James Roberts is a forty-something writer and self-proclaimed fool who currently resides in the remoter outreaches of the Highlands of Scotland. His debut novel, Pardon Me: A Victorian Farce, has been described (by himself) as one of the funniest books ever written in the English language. To see just how wrong he is please visit http://www.jamesroberts.scot
On Being PC
Somewhere amongst the jacket sleeve blurb of my new novel I offer up the following caveat: Pardon Me: A Victorian Farce is set in the 1890s; a time when an English gentleman enjoyed talking down to the rest of the world and ‘PC’ meant Police Constable. It is, I believe, the literary equivalent of 'may contain nuts' or 'beware strobe lighting'. The contents will not be to everybody's tastes, but only the unusually sensitive will find themselves being hospitalized.
Then I find my inbox is inundated with green fonted emails from offended readers accusing me of all sorts of unpleasant 'isms'. The epistolary savaging is so severe, one would think I was the monstrous love child of Leni Riefenstahl and Bernard Manning. Now it is my turn to take offence. I pride myself on being a liberal. I take the Guardian. I drink Fairtrade coffee. Some of my best friends are feminists. At the last count I have been to three gay weddings; and as a guest, not stood outside waving a placard. So to these vulgar naysayers I explain, with the greatest exercise of will and patience, that my novel is a 'parody' of the mores and values of the fin de siècle, not a 'promotion'. Furthermore, I add, now starting to lose my sangfroid somewhat, the plot centres upon the travails of a hapless diplomat sent to the colonies to handle a dangerous outbreak of l’amour de l’impossible. It is not the sequel to Anne of Green Gables.
So why am I bothering you with all this dear reader? Because it got me to thinking about the pros and cons of 'being PC' in this day and age and, the more I pondered the issue, the more I felt that I had something to say. Nothing too profound obviously, I am, after all, the writer of novels in which gentlemen have very terrible things happening in their trouser department; Martin Heidegger I am not. But it may entertain a passing minute as you scroll between Facebook and your favoured online bookmaker.
I will start, if I may, by examining the label itself. My research suggests that the term PC is generally deployed pejoratively. Especially when coming from the pen of the British tabloids, who, disliking semantic ambiguity, like to chuck in the suffix 'gone mad' just to reassure their readers they themselves haven't gone soft. From this I have drawn the conclusion that the 'man in the street', by and large, views being PC as an attack on his inalienable right to accuse foreigners of stealing his job/car/wife/country (delete as appropriate), whilst simultaneously robbing him of the pleasure of merrymaking at the expense of minorities. As one of the terribly un-PC P.Cs. in the fabulous sitcom Early Doors says: "You can't even laugh at dwarfs anymore."
Now, as one John Lydon (aka Jonny Rotten): once said: "I've met the man in the street, and he's a c*nt."But then let us not deny that we liberals, we bookish literati types, we guests at gay weddings, we too have our issues with being PC. It is a problem that can be summarised in two words - Magna Carta. Ergo, what we see as at stake here is freedom of speech. Where, we ask, does PC end and censorship begin? Moreover, what will be the possible endgame of all this PCness?
Let me put some flesh on these fears. What begins as a little linguistic bowdlerising may lead to a bit of book banning and from here we are just a populistic stones throwing away from a night of book burning. And as 19th Century journalist (and German Jew) Christian Heine rather prophetically said: "Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings." In sum, at some juncture we fear PC may become flipped and become CP: Correct Politics. We are not quite there yet. Those of us fortunate to live in the UK are not living under the jackboot of a tyrannical dictatorship and neither are we being governed by the whims of some cheese munching lardy bum with big hair (for I refer here to Kim Jong-un, not Boris Johnson).
What we are living in, however, is a society in which we are increasingly encouraged to take offence at the slightest provocation (people of restricted height included) and where, as a result, our politicians spend more time apologizing for something they may have said and polishing up on their PR work than they do doing something outrageously brave like saving the planet from global warming or tackling galloping economic inequality. As a consequence, more people vote on X Factor than in general elections because, let's be honest, if you are going to be forced to make a choice between a number of equally anodyne acts, it helps if the contestants are good looking and the winner is guaranteed to evaporate two weeks after Christmas.
So, as Lenin once said when on a trip to Siberia, courtesy of the Okhranka: What is to be done? How do we of liberal sensibilities halt the onward march of the PC Brigade without joining the mass ranks of the scapegoating and dwarf bashing hoi polio? I believe we can all make a start by remembering how to laugh at ourselves again. By all means be serious and sensitive about others, but never shy away from finding yourself mildly risible. This has always been a celebrated tradition of British culture after all. Did we not invent the court jester? Did the Dark Ages not end the day this same court jester sang a funny song about the King's nob and got away with it? Who knows, the idea may even 'go 'viral' as social media types are wont to say. And should you feel I am being a little factious, puerile even, then answer me this. Has anyone who finds themselves faintly ridiculous ever started a war? If Kaiser Wilhelm II had not been so touchy about his withered arm there would never have been a First World War. I'll skip Hitler because I don't want our German cousins to think I am picking on them. What about the Taliban...[Ed - the rest of this blog has been removed].