Commentary Magazine

How to Be Politically Correct

In The Sunshine Boys, which is about two retired comedians loosely modeled on Smith and Dale, Neil Simon has one of them explaining that some things are funny and always get a laugh, while other things are invincibly unfunny. For example, Cleveland is funny but Maryland is not. Cupcakes are funny. Pickles are funny. Roast beef is not funny. Great comedians know this instinctively.

Applying this model to current controversies over what is and isn’t politically correct, anyone who wishes to gain a teaching fellowship at Dartmouth or even to circulate with honor in the beau monde needs to know at least the following:

Wolves are politically correct.

Urinating onstage with a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is politically correct.

The SAT’s are not politically correct. IQ tests are not politically correct. It is politically correct to say that IQ tests measure nothing except your ability to pass an IQ test.

The Mercedes is politically incorrect.

Bats are politically correct. Here I refer not to baseball implements but to Count Dracula’s furry little friends. For those not up to speed on bats, their quintessential correctness was resoundingly certified recently in the New York Times, which laid it down in the “Science” section that bats are great but “are succumbing worldwide . . . to human ignorance, greed, and destruction.”

Aztecs are politically correct, although less so than Seminoles or the Sioux.

Speaking of the Seminoles, it is now politically incorrect to identify a great work as “seminal.”

It is increasingly rated incorrect to designate Notre Dame the “fighting Irish.” The problem here is not the observable ethnicity of the average Notre Dame running back but national-origin stereotyping and also, in some circles, trivialization of the IRA’s great work.

Encouraging little boys to play with dolls is politically correct.

Penumbras and emanations in the U.S. Constitution are politically correct.

Cutting down trees is politically incorrect, as hinted in the Eddie Bauer catalogue entry offering pitch-saturated kindling wood “felled by lightning or other natural causes.”

Die-ins are politically correct.

Norman Lear is politically correct, even though he drives a Mercedes.

Homeless people are politically correct.

The word “bums” is politically incorrect.

National Public Radio is politically correct.

The tomahawk chop is not politically correct, not even when Jane Fonda does it. The tomahawk chop is deemed demeaning to Native Americans, for reasons recently elaborated by politically-correct New York Times sports columnist Robert Lipsyte, who asked how you would like it if there was a baseball team named after Jews, and every time the home team had something going, why, 50,000 fans would stand up and yell in unison, “What a deal!” (The view in our house was that Lipsyte has developed not only a politically-correct argument but a salable movie script.)

Female cops are politically correct, although arguably less so than female sportswriters in NFL locker rooms.

Women in the armed forces are politically correct, especially the 10 percent or so who are pregnant at any point in time.

Diversity in higher education is politically correct, with the single exception of the young lady at Harvard who gave fits to its then-president Derek Bok by hanging a Confederate flag outside her window.

(“They want diversity,” she said. “I’ll show them diversity.”)

Sex education is politically correct.

Girls in high school who want to try out for linebacker on the football team are politically correct.

The earth is politically correct.

The Virginia Military Institute is politically incorrect.

The Morristown, New Jersey, public library is also politically incorrect because it has tried to prevent homeless people from living there and has argued in court that they smell bad, which counts as insensitive.

People who repeatedly use the term “insensitive” are politically correct.

People who talk a lot about self-esteem are politically correct.

Witches are politically correct. Getting inside the whole argument about witches takes a while unless one has already read the passage from the Anti-Bias Curriculum where they tell the teacher how to overcome little kids’ prejudices against witches, and even then a fellow could feel he is still missing the point, which seems to have something to do with empowering women. The day of Halloween, the New York Times ran a sympathetic and politically-correct interview with a leading witch, Margot Adler, who in her “mundane life” is a cultural and political correspondent for National Public Radio.



As is well known, dead white males are politically incorrect and live white males are increasingly under suspicion.

There is a country-and-Western song with lyrics—“When I Say No, I Mean Maybe, or Maybe I Mean Yes”—that are so hopelessly and benightedly politically incorrect that the record has been repudiated by the lady who sings it, sounding somewhat like a defendant at the Moscow trials. The song was denounced again recently in a Mac-Neil/Lehrer commentary on acquaintance rape.

Condoms are politically correct. Some experts believe condoms are the most politically-correct thing there is in the whole world—certainly in the average drugstore.

Genes are politically incorrect.

Fur coats are politically incorrect.

Men who cry are politically correct. That is why we now have a men’s movement whose main discernible activity is crying.

The 1960’s were politically correct, the 1970’s less so, while the 1980’s are the most incorrect decade in all of human history, narrowly edging out the 1490’s.

New York Times editorials are always politically correct. If asked to name the single most politically-correct editorial ever run in this great paper, or even if not asked, and maybe even if menaced with firearms by folks opposed to this citation, I would unhesitatingly select the lead editorial of July 20, 1991, which started off by saying that if you were going to have invasive surgery performed, and you had to choose between two equally qualified doctors, and one of them had AIDS, it would be emotional and irrational of you not to pick the one with AIDS because the chances of his infecting you are minimal.

Ms .magazine is always politically correct, as evidenced most recently in its rule that articles about lesbians have to be written by lesbians.

The phrase “people of color” is politically correct.

The Amazon is politically correct. Ditto the rain forest. Ditto wetlands everywhere.

Use of the term “swamp” is politically incorrect.

Lie detectors were politically incorrect until Anita Hill came along.

Nelson Mandela is politically correct, even when he praises Castro, or is it especially when he praises Castro?

People who conduct candlelight vigils are politically correct, unless they are pro-lifers.

Communism is more or less dead, but anti-anti Communism remains politically correct. This means that anti-anti-anti-anti-Communism is also politically correct. The basic rule here is that if you just divide the number of prefixes by two and end up with an integer, you can be sure of having a politically-correct position.

Roast beef is not politically correct.

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