Monday, February 16, 2004

Political Correctness 

I've been researching the limits of what one can say in PR, and I happened on the "seven filthy words" routine of George Carlin that ended up at the Supreme Court because it was broadcast over radio. The seven banned words 30 years later are hardly shocking. Well, one or two might still cause a titter. But, it shows a shift in standards of acceptability since the court case was decided.

Political correctness is a strange force. There are things we don't talk about because we don't. We should talk about them but if we do, everyone rises to arms. That is the fate of Janet Jackson who showed a boob at the Super Bowl. One simply doesn't do that at the Super Bowl. MTV is OK and late night television but not the Super Bowl and not in prime time in the US. Silly, isn't it? Outsiders coming to the US are more amazed by what is prohibited than what is allowed. I met once Australians who could not believe women were not allowed to show breasts on prime time TV in the US. They told me the US was "sex, rugs and rock and roll," so it couldn't be true that women are not allowed to appear half-naked, as they do in Australia.

Wouldn't it be easier if we addressed all subjects? Well, no. There are subjects that spark tension -- such as racism or anti-Semitism. So, even though taboo aspects of these subjects deserve serious examination, they don't get it. And, as PR practitioners, we tiptoe around them as if they aren't there.

No matter what I might write and no matter how I might couch what I write, someone will take it amiss. The problem is that I as a practitioner do not have the credibility to address inflammatory subjects: Others do. They are the ones who should ask hard questions, and they aren't -- at least not in the popular press. So we just don't talk about certain things like a family that overlooks an alcoholic uncle. We might say old Charlie has had his troubles, but we never confront Charlie and tell him to get help.


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