Despite an invitation extended through the letters pages of Marketing Week, I was unable to attend the Creative Summit in Sunderland last September. Did the event take place? If so, was political correctness on the agenda? Was the subject mentioned at all?
I ask because it is becoming increasingly evident that, in one respect at least, PC is stifling creativity in advertising. What began as a quirk and little more than an irritant has evolved by turns into a fashion and a cliché, and is now a convention. It is this: in almost all cases when a man and a woman are shown together in a TV commercial the woman is portrayed as a sound repository of good sense and judgment and the man as a blithering idiot.
Of course, this began as an amusing, and perhaps long overdue, corrective to the years of pre-feminist advertising in which there was an underlying assumption that all women were housewives whose universe was defined by domesticity and supplied, equipped and sustained by men.
The first commercials to portray women as the pin-striped executive equals of any man were surprising and refreshing. Perhaps too refreshing. Because just as a certain type of American film director assumes that if one man slipping on a banana skin is funny, ten men slipping over is ten times funnier, there is a second-rate creative mind that assumes if a woman being the equal of a man is exciting and contemporary, a woman being the effortless superior of a man is ten times more exciting and contemporary. Again, this may be amusing once or twice. But when it becomes so mimicked as to be a required norm, the result is a tiresome turn-off. Judged even by the standards of the more rabid feminists, the effect is self-defeating, since it cannot take much in the way of either intelligence or judgment to be the superior of the near imbecilic males portrayed in the ads.
It’s been going on too long to be dismissed as a passing fad. Commercial after commercial uses the weary device of a bright, intelligent woman explaining patiently and in words of one syllable some blindingly obvious proposition to a man whose doltish expression betrays learning difficulties.
There are many possible explanations for the persistence of this dreary lack of originality, but two in particular suggest themselves: either our pool of creative talent is so impoverished that it cannot come up with a more original way of conveying a commercial message, or advertising has, through subscribing to it, become the victim of PC.
Political correctness has already cost society dear in terms of freedom of speech and action (if you doubt the latter, consider the plight of smokers) that it’s easy to think of cramped creativity as just another consequence of chasing the chimera of equality. But every loss of freedom is important and each that is forfeited without resistance is another step on the road to serfdom.
Political correctness is both deeply odious and dishonest, yet it has grown to the point where even governments tremble before it.
It began on the campuses of America with the notion that “all things are relative”. Students in the US are taught that there is no correct answer to any question. There are only different answers and any notion of correctness is to be avoided. Shakespeare’s plays, for instance, are not sublime examples of literary art but products of an oppressive culture, and therefore politically incorrect.
But, as a few brave Americans have dared to point out, it is intellectually dishonest to assert that there are no facts and that no answer is correct but there is also a code of “politically correct” opinions and answers. What PC deems correct is correct, but anything you might think that goes against it is “politically incorrect.” PC’s adherents see no need to defend with reason the “correctness” of their claims. It is sufficient to rail against the “incorrectness” of others.
Alongside its inherent foolishness and intolerance, PC came to see all of human existence in terms of race, class, and gender and to attach offensive labels to anyone who disagreed. Though ostensibly a list of offensive things one may not say, PC is in truth a subjective list of things one must think, say and do on pain of being branded sexist, racist, bigoted or homophobic. (This last, if it means anything at all, means “fear of the same”, whereas those it seeks to denigrate are in truth wary of something so different from their own experience that it excites revulsion.)
Political correctness is a form of censorship and thought control. In its more extreme versions it holds that the pursuit of equality is only for women, blacks or people of non-European cultures. Rightly, this has been described as a form of Nazism.
If all this seems to have come a long way from some rather silly TV commercials, it should be remembered that, in joining the crusade against white Caucasian males, the creative fraternity finds itself in some pretty offensive company.