The latest entry in the Star Wars franchise has closed out its second week of release, and some media outlets are engaging in gleeful schadenfreude over the precipitous drop in box office receipts from Week 1 to Week 2. Two weeks in, the overall numbers are strong, but, at least in the eyes of some, not as strong as they should be.

I have not yet seen the movie, but I know many who have. While the critic composite at Rotten Tomatoes is 92% favorable, the audience composite is a much lower 52%, a sentiment that my anecdotal survey of friends mirrors. The wide disparity at Rotten Tomatoes is doubly unusual in that the audience score is lower than the critics’ score, when my experience is that audiences are typically more forgiving than critics. This disparity that has led some to suggest that there’s something fishy going on. If the allegations of bots driving the composite upward prove true, it could severely damage Rotten Tomatoes’ reputation, and reputation is everything nowadays.

While it may turn out that the bot allegations are true, I suspect a different reason for the reverse disparity between critics and audience, a reason offered unsolicited by friends who’ve seen the movie, one echoed in parts of the Internet, and one angrily retorted in other parts of the Net. That reason? That the movie is drenched in political correctness, including gender and race roles, zero-sum feminism, standard 21st century progressive political tropes, identity politics checkmarks (really odd for a franchise awash in alien creatures), and a plethora of other nods and genuflections to acceptable thought.

But, wait – Star Wars is a deeply beloved franchise, and what fan would eschew this eagerly anticipated release simply because they hear it’s drowning in eye-rolling PC?

That’s the lament of someone who elects to believe what he wishes to be true over what is true.

2017 is shaping up to be a weak year for Hollywood. While that weakness is attributed by some to the rise of streaming services and their original content, the continuing outpouring of high-quality serialized product (AMC was at the fore of this, now the streamers are taking point), and to changing viewership habits, it’s no secret that some feel that the stuff coming out of Hollywood uniformly and blatantly kowtows to the social scolds who define the ever-changing rules of political correctness.

Stand-up comedy is being destroyed by PC. Commercial television dares not deviate from the script, in its comedies, in its dramas, in its news coverage, in its documentaries, and even in its commercials (watch how gender, race, and orientation roles are portrayed in any given commercial. They all conform to the same playbook). It’s as flagrant as it is universal. It’s not enough for a show or commercial to be neutral or inclusive in its casting, plot and presentation, it MUST be preening and obvious. Gender roles, especially, can never be portrayed in what we’d call a traditional sense.

If you’ve 23 minutes available, I highly recommend this exchange between Jordan Peterson and Camille Paglia, especially the discussion about gender roles and masculinity/femininity. Political correctness has, for years/decades, been demanding that both sexes forego their “traditional” gender roles – not simply accepting that these roles aren’t exclusionary and that it’s acceptable to cross roles – but that women as a rule be more like men and men as a rule be less like men. This is not liberty, it is not liberation, it is not removal of barriers. It is installation of new barriers, barriers that (sorry, blank-slaters, you’re wrong) run contrary to fundamental, biological traits of human nature.

Cognitive dissonance – thoughts and/or acts that contradict each other – is notoriously common in political discourse, with people routinely accusing each other of hypocrisy and worse when they see it in others. Cognitive dissonance is not, however, solely about the contradiction – it’s about the mental discomfort that the contradiction creates.

It is good and proper that people no longer be forced or pressured into abiding by old/traditional roles, be they gender, race, orientation or what have you. A free society should not purport to tell individuals how they must lead their lives. However, freedom is not what we have today, or what the social justice movement advances. In place of the old conformity, one that could at least be excused via biological-hormonal-human-nature foundations, we have a new conformity that is dissonant from those foundations. That dissonance creates discomfort, and when boys are not allowed to be boys or girls are not allowed to be girls, it is inevitable that problems arise.

As those who grow up in this fetid soup of political correctness reach adulthood, many find that the promises of greater harmony and a better life via political correctness don’t come true. Thus, when they encounter blatant PC preachiness, they’re more apt to be cynical about it and to eschew its manifestations. Enough people may be so fed up with PC that their decision not to watch The Last Jedi generated a real impact at the box office. Enough people may have grown so cynical about the brute-force injection of PC into pop culture that they’ve skipped content they’d otherwise enjoy. And, it is hard to dispute that the knee-taking by some NFL players during the National Anthem (and, more importantly, the condescending defense of those acts by the social justice dictators) has hurt attendance and viewership of a sport that millions love to the point of fanaticism.

A virus that kills its host is a failure, because it removes the vector by which it spreads. Political correctness is behaving like just such a virus: debilitating its host to a degree where the host starts to fail. We witness this failure in the seemingly irreconcilable divide between Red and Blue America, and by extension in the transformation of the Democratic Party into a monolithic beast that tolerates no difference of opinion, that brooks no dissent from within, that will punish any breaking of the ranks severely (it is inconceivable that not one red-state Democratic senator voted for the tax bill unless we factor in fear of party excommunication).

I believe that one of the main roots of our national dissonance is this, for want of a better word, “over-correction” away from the restrictiveness of traditional societal roles in favor of restrictive opposition to traditional roles. Liberty and liberation are supposed to be about liberty and liberation, not about forced conformity to a supposedly better or more correct set of societal norms. Since that more correct set of norms often clashes with those that have evolved, over millennia, out of basic human biology, they induce an illness in society. Thus, we have unhappy men, unhappy women, and unhappy people who don’t feel they fit in traditional slots. We have unhappy minorities, we have unhappy whites, we have unhappy straight people, we have unhappy LGBTQ people, we have unhappy everything.

Political correctness is portrayed to be about righting systemic wrongs, so it would make sense that, as its goals continue to be achieved, those who’ve been hemmed in by the old restrictiveness and oppression should be happier. I don’t see it. Instead, I see a society that’s crankier and more divided than ever – crankiness and division that’s mirrored in Congress. Whereas in times as recent as George W. Bush’s tenure, Congress would cooperate and compromise across the aisle to get things done, today it’s about not ceding an inch of ground, and instead demanding total conformity to an ever-more-shrill set of demands.

With no positive result. We’re unhappier, angrier, crankier, and more stressed than ever. The political correctness infection that has metastasized into popular culture, entertainment, education at all levels, politics at all levels, and daily interactions with our fellows, that has supplanted normal premises of discourse and interaction, that has put everyone on the defensive, and that runs contrary to our basic human nature, is killing our society.

The only cure is real liberty. It’s taking on a genuine “live and let live” attitude, it’s treating each other as individuals and as actual equals, rather than as identity group members whose “equality” is hierarchical. It’s refusing to tell others they’re living their lives incorrectly, it’s refusing to stand in the way of others’ pursuit of happiness when such a pursuit does not follow an approved path. It’s rejecting the forced conformity of political correctness. Not its ideals, which should each be judged on merits, but its message of “this is how you must be.”

I don’t know how we are going to get there. Pop culture has been so deeply infected that any attempt at a cure is more likely to kill the patient. Political conflict has become zero-sum. The Left, despite its 1000+ losses the past 6 years, hopes that it can capitalize on Trump’s unpopularity enough to re-take the reins of power without altering its agenda one whit. The Right, totally fed up with the Left’s PC, is too-often hanging its hat on affirmatively anti-PC rabble-rousers like Steve Bannon. Trump, as I’ve written before, is a symptom of this virus. In some ways, he’s strengthened the body against the infection, in that the ravages of political correctness have halted, but we cannot know if this strengthening is the beginning of a recovery, a transition to a different disease, or one last rally before death.

Peter Venetoklis

About Peter Venetoklis

I am twice-retired, a former rocket engineer and a former small business owner. At the very least, it makes for interesting party conversation. I'm also a life-long libertarian, I engage in an expanse of entertainments, and I squabble for sport.

Nowadays, I spend a good bit of my time arguing politics and editing this website.


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