Thursday, March 01, 2007

PC or TC

I was a graduate student at the University of Chicago when the protests against the Vietnam War were at their height, and what's now called Second Wave Feminism was just beginning. Heady times, frightening times, it all depends on where you were, what you wanted, what you saw. After Kent State, the rest of the graduate students appointed me to go to the department chair to ask for an extension of final exam week so we could take part in the national cycle of mourning and protest. He refused, we argued, and then he said, "I am not insensitive, Ms. Paretsky: you can read in the New York Times how sensitive I am." (I won't name him because I have a lot of affection and admiration for him and this was a small coment in the middle of hot times.) But his remark made me laugh and it's always stuck with me: we all believe we are truly sensitive, and that's why we're always taken aback when someone questions it. Of course, we can't all point to the New York Times to vindicate us.
Recently, Kevin Guilfoile told me about a review in the Wall Street Journal of Patrick Anderson's Triumph of the Thriller; the Journal called me "left-leaning," which shows Journal reviewer Micah Morrison hadn't done his homework: there's nothing to my left for me to lean on. But aside from all the pros or cons of Anderson's book, it's interesting to me that someone with left or liberal or progressive politics is labeled, even excoriated: we ride under the banner of political correctness, while it's not easy or acceptable to criticize discourse on the right. I just turned in the manuscript for a new novel, set in the part of rural Kansas where I grew up. My editor called me to say that it was hard to believe in the mean-spirited Christians I describe, and readers would find it a hard hill to climb. I hope not, but I do wonder whether the author of a book that shows mean-spirited feminists would get a similar editorial phone call? I can't speak from personal experience, but if you've dissed the sisters, or African-Americans, or even the ACLU in your work, what kind of reaction did you get from your own editor before you went to press? Do we have to be theologically correct even when we're proud of our political incorrectness?


David Terrenoire said...

My editor asked me to cut a character's joke about the current occupant of the White House. It was in a long list of edits so I made the cut, just to make my life easier. Maybe I shouldn't have.

I do believe that the today's PC comes not from the left but from the right. You can make great fun of feminists, environmentalists, gays, hippies, baby boomers, Vietnam vets with Purple Hearts (as long as they're Democrats), teachers, unions, and civil rights activists. And I'm fine with that. (Except for the Purple Heart thing, that I'm not OK with).

But imagine, just for a moment, writing anything negative about "the troops." You'd be lucky to get out of town untarred.

(And before I get flamed, you should know that I'm a veteran from a military family and have two nephews in Iraq right now, so I'm not suggesting we start calling anyone a baby killer, OK?)

JD Rhoades said...

But imagine, just for a moment, writing anything negative about "the troops." You'd be lucky to get out of town untarred.

There are some characters in my upcoming book who are Special Forces guys who've come back from Afghanistan and gone off the rails, so...ask me about this in August.

Maryann Mercer said...

Hi Sara, Just wanted to let you know that as a reader I wouldn't have a problem with those mean-spirited Christians. I know some...odd thing is that they don't find anything wrong with their spirits. Not presenting characters as 'real' people can dilute the potency of a plotline and lose readers rather than gain them because of PC.

Libby Hellmann said...

There is something belligerent and, frankly odious, about the Right's instant and virulent attacks on anyone who doesn't share their values. ALthough I have to think it's getting so transparent that most people see right through the bombast. At least I hope so.

The problem is that the Right has honed sophisticated outreach and media techniques over the past 25 years in ways the Left is only now realizing. Much of that "credit" if you will, doesnt go to Karl Rove, but to Richard Viguerie, who was and probably still is a direct mail master. He and Roger Ailes have done more to saturate the public with propaganda than anyone else on the Conservative front lines. They are smart and dangerous men.

I hate to think that we need to fight fire with fire, but I do think that's the only solution. Howard Dean started to but lacked enough money and support. Bottom line: The Left needs its own Fox News. And fast.

Btw, look for the latest assault on Hillary Clinton's Wellsley college thesis, in which she analyzed Sual Alinsky's work in Chicago. They're already attacking her as a Communist, even though she disavowed some of his strategies in her paper.

Unfortunately, none of this helps the situation with your editor, Sara, at least you should know other people are noticing the disparity.

Another thing... My WIP takes place largely in 1969. In Chicago. And features a group of political radicals.

Maybe I should check back with you in a few months. :)

S N Paretsky said...

Yes, I do wonder, why CNN will let Ann Coulter describe John Edwards as a faggot. I don't know what an equivalent insult to her would be--If we call her a fascist she'll probably take it as a compliment, so we're also stymied on the left with what possible fire we could fight their fire with!

Anonymous said...

I had a few choice 4 and 5 letter words running around my head to call Ms. Coulter when I heard of that little fiasco of hers! All of which are definatly not PC!

She embodies the Dark Ages thinking that has descended on this country since Newt Gingrich crawled out from under his slimy little rock. I just keep seeing her as Madame LaFarge, knitting beside the guillotine.

Her pathetic Crusader mentality is growing thin and, as all uncheck fanatics who sense the end of the glory days, she grows more vicious and virulent as she recognizes the closing of her days of influence.

I expect her to head for the bunker and her cyanide capsule any day now.

D.A. Davenport

Maryann Mercer said...

The Coulter remark offended me too. If that's all she can come up with in order to make a point, CNN need to revisit her value as a commentator. Hate has never been PC. I agree with Libby. The conservative right has spread propaganda with a vengeance over the years and has reasearched their audience more thoroughly than the government has vetted candidates for the Supreme Court. John Edwards has little baggage, so why not insult him with derogatory language? People are so used to scandals in politics that it will stick unless rebutted. Kerry chose to ignore the Swift Boaters and the right used that to muddy the waters and avoid issues. Now somehow Obama's white ancestors might have owned slaves. Does this make a difference? Should it even matter? To Ann Coulter and her audience it does.And David, I don't think you even need to say anything negative about "the troops". Just questioning the Iraq war is enough to make you 'unpatriotic' in some circles. I just wonder when the democrats (or the liberals or the populists) will stop fighting each other and band together to affect change. The conservative right has that down to intelligent design as well.

Maryann said...

Pardon the typos. When I get going I forget how to spell :o)

Barbara D'Amato said...

Sara -- This editor who doesn't believe in mean-spirited Christians--has she heard about the Inquisition?