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Where is the line for political correctness?

March 15, 2012

(The Divine Comedy available here)

A little off topic, but I read an article today about a human rights organisation that is taking a stand against Dante’s Divine Comedy that made me a little mad today.

Apparently they have come to the conclusion that the content of the story is:

“offensive and discriminatory …  racist, antisemitic and Islamophobic [and should] be removed from classrooms”

This got me thinking – can we censor the past based on todays values? What would happen to Shakespeare? Milton? CS Lewis? Salman Rushdie? Or on a more mundane note ads like this:

(picture found here)

I’m not sure where I stand.  On the one hand, if updating something like Enid Blyton so some of the more snigger-worthy names and places are more appealing to children today then brilliant, roll on the changes.  If it can keep a book alive then there has to be some good from it.

But on the other hand I get frustrated that everything is being read out of context.  Whether the author was directly commenting on their culture or not, texts like this are a valuable insight into how society has changed – as well as being very beautiful in their own right.  And I mean that in the sense of literature, not topic.

Surely we can’t dismiss teaching certain things in schools just because they don’t conform to today’s standards.  If we can’t explain the context, what hope have we got trying to teach the Crusades or the Second World War in history classes? Or would they get censored too?

Political correctness is a rod for our own backs.  While I obviously agree that we shouldn’t be offending anyone, or discriminating against individuals / groups there is something about stories like this one that just beggar’s belief.

Some of the worst examples of political correctness I’ve ever seen came from marketing as well.  Like the standardised letters that the NHS sends out to promote certain tests that it is in their interest to make sure that people attend – CVD, Cervical Screening etc.  These have been panel checked for PC-ness to the point where there (at least then) was no hook to them anymore.

How can anything stand out when political correctness overtakes common sense?

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