Instead of “politically correct”

2 Jun

In his critique of Adam’s Sandler’s latest film, critic A.O. Scott of the NY Times, inserts a small but paradigm-shifting statement:

The politically correct scold in me — though I prefer the phrase “thinking human being” — may object to all those [racist, sexist, heterosexist, classist] lapses [in the movie] and more like them, but in my capacity as a film critic, I find myself more bothered by the sheer audience-insulting incompetence of the filmmaking and the writing (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/23/movies/adam-sandler-and-drew-barrymore-in-blended.html?smid=tw-share&_r=1).

First of all, I like that. In leaping to the excesses of political correctness, I’ve found that people all too often overlook the worthwhile kernel within PC, which is thinking. Thinking about what we assume and presume, thinking about our frames of reference, thinking about the cultural and systemic prejudices and inequities that are the context of our individual words and actions, and thinking about the impact–not just the intent–of what we say and do. So here’s to “thinking human beings.”

But even as Scott acknowledges the problem with the movie’s “retrograde gender politics; its delight in the humiliation of children; its sentimental hypocrisy about male behavior; its quasi-zoological depiction of Africans as servile, dancing, drum-playing simpletons,” he dismisses it all as secondary to “the sheer audience-insulting incompetence of the filmmaking and the writing.” This puzzles me because I see the two as intertwined.

Yes, I realize that Scott is talking about the crafts of screenwriting and filmmaking. And sometimes craft can be strong while social awareness is not. But in this case, craft appears to suffer the same stunted, derivative, ignorant mindset that informs the film’s political incorrectness. In this film, both craft and content show all the hallmarks of the unthinking human being.

And the reason this bugs me enough to bother writing about one line in a movie review for a film I’m not even going to see is because all too often, we segregate identity, diversity and social justice issues from the presumed “real” considerations of a thing, whether that thing is a film, curriculum, admissions or a trial verdict. We presume that notions like craft, truth, beauty and merit transcend social issues like bias, prejudice and everyday sanctioned discrimination. When we should actually be interrogating how (not whether) bias, prejudice and everyday sanctioned discrimination shape those notions of ours.

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