Political Correctness According to Claire Trevett

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In her article, “Offensive Or Just Too Sensitive”, Claire Trevett discusses the viewpoints of both proponents and opponents of political correctness. On one hand, she contends, political correctness “removes divisions in society based on race, affluence, physical appearance and social status” (Trevett 1); at the same time, political correctness often “suppresses human rights, such as freedom of expression (Trevett 1). BJ Gallagher, in his article, “The Problem With Political Correctness”, maintains that a fixation on political correctness “hinder[s] our ability to get comfortable in living and working with those who are different from us” (Gallagher 1). These authors portray the truth that, though political correctness intends to recognize and tolerate differences among people so as to build a more cooperative society, it heightens people’s sensitivity to controversial topics and language so much so that they cannot address or solve these issues. Indeed, people must not take political correctness to such an extreme that they can no longer confront pressing issues or remain open-minded.

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People should not prioritize political correctness over the freedom and ability to tackle society’s problems. The Pulitzer Prize-winning musical, Next to Normal, centers on Diana, a woman haunted by the death of her infant son sixteen years ago. In the Broadway staging of the musical, Diana’s psychologist diagnoses her “bipolar depressive with delusional episodes.” Since the musical ended on Broadway in 2009, the American Psychological Association has redefined such mania as, “bipolar II with psychotic features.” As regional productions continue for Next to Normal, many ensembles replace the former dialogue with the latter. This decision sparks controversy among many fans, some of whom encourage the change for reflecting the current truth, and some of whom denounce the change for downplaying the artistic merit of the original. Aiming for political correctness, fans deliberate which diagnosis bears the most accuracy more so than they stop to understand the role of Diana’s diagnosis in establishing her character and advancing the plot of the musical. Their concern with upholding political correctness detracts from their overall experience of the musical. The musical seeks not only to entertain the audience, but also to provoke conversation about the delicate issue of mental illness. The audience members cheat Next to Normal of its full value by entirely bypassing this avenue for discussion—and an ultimate elimination of the taboo that surrounds the mentally ill—in favor of deliberating a smaller detail. By prioritizing political correctness over open discussions of controversial topics, people reduce their chances of finding veritable solutions for these problems.

Political correctness must not be taken to an extreme, also because this shoots down society’s open-mindedness. Political correctness indulges a sort of formal attitude, one which necessarily distances people. This distance broadens the divides between cultures and fosters a narrow-minded perspective by encouraging isolation within ethnic or cultural groups, in place of intermingling between groups. In this way, the very premise underlying political correctness—that having a lack of knowledge about others means people should only use “safe” terms to describe them—makes it all the more difficult to be open-minded about these people. A more casual approach to conversation, on the other hand, fosters closer relationships and thus has the power to bring together eclectic groups of people. Conclusively, people should not use political correctness to the extent that it makes them narrow-minded.

As Claire Trevett and BJ Gallagher point out in their respective articles, this rigorous policing of speech often keeps society from openly discussing the very issues political correctness was meant to address. Ultimately, people should use political correctness with caution since it can compromise their ability to solve problems and to be open-minded about others.

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