[ Originally published on November 6, 2006, this polemic was the most linked and viewed post on my old blog. Honestly I’m not that fond of it anymore, but since it appears that the subject still hasn’t entirely faded away, I figure I should post it somewhere and this is the place! This was written back when big white liberal blogs still published photoshopped blackface pictures of people they were making fun of, and defended this by refusing to bow to “the PC police”. It was also the era of George W. Bush, the “war on terror”, and general US public enthusiasm for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, which were still covered in the news. ]
It’s axiomatic that good writing tends to avoid clichés, because clear thinking is a fresh response to living reality, not a tired repurposing of brittle brain-crust. A logical inverse to this axiom is that political commentary tends to brim with toxic portions of vapid clichés, because good writing is about as widespread in today’s political discourse as it is in corporate accounting memos.
The blogosphere has its own style of cyber-fad clichés, slightly more high-handed than the stentorian pap of talking-head TV, and occasionally more illuminating. Two examples that leap to my mind are the inescapable utterances of “schadenfreude” and “kabuki”, expressions whose exoticism appears to elevate their usage to haute-cliché à la William Safire. No matter what political controversy is being discussed these days, you’re likely to run across bloggers busting out these 3-syllable badges of faux-erudition with about as much linguistic adroitness as tap-dancers on stilts.
However, there’s one political cliché so popular, so omnipresent, so densely far-reaching, that it is without doubt the greatest cliché of our time. It is the One Cliché To Rule Them All: “political correctness” and its variants. What’s striking about the repetitive droning complaints about “PC” (from both conservatives and liberals) is that the expression itself — not to mention the concept it invokes — is as sloppily unexamined as it is pedestrian.