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To be or not to be politically correct?

by Aaron Cerbone - News Editor
Tue, Jan 31st 2017 12:20 am
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 People with a media presence from entertainers to politicians, are under constant scrutiny for the things they say and do. That is the burden they must carry with their fame, having every word they say put under a microscope. Since they are prominent figures in society, it makes sense that their voices would be seen as speaking for the people. It is not unreasonable to criticize them; when they say something offensive, they should be called out for it.

The backlash against the politically correct culture in recent times has highlighted some problems with criticizing celebrities for their personal lives and opinions but I don't see anything wrong with pointing out the flaws in a public figure. With that in mind, it is very important that each problem be looked at on a case-by-case basis. Here are two of the most recent cases:

ESPN commentator Doug Adler, while covering the Australian Open, January 19, for ESPN3, got into trouble for saying some possibly offensive things about Venus Williams during her match against Stefanie Voegele.

"You see Venus move in, put the gorilla effect on, charging," Adler said.

Adler claims his comments were misinterpreted and that he was instead saying she had a "guerrilla" effect on the court, referring to a style of attack where a small group attacks a much larger force. Since the words are nearly-identical, it is hard to tell which one he actually used. Many black athletes have faced discrimination and prejudice from their respective sports communities and the Williams sisters have been targets for racism throughout their careers.

This situation seems to have everyone in disagreement on which side is true. The comments work in either context and although saying "guerrilla" doesn't make a whole lot of sense, it is a plausible explanation.

Adler has been dropped by ESPN for the remainder of the events in Melbourne, Australia and in an emailed statement to the Associated Press, ESPN stated its stance on the situation.

"Doug Adler should have been more careful in his word selection. He apologized and we have removed him from his remaining assignments," the statement read.

ESPN is handling the situation well. Adler should be treated as innocent until proven guilty and at least ESPN acknowledges that he will have to pay closer attention to how he says things. Maybe just say "military" next time.

Comedian Steve Harvey has also gotten into trouble for a segment mocking Asian men on his talk show. The jokes aired on the January 6 episode of his show when he was reacting to a book called "How to Date a White Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men".

"That's one page," Harvey said. "'Excuse me, do you like Asian men?' 'No.' 'Thank you.'"

Continuing with the segment, he then proposes a sequel: "How to Date a Black Woman: A Practical Guide for Asian Men".

"Same thing. 'You like Asian men?' 'I don't even like Chinese food," Harvey said. "It don't stay with you no time. I don't eat what I can't pronounce.'"

Comedy is about pushing the envelope of cultural taboos. Getting offended because of a comedian's joke is almost as inherent in modern comedy as laughter. Jokes about race, gender, politics or religion are often supposed to be offensive to elicit the desired response: laughter. 

These jokes are supposed to break cultural taboos and explore ideas that are "off-limits" for society. Hearing an offensive joke is shocking and outrageous because, for the most part, people try their hardest every day to not offend others. One response to hearing something that is not supposed to be said is laughter, the same as children giggling over the use of a curse word.

Comedy is similar to an action or horror movie. People go to these films to experience violence in a safe environment, to have socially forbidden thoughts and ideas presented to them through entertainment. Viewers know what they are seeing is horrible and the actions on screen are ones they would not perform in real life but it is beneficial to still explore these darker areas of thought because as the creator of Nerdwriter, Evan Puschak, points out in the video "Louis C.K. is a Moral Detective" from Nerdwriter1 on YouTube, comedians can use comedy to explore the fringes of our society's morals and cause audiences to take a deep, individual look at their own beliefs. He argues that just like society allows detectives in shows to bend the rules to find justice, comedians should be allowed to bend the rules to find morality.

"If we want our collective morality to remain nuanced and progressive, we have to let comedians near the things we find uncomfortable or perhaps, even wrong," Puschak said in the video. 

Comedy can do wonderful things for society; it can be used to put a spotlight on social issues, explore morality or provide unique views on the world. However, it needs to be done correctly. These "jokes" from Harvey missed the two essential parts of an effective controversial joke: having funny material and not being overly mean-spirited. The jokes are severely lacking in comedic value and originality. Yes, Chinese is a different language so it will be hard to pronounce the names of the culture's foods. These ideas have been staples of comedy for years and are not as funny as Harvey seems to think. The whole point of his joke seems to be that Asian men are un-dateable. That's not a joke, but a harmful stereotype. The idea Harvey is putting forward is that Asian men are all ugly and no one wants to date them. It is not playing off a stereotype to poke fun at society, it's just mean.

I would hesitate to say Harvey's comments "crossed a line" since there is no measurement of where the "line" is on the comedy spectrum, so it would not be a good way to classify his statements. Nonetheless, when a joke hurts more people than it entertains, you need to reconsider what you are saying.


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