On The Subject Of Being Offensive

I’ve had this unformed post in my head for a while, and I’m tired of it racing around the ol’ skull-track like a squirrel with a lit firecracker up its ass. So, here’s the post in all its unformed, uncertain glory.

Last week, I wrote a thing about Tomb Raider and Lara Croft. And I saw some comments around the Internet — not so much in reference to anything I wrote, but rather to the overall negative reaction to Lara Croft being used, abused, and downgraded — that chalked up the outrage to “political correctness.”

In a totally different thing, sometimes people send me things — via email, tweet, Facebook, psychic transmission — written by other people, and they’ll say things like, “This sounds like Chuck Wendig wrote it!” And what they send often has a certain whiskey-and-rage-sodden vibe to it, but also often uses pejoratives like “retarded” or “gay” or “fag” in the process. Which, to my mind, doesn’t sound like me at all.

And again, you might be thinking, “Well, sure. Political correctness.”

Let me stop you. Hand planted on your chest, me clucking my tongue.

Political correctness is a desire to minimize or eradicate offense.

I care very little about minimizing or eradicating offense.

I’m okay with offending. I don’t find that traipsing too gingerly about a subject does that subject any good. I’d rather expose something for what I feel that it is rather than swaddle it in gauzy, soft-focus layers.

Clearly, this blog is part of that. I’m happy to use sexual imagery or profanity — not as a means to an end but because it’s just part of the way I like to say things.

And yet, I no longer use words like “retarded” or “gay” or “fag” in my posts or my daily parlance (though once upon a time I, quite lazily, did in fact use those terms as clumsy and inept shorthand).

The reason I don’t use those words, however, has nothing to do with political correctness. It has nothing to do with me hoping to not offend you. Strike that from your mind. I’m not trying to “not get caught” saying those words. Some parents teach their kids not to say those things because of what people will think when they hear them — as if, were it more politically acceptable, the kid could say “faggy” all he wanted.

Rather, what it has to do with is that I don’t want to hurt anybody. That’s the thing. Offending people? Happy to do it. With a shit-eating grin, as a matter of fact (and there is a turn of phrase that deserves reexamination — why am I smiling if I’m eating shit? What’s wrong with me? Is the shit mysteriously delicious?). But I don’t want to be mean. Or cruel. Or conjure up words that ding a person’s armor. I care little about minimizing offense, but I care quite a lot about minimizing people.

That’s why I don’t think the Tomb Raider thing is about political correctness — because I think it’s about minimizing women and, in a way, minimizing the men who play those games. That’s also why I don’t think that profane “in-your-face” blog posts that use words like the ones I noted are in what you might call “terribleminds-style” — sure, I’ll mock things within the industry or the bad habits of writers, but I won’t call those “retarded.” First, because it’s lazy. Second, because while that word may not seem to mean what it says, it still says what it means — and it’s short-code for being mentally handicapped no matter how you slice it. Third, and most importantly, because I don’t want to hurt people.

These words may still live in my fiction. Characters, after all, needn’t be so enlightened — my characters will say and do things I’d never do. They’re not models of civility. Nor would we want them to be.

But me, well, you’ll find I try to catch myself from falling into those patterns of ugly word-use.

You, of course, may do as you like.

I stop myself not because I don’t want to offend you.

Not because I care one rat pube about political correctness.

I stop myself because I don’t want to hurt anybody. Because it’s mean.

And because the world has enough of all that.

That’s what I’ll tell my son, too. Plenty of meanness out there without adding to it.

Just wanted to put that out there. Do with it as you will.