Political correctness in media: Necessary or not?

TAHSIN TASNIA SIMI | Wednesday, 19 January 2022

'Political Correctness', a popular buzzword, is being thrown around a lot these days. There has been a steady rise of intense debate surrounding its merits, demerits and even the validity of its existence.

What do we understand by PC?

In simpler words, political correctness refers to abolishing speech, behaviour, or action that harms or excludes a group that is already subjected to discrimination in some shape or form.

The term’s origin can be traced back to the multicultural landscape of the US and in the struggles, its minority groups experience in obtaining their rights.

Owing to globalisation and English is utilised as the medium of international discourse, PC culture has been slowly spreading to other corners of the world as well.

Representation in media

One of the fields where the influence of PC (politically correctness) culture is heavily felt is the mainstream media.

Starting from the all-female cast of Ghostbusters (2016) to the heavy representation of Asians in Crazy Rich Asians - the influence of PC culture is undeniable in modern cinema and publications.

These movies and books have left a trail of awestruck and moved audiences who have felt represented and empowered for the first time in a long time or maybe for the first time ever.

Advocates of PC culture generally consist of the younger generations- millennials, Gen Z and so on. They argue the media we consume greatly impacts our thought processes and ideas which eventually translates into behaviour.

Consequently, politically incorrect representation of marginalised groups in popular media augments the risk of making spaces further hostile towards them.

On the flip side, an inclusive approach to media where discriminated groups are given a voice helps to empower these groups by giving them proper agency.

Some examples of politically correct mainstream movies would be Booksmart, Birds of Prey, Little Women, Hidden Figures, Wonder Woman, etc. where women and other minorities are not used as plot devices but have authority and substantial impact on the storyline.

The music industry is far too behind yet

The music industry does not bode very well in terms of practising PC culture. Time and again, famous rappers have included highly controversial lyrics in their albums, one of the most notorious examples being Eminem.

In 2016, the famous rapper released his track ‘Campus Speech’ which managed to simultaneously degrade sexually diverse people and threaten violence against women. However, this is tame in comparison with his previous tracks where he has written about murdering women and ‘supporting domestic violence.’

Recently, comedian Dave Chappelle has received fierce backlash for declaring that he is a TERF (trans-exclusionary radical feminist) and defending J.K. Rowling on her transphobia. This same brand of insensitivity can be observed all over mainstream media.

As such, the proponents of PC culture push for creating a space in mainstream media where derogatory terms and degrading portrayals of marginalised demographics are strictly avoided.

Finding the middle ground

There exists another viewpoint that can be thought of as the middle ground between two extremes. Owing to the practice of political correctness, popular characters that had been traditionally represented by white male groups are now being re-written to appease marginalised demographics.

In Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Hermione was portrayed by a black woman which divided the Harry Potter fandom. One group found it progressive to portray one of the central characters as black.

Emma Watson, who originally played Hermione in the movies, publicly expressed her support of the choice.

While some fans perceived this abrupt change as being out of place and unnecessary. They argued this compromised the integrity of a beloved and nostalgic franchise for them.

Perhaps one of the most trending examples of this phenomenon is the debate revolving around the famous character, James Bond being re-written as female. While it has been established that there is a definite lack of representation of women in media, from this perspective, it is more effective to create impressive original women characters with their own storylines instead of making female copies of traditionally white male characters.

Does it restrict freedom of expression?

At the other end of the spectrum, opponents of PC culture complain this phenomenon has been restricting freedom of expression and taking the fun out of movies and books.

According to them, political correctness impedes artistic freedom and prohibits people from expressing their views candidly on potent social debates out of fear of being cancelled.

As such, salient inputs or contributions to certain discourses are being lost. Also, it is believed that preventing people from expressing their beliefs and thoughts in certain manners will not make those beliefs and thoughts dissolve.

Rather, keeping them stuffed in for too long poses the risk of a later outburst which can prove to be more toxic and harmful.

Now, after considering all the sides of the debate, it is clear the issue of political correctness has polarised society to a considerable degree. Undoubtedly, both sides raise some valid concerns.

The writer is a 3rd-year student at IBA (DU).

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