A tendency for political correctness that had taken hold in the 1970s resulted in significant limitation on free speech very visible in today’s college life. What started as a good cause aimed at protecting minorities from hate speech,now looks like an infantile attempt to shield students from any negative experiences. At that, this exaggerated desire to guard off any negative emotions refers to curriculum and teaching material as well as to extracurricular activities and entertainment on campus.
In the article “That’s Not Funny,” Caitlin Flanagan narrows down to humor as a particular example of hyper-sensitivities in college students.Flanagan argues that because colleges encourage diversities in their midst they tend to believe that those various groups of people should be carefully guarded off potentially offensive jokes. As a result, the outcome is an insipid, bland sort of humor that somewhat entertains but is not able to delve deeper and attempt to point out and probably solve issues and problems. I support Flanagan’s viewpoint that the extreme development of political correctness has its own price and it is free speechand I think thatit is detrimental, first of all, to students who are not allowed to grow up and enter the adult world strong and able-minded, and second, it is detrimental to society because in the long run the coddling of the students’ mind is a disservice to their careers, mental health, and interpersonal relations.
In “That’s Not Funny,” Flanagan explains that colleges, with all their funding and financial possibilities, represent a ‘land of opportunities’ for young comedians who can secure their humorist careers by getting enough gigs on campuses all over the country. Their pay is generous and their commissions are numerous. Yet nowadays it becomes tricky to cater to college students’ tastes because young people get more and more offended by even slightest departure from neutral topics. Generally, comedians who want to have college gigs should steer as much a middle way as it is possible and should steer away from offending any minorities possible. It means that they need to be very cautious to joke about women, homosexuals, ethnic minorities, people with special needs and references to any traumatic events such as war, rape, illness, etc. as well as political views. Whereas it is commendable that colleges keep an eye on their students’ good humor and dignity, it is also true that colleges are primarily preoccupied with retaining the funds students bring with them. Therefore, they do their best to keep students happy and unoffended.
The extremes of political correctness in college-held comic performances have two consequences. First, it affects the quality of the material comedians present to students. Smart comic artists are able to get round the tricky rules of hyper-sensitive collegial bodies but the repressed situation breeds many weak and untalented comedians who get a green light only because their jokes are clean. The quality of college humor could be an insignificant problem – all the more students spend only four years in college and can put up with humorless jokes, if it were not for the effect these policies have on mind. In the long run the price paid for appeasing the often groundless displeasure at a barbed joke is a degradation of critical thinking and a lack of logic.
Humor can function on many levels and one of humor’s functions is to point out specific problems, to signal that there are other people struggling with it, and eventually to offer comfort and support. Flanagan says, “Those jokes include observations about power and sex and evenrape and each, in its complicated way, addresses certain ugly and possibly immutable truths”.However, this limiting approach to humor on campus results in a very close-minded mindset. Young people seem not to know that “jokes involving gay people aren’t necessarily homophobic”and screen out the majority of ethnic jokes because it can offend. As a result, those comedians who understand that it is better to joke about “Costco, camping, and pets,” otherwise there will be no bookings for them.
Flanagan sums up that eventually, by censoring the comedians before their performances and cleaning all sensitive topics, students do a disservice, first of all, to themselves because “Drive those ideas underground, especially the dark ones, and they fester. It means that colleges do not allow humor exercise its healing powers; they do not let students train their minds in confronting uneasy ideas, and it boils down to the fact that colleges do not thoroughly prepare students for the grownup life. They will be mighty surprised to enter the workforce and find a whirlpool of politically incorrect people, opinions, and ideas.
I completely support Flanagan’s viewpoint because I find the situation of censoring comedians appalling. It indeed violates free speech and discourages critical thinking. Comedians are humans and they can happen to say something highly insensitive and someone in the audience can take an offense. Yet I do not believe that it should set up a precedent and encourage other colleges to enforce some rules to prevent other students from taking a similar offense. I think such occurrences should become subjects for debates and vivid discussions rather than grounds for new censorship rules.
I found a support for my ideas about humor on campus and political correctness at college in the article “The Coddling of the AmericanMind”by Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt where they argue that the new policy of making students as comfortable at college as possible robs them of a possibility to flex their mental muscles and build up their intellectual power. Students find themselves amidst similarly minded people and learn to develop hostility and aggression when they meet opposite viewpoints. For example, Lukianoff and Haidt give an example of a student at the University of Michigan, Omar Mahmood, who made jokes about microaggression on campus in his article and was not only dismissed as an opinion piece writer from the newspaper but got his dorm room egged by female students and received aggressive messages in response. Lukianoff and Haidtalso say that “policing speech and punishing speakers is likely to engender patterns of thought that are surprisingly similar to those long identified by cognitive behavioral therapists as causes of depression and anxiety”. So in addition to a lack of critical thinking, these policies encourage mental instability? Students get used to thinking styles when they can generalize, rely on their emotions more than on rational reasoning, dwell on negativity, and see situations in black and white. In fact, colleges would help students greatly if they encouraged them opposite cognitive habits and learn them to deal with negativity, dichotomous thinking and overgeneralizing. Students should not be encouraged to get offended too easily. I would like students to be discouraged from taking offence at all. I think a healthier reaction for the collegiate body is to write a column, to start a discussion, to write on social media but censoring our free speech is not a way out but rather a dead end.
Humor truly is a sensitive area because a lot depends on the sensitivity and intelligence of a comedian. A comedian can be inexperience, not quick-witted enough, and generally a prick. However, it does not mean that students are not able to put up with a joke or two and should be shielded for a ‘painful experience’. Emotional reactions are very personal and by leveling all college activities to the most sensitive students would be a torture to others. All the more the most sensitive people are not the majority, yet such behavior is catchy and other students can easily pick it up and even imitate it because it is also a certain form of power and control.