Friday, 23 January 2009

Political Correctness and Character

I think it's all too easy to bash political correctness as a bad thing. Certainly it keeps the tabloid papers going on slow news days, so for that reason alone we should perhaps be grateful. Beyond that though, I think the quest to avoid using language to denigrate people because they are different from the perceived norm is not an unworthy one.

However, in this attempt to avoid giving offense and to make sure that people are treated as equal, we've clearly lost the plot (which will be no news to followers of aforementioned tabloid publications). This isn't because it's no longer kosher to use racial slurs, derogatory terms for disabled people (or should that be differently abled (note my spell check is telling me that abled isn't even a word, which shows where politically correct language can get a bit too far up its own backside)), but because it seems that the behaviour arising from it has stopped treating those groups as real people.

Case in point (and the reason I started this post): there's been a recent poll conducted on behalf of the BBC and Channel 4 to look at how disabled people felt about their portrayal on television.

Shockingly the survey came up with the following findings:

Disabled people wanted to be portrayed realistically by programme makers - warts and all.

They wanted to see less targeted programmes - they found programmes focusing on disability to be a turn off.

They wanted to see more disabled people in regular programmes.

The fact that we need a survey to point out the bleeding obvious suggests how far we've yet to come. Unfortunately those trying to follow the politically correct line often still fail to see the real person behind the disability or the differently coloured skin.

In terms of writing I think it's important to consider characters in this light. Writing tends to swing from negative stereotypes to positive stereotypes. Both betray the truth and both fail to properly meet the requirements of the audience and of the minority group being portrayed.

Of course if we could get away from thinking about creating characters who represent a minority group and start thinking of them as characters who represent people then I think we'd be some way along the road to finding the right balance.

No comments: