Blazing Saddles In A PC America

Tonight the CAPA summer movie series screens the Mel Brooks epic Blazing Saddles.  I’ll be joining a group of guys from the firm who will be going to watch the film that features the greatest fart scene in the history of American cinema.

blazesaddle129It’s pretty amazing that CAPA is showing the movie in this day and age, because Blazing Saddles has to be one of the most politically incorrect films ever made.  Released in 1974, and written by Brooks and Richard Pryor, among others, it tells the tale of an ex-slave in the post-Civil War American West who is appointed sheriff and, with his drunken gunslinger sidekick the Waco Kid, works to save the aghast and unappreciative townsfolk of Rock Ridge from the depredations of a carefully recruited gang of thugs — all as part of a deep scheme to drive the people out of town and allow a corrupt politician to cheaply buy land needed for a railroad.  Along the way, Blazing Saddles manages to skewer every racial and sexual stereotype, insult just about every ethnic group and sexual orientation imaginable, and hilariously spoof all of the hackneyed elements of the western movie genre.

I think Blazing Saddles is one of the funniest movies ever — which undoubtedly says something about my sophomoric sense of humor — but it’s hard to imagine it being made today.  Our modern time seems like a more brittle, more easily offended America, where colleges have speech codes, comedians are being censored on campus, and people often seem to be actively looking for ways to scale new heights of political correctness.  Perhaps the America of 1974, in the twilight of the ugly Vietnam War/Watergate era, was just more willing to enjoy a hearty laugh at the expense of racist townspeople and gassy cowboys.

So tonight, as Lili von Shtupp cavorts onstage with dancing Germans, Mongo punches a horse and later expresses feelings for Sheriff Bart, the ungrateful people of Rock Ridge list their preferences for different ethnic groups, and a brawl in cowboy movie spills onto the sound stage of a musical featuring prancing, tuxedo-clad dancers, I’ll be mindful of the audience, too.  How many of the people in attendance will laugh at one of the stereotype-bursting lines — and then look around with a guilty conscience for having breached the invisible wall of modern political correctness?

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Political Correctness Versus Politeness

Donald Trump is a colossal jerk, but in some perverse ways he is serving a useful function.  Through his appalling behavior, he is helping to illustrate why soft-side skills and manners — those little behavioral mores that any advanced society inevitably will develop over time — are crucial in our world.

Trump castigates the culture of political correctness in America, arguing that it is a kind of straitjacket that distracts us and, in some instances, prevents us from meaningfully addressing the realities of our world.  Many think that overarching concepts of political correctness have, in fact, become a wet blanket that stifles free speech and allows people to object to the phrasing of a message in order to avoid grappling with its substance.  But there is a big difference between political correctness and simple politeness, and with his comments about women generally, and Megyn Kelly specifically, Donald Trump has once again blundered across the line.

Don’t tell me that Trump’s comments are just a rebellious rejection of the PC mentality, as if he is a Gulliver held down by the social constraints of Lilliputian sensitivities.  Instead, apply the Mother or Grandmother Test:  Would your Mom be proud of you if, in articulating your disagreement with a woman, you made an unseemly comment about her menstrual cycle?  My Mom or grandmothers sure wouldn’t — and I’m guessing the same would be true for just about everyone.

This isn’t because of political correctness, it’s because of basic concepts of decency and courtesy and etiquette.  Most people are aware of the importance of these qualities and strive to achieve them; Donald Trump evidently doesn’t because he is too ill-mannered and uncultured and egotistical to even recognize their essential value.

Donald Trump will never be President, of course, because ultimately even those who now are enamored of his “outspokenness” will come to recognize that you would never want such a coarse boob acting as the face of America.  I think that realization will happen sooner rather than later, and Trump’s thin-skinned idiocy is helping to bring that inevitable result about and teaching some useful lessons in the process.

In Defense Of “Movember”

Perhaps you’ve heard of “Movember.”  It’s a charitable effort designed to encourage discussion of men’s health issues, including prostrate and testicular cancer and mental health.

During the month of November, participants begin with clean-shaven faces, then grow and groom their moustaches as the weeks pass.  Their faces become a visible invitation to discuss the Movember concept, they solicit contributions to support men’s health charities, and they endure inevitable ribbing about the quality and bushiness of their facial hair efforts.  In 2012 Movember raised $21.0 million, more than 80 percent of which went to men’s health charities. Movember is not a huge charitable effort — by comparison, the Komen Race for the Cure raises hundreds of millions for breast cancer research and prevention activities — but any attempt to increase awareness of men’s health issues has got to be a good thing, right?

Not so fast!  A recent article in the New Statesman criticizes Movember as “divisive and gender normative,” “racist,” and more about promoting facial hair fetishes than affecting men’s health.  It is “divisive and gender normative,” the article argues, because only men can grow facial hair, because some men (such as those who are trans-gendered) struggle to grow facial hair, because the growth of body hair in women is socially repressed, and because it equates facial hair with being a “real man.”  Movember is purportedly “racist” because it “reinforces the ‘othering’ of ‘foreigners’ by the generally clean-shaven, white majority,” harkens back to the carefully tended moustaches of British imperialists, and supports the conclusion that “there are different rules for white faces.”  Finally, the article contends that Movember isn’t really about men’s health, but rather about making silly comments and having silly parties, because most people who participate don’t report increased awareness of health issues.

The New Statesman article could easily be a parody of the now-prevailing view in some quarters that any male-oriented activity is, by default, racist and sexist and every other “ist” in the book.  What kind of fevered imagination would conclude that efforts by guys to grow moustaches in 2013 to promote men’s health is, in reality, a thinly veiled manifestation of British imperial tendencies, or a slap in the face to men who wear facial hair for religious or cultural reasons?  We’re at the point in our politically correct world where NFL games are awash in pink to show sensitivity to breast cancer issues.  Can’t a guy grow a moustache for a good cause without being vilified as a latent bigot, chauvinist, and xenophobe?