Skip to main content

View Diary: Some thoughts on PC (311 comments)

Comment Preferences

  •  Putting all the PCs Together Again (4.00)
    That's exactly how it happened.  "PC" was initially a descriptive, an adjective used by the Left--predominantly on college campuses--to describe problematic language.  

    At Carleton (oh so many years ago), "PC" was used almost always in the negative to describe words or phrases that sounded out of date.  It was quite common back then to hear someone correct another person's language by saying "That's not PC anymore."  

    And it was a source of pride at first.  The idea that certain langauge was gendered or racist grew out of African-American studies and Women's Studies, and then slowly took on a life of its own.  To let someone know that a term they were using was "not PC"--that was a form of group identification.

    Four years later, "PC" had shifted over to become a brand--the scarlet letters that were hung around the necks of liberals.

    By the early 1990s, it became quite common to hear the phrase "PC movement," which sounded like "Bolshevik Movement" or "Communist Movement."  I remember at one point when someone--a contemporary--used this phrase "PC movement" and I corrected him.  "There's no such thing as the PC movement.  That's just what the Right says to avoid the issue of problematic language."  

    The Ward Churchill-ization of the PC movement is a logical extension of what's happened since the 1990s. The idea of a movement has been extended to the argument that the Left seeks to curtail First Amendment rights through deceipt and dishonestly on college campuses (which I wrote about here back in January).

    Putting all the "PCs" together again...

    The right's appropriation of the term PC is part of a broader effort to seize control of university campuses, which they see as one of three remaining Liberal strongholds in the US  (unions, universities, media).  And that assault leads directly to concern on the Left--a novel concern for Liberals--that it's somehow a limit on freedom of expression to choose  not to use certain words.

    In fact, the arguments were never about banning the words altogether, but were about bringing their buried meanings to the surface.  

    And what that does in the end is enrich the language, not limit it--make people more active in choosing and using their words.  That kind of self-awareness is an important step towards creativitve appropriation of old terms, which is one of the most powerful forms of resistance.  

    And so that diarist who so desperately wants to use the word "pussy," misses the point completely.

    Look at the way Essex Hemphill used that same word, for example, in this passage from his poem "Heavy Breathing":

    I wanted to give you
    my sweet man pussy,
    but you grunted me away
    and all other Black men
    who tried to be near you.
    Our beautiful nigga lips and limbs
    stirred no desire in you.
    Instead you chose blonde,
    milk-toned creatures to bed.
    but you were still one of us,
    dark like us, despised like us.

    (quoted in Black Gay Identity and the Poetry of Essex Hemphill, by Robert W. Anderson.  Go here for the full essay)

    It's so common to hear words like "nigga" and "pussy" used in this way, today.  But it was a usage that followed that initial idea of "PC."  Classic deconstruction and a powerful, important part of how English changed in the 1990s.

    It would be a shame if we threw all that away just because we were too lazy--or too young--to remember how the Right fought back because they were too afraid to learn to talk good English.

    •  Missing link (4.00)
      A wonderful history of PC.

      I'd like to add what I think is a missing link that led to the migration of the meaning. The right started to pick it up as a term of ridicule for the left when use of the concept expanded from race and basic gender issues.

      First, "garbage men" became "sanitary engineeers" and "stewardesses (or stews)" became "flight attendants".
      Then, "retarded" became "mentally challenged", & "deaf" became "hearing impaired", etc.  It wasn't too long before the jokes started and we had "vertically challenged" for short people and "humor impaired" for - well, people who were too sanctimonious about being PC.

      Practice absurdus interruptus - Support ePluribus Media.

      by Catte Nappe on Wed Jun 01, 2005 at 02:47:50 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  or to speak English well n/t (none)

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site