More stupid dreck about how clever and original and rebel-like it would be to use more sexist and racist epithets to liven things up. Annalisa Merelli preaches a sermon on the gospel according to Žižek.
Slovenian philosopher Slavoj Žižek isn’t one to shy away from provocative observations. In a video published on the portal Big Think, he takes on something that is commonly employed as a sensible cultural practice: Political correctness. The academic calls it a form of “cold respect.” He argues that giving space to an occasional exchange of “friendly obscenities” allows for more closeness and gives way to honest exchanges.
If it’s genuinely friendly, then maybe so, although obviously there’s always the risk that the recipient of the friendly obscenity won’t see it the way the sender sees it. We know that can happen, right? What you intend as a jokey insult comes across as a real insult? It’s not “cold respect” to be aware of that, and to think the risk might not be worth it.
There’s also the fact that real aggression can hide behind pretend joking. We know that can happen too, right? I frankly don’t think the risk is worth it.
Žižek reports several episodes in which his lack of politically correct boundaries has served him well, from dealing with the ethnic tensions in former Yugoslavia to becoming friendly with two black Americans after jokingly making a racist remark: “You blacks, like the yellow guys, you all look the same” he reports saying to them, adding, “they embraced me and they told me, you can call me nigga.”)
And I can report a great number of episodes in which I’ve seen that kind of thing go horribly wrong, and another great number of episodes in which I’ve seen non-joking racist or sexist remarks made with dead seriousness. I don’t think the world is suffering from a shortage of people who lack politically correct boundaries. That would be a nice shortage.
Merelli gives her analysis of the idea:
Political correctness stems from the understanding that racism and inequality exist, and that in lieu of fixing those problems, prettier language will do the trick—as if by using inoffensive words and avoiding crass jokes we are to paint over the filth of reality. Politically correct expressions, to Žižek, become patronizing because they actually highlight inequalities. As the philosopher notes, “one needs to be very precise not to fight racism in a way which ultimately reproduces, if not racism itself, at least the conditions of racism.”
No. That’s wrong. Nobody thinks “prettier language” will do the trick all by itself. That’s a canard. It’s a very familiar stale tedious canard, and I’m sick of hearing it.
And it is not just race, of course, that Žižek talks about. Gender, disability–anything that diverges from norms presented in society or media–are all coated with neutral words and behaviors, by the very people who claim to be accepting of it. This special language, despite its intentions, serves to reinforce certain conditions as special, fragile, and weak.
Can we dare to see differences for what they are—nothing else than differences? And can we ever safely name them, perhaps even with the occasional offensive joke?
Perhaps adopting a little of Žižek’s attitude would indeed result in what he refers to as a “wonderful sense of shared obscene solidarity.” It might generate misunderstanding, but if a more light-hearted approach is adopted in a genuine way, that would reflect a profound belief that the other isn’t weaker, doesn’t need anyone’s protection, and is at our level—hence can openly be made fun of, just as we do of ourselves.
Yeah. You know all those ugly people you know? Start telling them how ugly you think they are. That’s the way to a better world. Clumsy people? Boring people? Short? Fat? Old? Disabled? Foreign? Working class? Poor? Badly dressed? Start telling all of them that. Do it “light-heartedly” and that will reflect a profound belief that the other isn’t weaker, doesn’t need anyone’s protection, and is at our level.
God, people can be so fucking stupid sometimes.
If Annalisa Merelli were here in front of me I wouldn’t tell her what she said is fucking stupid, but it would be very hard not to.