‘It’s just political correctness gone mad, isn’t it?’: How about no? Objecting to Rebel Wilson

As controversy rightfully ensues over Rebel Wilson’s ‘transgendered face’ comment, Jonathan Boniface vents his frustration with the ‘it’s just political correctness gone mad’ brigade and their stubborn refusal to think beyond their own concerns.


I often ask myself, what is this world coming to with political correctness? It’s ridiculous, I mean we just can’t well-meaningly mock anyone now, can we? People are so boring about satirical humour – in fact they’re really selfish. They’ve decided to start reacting with this thing they call ‘being offended’, which is really unfair when the majority of people just want to have a damn good laugh at their expense. Come on people, just lighten up! We all know humour when we see it and just because you’re offended, it doesn’t mean that people meant to be offensive. Really guys, just get over it.

I hope you haven’t vomited by now. The above paragraph sadly isn’t hyperbole, it’s actually a somewhat crude distillation of an increasingly prevalent view in our society, one generally put forward by those with the most privilege when they become frustrated by those from more oppressed groups objecting to crass humour that seeks to belittle them. Oh look, they cry, here come the ‘PC brigade’, and they’ll subject us to a treatise about how humourless we are without even realising that they’re getting one degree of separation closer to Katie Hopkins in the process.

It’s ridiculous, I mean we just can’t well-meaningly mock anyone now, can we?

The other standard response is for those frustrated by your ‘lack of humour’ to make it about them, because there’s nothing the privileged like more than to make themselves the victims. ‘But I didn’t get offended by this, or by that… It’s the same thing, surely!’

Well, no.

Oh sorry, you needed more than that? Ok, I thought it might have been obvious but, very well.

The catalyst for this article was Rebel Wilson’s comments at the BAFTAs. I’m leaving aside the issue of race and focussing on her lovely little ’transgendered face’ comment – she was actually kind enough to underline how humorous it was by pulling a face afterwards. Top notch comedy stuff there, Rebel. As might be expected, there have been any number of white cis gay men lining up say how ‘fucking fierce’ she was, laugh a minute even. Now, anyone who’s read my work on The Queerness will know that I am a big fan of the white cis gay man, huge even, so I didn’t find this response particularly unexpected.

Oh look, they cry, here come the ‘PC brigade’, and they’ll subject us to a treatise about how humourless we are without even realising that they’re getting one degree of separation closer to Katie Hopkins in the process.

Here’s the deal, and let me break this down for: You. Don’t. Get. To. Decide. That. People. Shouldn’t. Be. Offended.

Got that? Here’s why: you don’t share their life experiences; you haven’t had to face some of the struggles other people have faced; whilst recognising that you may have had a tough time too, that actually isn’t relevant when you’re not the butt of someone’s joke; and, crucially, before you decide that someone really shouldn’t be offended, why don’t you try this little thing we call ‘empathy’. That means trying to imagine something from someone else’s point of view. Oh and try that before you accuse people’s allies of getting offended on behalf of the people who you believe weren’t actually offended. (Because obviously we’re patronising enough do that…)

The white cis gay man loves a bit of irreverent humour, especially when he’s not on the receiving end. Because he’s gay, the white cis gay man thinks he understands everything there is to understand about oppression, and he’s come out the other side – he can laugh at himself and he will damn well laugh at others because of that. Oh come on, what’s the harm? Well first, the white cis gay man doesn’t understand everything about oppression. You combine this with the chronic ignorance of intersectionality that so many demonstrate and you’ve pretty much explained it. Personally, I blame Kylie Minogue – if the pop princess herself had sung more songs about intersectionality then it might be different.

Here’s the deal, and let me break this down for: You. Don’t. Get. To. Decide. That. People. Shouldn’t. Be. Offended.

But the point remains, and was acutely demonstrated all over social media in the reaction to the reaction to Rebel Wilson (yes, I know that got a little Yes Minister…) This followed exactly the same pattern that I was mocking above. Rebel Wilson wasn’t being offensive to trans people; it was simply a joke and people are just looking to be offended on behalf of others – ‘we’ don’t get offended by gay jokes, or by black people doing ‘white face’ for films like ‘White Chicks’, so the PC brigade just really need to stop. Isn’t it ironic that those who say ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’ are generally those who have the least to lose from a lack of political correctness, and that they’re painfully oblivious to the fact? In any case, these are all apparently credible arguments as to why people like me are over-reacting or, to quote my personal favourite insult, ‘holier than thou’.

Let’s treat these charming things in reverse order. I didn’t mean to get into race, but seeing as how it was brought up, let’s delve into ‘white’ and ‘black’ face. Whilst it might seem painstakingly obvious to say, the two things are (wait for it) NOT THE SAME! Who knew? (Insert eye-roll here.) Of course white people aren’t offended by ‘white face’; that’s because it’s not comparable to ‘black face’ because of the historical connotations, the socio-economics that come into play and the existence of structural or institutionalised racism – you know, that thing that many white people don’t think exists any more. Yes, it’s 2016 and we’re still having to explain this. Even more worryingly, it’s 2016 and we still have white people responding with old tropes such as ‘it works both ways’ when talking about ‘white face’ in western societies. It pays to take a moment to let that sink in.

Isn’t it ironic that those who say ‘it’s political correctness gone mad’ are generally those who have the least to lose from a lack of political correctness, and that they’re painfully oblivious to the fact?

Add to this, if I see one more white cis gay man argue that making trans people the butt of the joke is acceptable because of programmes like ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’, where gay men are the butt of the joke, I will just emigrate to Mars and leave you all to it. Quite apart from approaching this from a privilege perspective (i.e. that white cis gays have a more privileged position in society than more oppressed groups and that this insulates them more to the impact of irreverent comedy), the main objection that can be levelled here is that this is an example of satire that comes from within the gay community, and self-mockery is an entirely different thing to being mocked by others.

Neither of these comparisons really stand up when used to justify Rebel Wilson’s comments. Mind you, it’s hardly surprising when you consider the nature of ‘White Chicks’ and ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’, leading us to wonder if the average white cis gay man needs to expand his range of cultural references.

Of course white people aren’t offended by ‘white face’; that’s because it’s not comparable to ‘black face’ because of the historical connotations, the socio-economics that come into play and the existence of structural or institutionalised racism – you know, that thing that many white people don’t think exists any more. Yes, it’s 2016 and we’re still having to explain this.

That aside, what’s really disturbing is the vitriol with which white cis gays and cis heterosexuals respond when challenged on these notions. They trot out all the trusty old tropes about ‘free speech’ and ‘common sense’ with regard to comedy; they’ll find lots of lovely phrases from well-known figures to apply out of context (Martin Luther King is always a good source if you’re white and you want to make a point about POC ‘overreacting’ – search long enough and you’ll find something you can skew) or they’ll accuse people of assuming the moral high ground. All this, because you didn’t like them laughing at a joke. You tell them this and they’ll roll their eyes and complain that there are ‘real issues’ out there, as opposed to crucifying comedians for being funny. By which they mean the ‘real issues’ that affect them. I’d respect this viewpoint more if I saw greater numbers of white cis gay men standing up for others, but generally they just get animated by issues that threaten them.

This is the reaction of those who hold power and who, even subconsciously, don’t want to surrender it. Just like white people don’t like to be told that events like the Oscars suffer from institutionalised racism, so too do white cis gay men resent being told not to laugh at trans people. And let’s be clear, this is making a joke at the expense of trans people. Not only is it mocking the debate over the lack of trans representation in the industry, it’s also maddeningly ignorant when taken as a wider comment on our society. But it’s ok, surely, because Rebel Wilson amused a whole bunch of privileged people by being a ‘fierce bitch’, no?

You tell them this and they’ll roll their eyes and complain that there are ‘real issues’ out there, as opposed to crucifying comedians for being funny. By which they mean the ‘real issues’ that affect them.

Sorry Rebel, but many people do have what you call a ‘transgendered face’ and no, they don’t win Oscars for it, but they do regularly get verbally and physically abused, or killed for it. Thus ensues the hilarity, I guess. Look – there I am, rolling in the aisles. Mind you, this is what happens when you deal with people whose only idea of what it means to be trans has come from a picture of Caitlyn Jenner on the cover Vanity Fair.

No, I didn’t fail to get the joke because I’m humourless, or morally superior.

I didn’t get the joke because I’m not ignorant, and because I try to empathise with others.

Follow Jonathan on Twitter (@gaes_elskhugi)

2 thoughts on “‘It’s just political correctness gone mad, isn’t it?’: How about no? Objecting to Rebel Wilson

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