else – from Megyn Kelly on down – seems at best a misguided altruistic view of this organization’s intentions in light of their past actions and reporting history and at worst, to paraphrase Mr. Stewart, a gargantually huge mountain of BULLSH-T. Remember, Ms. Kelly is the same reporter who eighteen months ago, near the top of a news segment on holiday multiculturalism, turned point blank to the camera and in a very serious tone tried to reassure the kids watching that despite anything that might have been said elsewhere the undisputed fact is that Santa just is White.

In the case of the Fox strategy for our debut episode of the aforementioned The Republican Apprentice, what seems a more likely scenario is: terrified Mr. Trump’s front-runner status among the 16 candidates was a wild card that would hand the 2016 presidency to Hillary Clinton, Roger Ailes (Fox News creator-in-chief) and any number of his monied consultants (e.g. the multi-billionaire Koch brothers) decided to sabotage the barking billionaire at his own game by using occasional bits of hard-hitting, objective real journalism to challenge each candidate with the most pointed, difficult questions imaginable in an effort to blow up their engrained pecking order and thus create a new one. Most naturally, then, the toughest questions were aimed at their leader – or more precisely the most colorful bird of the bunch – the one who could scarcely be bloodied with just one peck to his very large, and quite luxuriously coiffed (um, you choose the adjective) head.

The BIg Giant Head

The BIg Giant Head

True, I don’t have evidence to prove this for sure and since that is the argument Fox News commentators have for years used against enacting any type of real environmental legislation against global warning, take that for what you will. Not to mention, I heard yesterday this theory is also being endorsed by Rush Limbaugh, who seems to support much of Mr. Trump’s worldview, particularly as it pertains to women. Still, who better to know the real motivations at Fox than he? Him? Whatever. Grammatical correctness is the next big problem in America, right?

Perhaps that was just the right ironic thought with which to end this piece. But in a tribute to Jon Stewart – who really did change our world just a bit for the better with his art – let’s conclude the way he often chose to close out his show – with a Zen moment. And since I can’t improve on Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band – the one he used for his finale – it seems only fitting that for the last foreseeable time we pilfer our Zen from him.

Ohmmmmmmmm. Or in anticipation of the next episode of The Republican Apprentice – Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.