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July 01, 2015

An 18 Year Veteran's Examination of Political Correctness and its impact on Standup Comedy

Victimhood Goes to the Comedy Club

John Beuhler

In the past few years, I have noticed a trend that I believe to be dangerous to free expression and society, but more importantly—to me professionally.

I’m a standup comedian, and I’m talking about the explosion of hypersensitivity, fake outrage, and the renaissance of political correctness.

People are claiming to be offended more and more by less and less; even seeming to seek out being offended.

Being offended is not the same as having yourfeelings hurt. Having your feelings hurt is an involuntary emotional responseto a perceived insult or offense.

Being offended is different. It is thedefensive posture one assumes after having our feelings hurt. We do this inorder to take some power back by drawing attention to the offense, and oftenreturning fire.

The sneaky part of emotional offenses is thatpeople can claim to have suffered from them even when their feelings weren’tactually hurt. They may do this as a kind of social power play.

This strategy is nothing new. It’s a commonpractice in sports to embellish an infraction by the opposition in order to beawarded a game advantage; sometimes actually called a power play.

If someone can feign being a victim withoutincurring any actual injury, the experience can be wholly positive—for them.

The victim often receives sympathy andattention, even praise for their courage. If the outrage is on behalf ofsomeone else, they can even be considered selfless; thereby garnering even moresympathy, attention, and praise.

The problem with this empowerment of thevictim is that people have begun to fake being a victim in order to gain power.We’ve made such an effort to comfort the victim that we’ve made being a victim a comfortable place.

This victimhood movement has adverselyaffected the heroism paradigm. A person used to become a hero by having apositive effect on the world—but is now considered a hero when the world hashad a negative effect on them.

People choose fake outrage as the easiestroute to victimhood because it costs nothing, and no injury need have takenplace—only the appearance of one.

People also use fake outrage as a way ofelevating their own station from that of the group.

You can even see this posturing in howinmates treat rapists and child molesters; as a last ditch attempt by murderersto raise their station from dead lastand gain some social dominance.

These are just a few of the motivations forpeople to “game” the system of political correctness.

Political correctness began as a way tosocialize people into being more sensitive, but it has devolved into a pointsystem where the victim wins.

Sharing one’s fake outrage online offers thesame sympathy and praise, but from a vastly larger, interconnected community.

Social media gives people a place to sharetheir fake outrage in the same way it gives them a place to share their digitalphotography.

The media quickly created a demand forcontent, and people began to be offended by anything—inmuch the same way they began taking pictures of anything; so they could havesomething to share.

Fake outrage goes viral very easily becauseit contains the controversy and emotional triggers that content needs in orderto compel readers to share it. It’s perfect fodder for a community starved forthe controversy that’s missing from their own mundane lives.

The brass ring of fake outrage is when acelebrity breaks the rules of political correctness—because a celebrity-obsessedmedia will spread those indiscretions even more quickly.

In a culture that has replaced piety withcelebrity, the public likes to see famous people falter. When celebritiesstumble from their pedestals, regular people then feel as if they’re on an equallevel with them; in turn, elevating themselves to the level of what we’ve putin the place of gods.

Being a direct victim of a celebrity’sindiscretions offers much attention, and—unlike a sexual assault or paternitysuit—a claim of emotional offence can be launched from the safety of one’s owncomputer.

The really sad thing is that instead of usingsocial media for information sharing, many have used it to join a culture oftattletales and fake victims.

This new culture of victimhood is not a resultof more emotional offenses, but of a progression of time, technology, andperceived humanitarianism. Political correctness was simply inevitable.

A decadent society eventually runs out ofreal challenges, and therefore problems must be invented. People train theirsights on the perceived evils of their own culture in their search for yetanother realm to conquer.

Like an idle immune system takes the form ofan autoimmune disease, people attack the very culture that has evolved tosupport their way of life. Hypersensitivity becomes less the right thing to do, and more just something to do.

The problem is that political correctnessdoesn’t work—for several reasons.

It is designed under the false logic thatremoving negative speech will somehow force people to act positively towardsone another. As if removing the weapons will end the war—but that doesn’t work.

When a “negative” word is eliminated, itsnegative connotation is migrated to the replacement word, and in time, the newword must then be eliminated.

The only lasting result is thehyper-sensitizing of a culture which begins to turn out more sensitivepeople—who in turn become offended by less and less. Society must then bere-sensitized, and the cycle self-perpetuates.

The cultural movement accomplishes nothingbut to give work and entertainment to the sanctimonious; busybodies created bythe same movement.

Political correctness now has the exactopposite result of what was originally intended; removing negative speechcauses people to function worse as a society.

With the elimination of negative speech, welose the ability to hold others accountable for their actions, including thosein power. This is because negative speech is an integral part of criticism andshame.

Shame felt for oneself and from others iswhat civilizes a society. No length of legal code or force of military cancontrol a culture that is, at its core, shameless.

Shame isn’t pleasant, but anyone who conductsthemselves without caring what others think is in essence, acting antisocially.

In the effort to end bad feelings, societybegins to dismantle.

Bad feelings will always persist becauseclassifying new “bad words” actually causes more hurt feelings because of thebrain’s ability to contextualize pain.

Certain systems of the brain conspire tocreate a picture of the pain in order to assign it a level of seriousness.Think about the difference in pain levels between getting a tattoo, and gettinga tattoo against your will. Theterror that our emotions assign to the latter will cause a measurable somaticdifference.

Soldiers will often require more pain-killingmedications in the hospital than they did on the battlefield. Some will runmiles before realizing that they’ve been shot—and only then, will they fall tothe ground.

A child who falls off of his bike when he isalone will pick himself up and dust himself off, but will burst into tears ifhis mother is watching. Both reactions are genuine, but with the mother’spresence creating a different context.

A hypersensitive culture acts as your motherwatching.

When we legitimize words as being damaging,they become damaging. When we overly sensitize society, we cause its members tobe hurt by less and less.

“What worries me is theacceptance of the importance of feelings without any effort to understand theircomplex biological and sociocultural machinery. …to explain bruised feelings byappealing to surface social causes…”

—Dr. Antonio Damasio

University Professor, David DornsifeProfessor of Neuroscience, Director, Brain and Creativity Instituteat the University of Southern California

Eliminating words should only be done aftervery close examination, because language is the brain of a society. As withbrain cells, when you remove words, you simplify the entire organism.

Political correctness removes words whiletechnology limits the size of the message—to the length of tweets, or thebrevity of texts. This leads to an erosion of discourse and art as a whole.

Which brings me to my problem.

Standup relies on profane speech andexaggeration for the benefit of shock and emphasis. The line of good taste isdanced upon and often crossed because– it’s fun and that’s what people payfor.

Comedy crowds are beginning to shut down andstay silent if any joke so much as mentions members of the ever-growing‘protected humans’ list; as if being gay, or black, or female is a birth defectthat must not have any attention drawn to it.

Calling a comedian sexist, racist,homophobic—or worse—has become an adult game of cooties where you point yourfingers to draw attention away from yourself.

Standup comedy is something that allows us to put the rules of office behind us, to let ourhair down, and to laugh at each other. A good comedian will seem like a funnyfriend, and when friends converse they don’t do it by using a political rulebook.

It’s called a comedy ‘club’ because a club isa group of people who have a common interest. In this case, it’s to laugh, tohave fun, and to be entertained.

If you are someone who just wants to groan,complain, or clam up in order to prove that you are of a higher class than therest of the crowd—or if you want to pull out a phone in order to tattle on theperformer—you’re betraying the nature of my art form.

So. I would like to invite those people to leave, and to go findsomething else to do that won’t offend their delicate sensibilities. If that’syou—you are not a good fit with standup comedy—and you’re out of the club.