SMOKE: Extreme PC
Originally published: 4 March 2003
I have never been a fan of political correctness, having been in an extremely creative profession (acting) which traditionally breaks down political correctness through satire and protest theatre.
I was taught to look beyond the obvious, discover the truth and present it for others in turn to think about, and it has truly become a part of my way of thinking.
Call a spade a spade, if you like it straight.
Problem is - people get very, very offended by the truth, which means that to a certain degree political correctness is at times necessary. But sometimes folks take it way too far.
Case in point: Park Road Junior Infant and Nursery in Batley, West Yorkshire, has banned all stories about pigs at their school - more specifically children's classic "The Three Little Pigs" and the movie "Babe".
They claim that any talk of pigs is offensive to Muslims, who make up 60 percent of the school's pupils. As if to mollify enquiring reporters headmistress Barbara Harris says the books were only removed from classes for under sevens.
I have a number of Muslim friends and acquaintances who would be totally bewildered by this. British Muslim officials say there is nothing in their religion which forbids reading stories about pigs.
"This is bizarre," Inayat Bunglawala, of the Muslim Council of Britain, told The Sun tabloid. "There is nothing to stop children reading about pigs. The ban is simply on the consumption of pork and pig products."
Now the Muslim council of Britain is hardly going to say it's cool to read The Three Little Pigs if it isn't, which leads me to my next question: Why has this book - a timeless classic which has been read to millions of children from hundreds of different cultures - been banned from this school?
The answer, of course, is because the school BigWigs all got together and decided they had to be as non-racial as possible, and in a glowing sweep of understanding and love for humanity showed just how much they care for all the nations of this world in a marvellous piece of modern, lateral thinking.
The school board no doubt pleasured themselves quietly under the board table, dreaming of all the appreciative, modern parents phoning with praise for the way they've taken schooling into a new era of forgiveness and love and beauty and understanding.
They would have showed the world how it is indeed possible to love and respect someone who doesn't believe in Jesus, and that the care of the world's children - in direct juxtaposition to our troubles in the Middle East - is the first step in promoting harmony, uinderstanding and a better future for our children.
It's this kind of thinking that is stilting our growth as a society, for not only are you removing yet another piece of culture from our society (and we all know how fast culture is disappearing, in a wave of disposable, trashy entertainment), but you are denying cross-cultural learning for reasons which can only be in your interest.
Why not teach non-Muslims more about the Muslim culture through the story, by reading it to them, and then opening up a discussion about pigs and how the various cultures regard them?
That would be infinitely more valuable to understanding a culture other than yours than by simply denying them the story altogether.
To ban the book for being offensive to Muslims has no foundation, as Muslims aren't offended by it. And this is where political correctness turns ugly - when one group starts making assumptions about how not to offend another, without even consulting them first.
Case in point: two mates and I compiled a pilot episode of a comedy series for television - a similar sort of idea to The Fast Show, for those of you have seen it.
All three of us are white, and we play a variety of different characters throughout the various sketches, and although we got a black actor to fill in roles which required a black actor, this was not good enough when we went to pitch it to the TV stations.
We were told that if we even wanted to stand a chance of having it made we would need to form a board - half of which must be black - and a prescribed percentage of actors had to be black, and it had to be in more than one language with subtitles.
Naturally we fell about the place laughing - what a ridiculous requirement. We wrote our comedy based on our experiences, and what we found funny - not what we thought black people might find funny.
But the implication behind a lot of what was told us was that black people simply wouldn't understand our humour - it was too highbrow - which meant that we weren't catering to them. Thereby directly implying that black people are stupid.
Now first off - why shouldn't we appeal to whoever we want to appeal to? It's our creative work, fer chrissakes, not done with politics in mind, and secondly why should we assume that black people wouldn't enjoy our humour?
It was filled with satire - something black folks understand far better than white folks, in my experience, and by saying we couldn't present it as we wanted to the very people trying to be so politically correct were in fact themselves being a bunch of racist bastards.
I co-wrote and performed in a varsity play which went to the Grahamstown festival in 1992, called Dances With Herrings - a very, very, very irreverent look at some very taboo subjects.
One of our venues for performing it was the Noluthando Hall, in the township just outside Grahamstown, and the audience was peopled with roughly half/half black locals and white lentil-munchers, who'd made the drive up to the township in order to show how culturally blind and accepting of black people they were.
I'd written a song for the show which I performed midway through - dressed as a redneck I strummed my guitar in overacted American fashion, singing about how I was going to go down to the corner store and find myself some Nigger and blow his head off with a shotgun.
I went on to sing about how I was going off to Iraq to kill myself some towel-head Arabs, before maybe popping over to Israel to rape a Jew-girl.
The list of minorities I was going to teach a Big Ol' American lesson to was long, and the references to people's race and colour of skin was as derogatory as they come.
The interesting thing here is that half the audience got up and walked out during this song, and the remaining half was almost entirely black - not one black person got up and left that theatre, but all the unshaven, lentil-munching, braided-hair white liberals got up and walked out in protest.
All I could see during the singing of that song was a sea of white teeth in black faces filled with laughter, and afterwards it was only black folks who had any praise for the show.
But no - they wouldn't understand our humour. In much the same way as Muslim children would no doubt die if they ever read a story about a pig.
All Smoked Out,