Jerry Seinfeld was recently quoted on ESPN Radio saying that young people “don’t know what they’re talking about” when it comes to political correctness, citing this belief as a reason he refuses to perform on college campuses. The comedian illustrates this conviction in his description of a recent conversation between his wife and his 14-year-old daughter.
“My wife says to her, ‘Well, you know, in the next couple years, I think maybe you’re going to want to be hanging around the city more on the weekends, so you can see boys,’” Seinfeld explains. “You know what my daughter says? She says, ‘That’s sexist,’” he continues. “They just want to use these words.”
However, these words—referring to labels such as “racist,” “sexist” and “prejudiced”—represent a highly nuanced view of the implications language can have on people.
While an accusation of sexism over a comment made with no ill-intent is certainly uncalled for, it is unfair to cast a single overreaction as representative of an entire generation.
Additionally, though some young people may view the jokes of Seinfeld, Louis C.K. and their contemporaries as “controversial” or “offensive,” there is still a large population of this generation that is enthralled by such humor.
Appreciating creative humor and making an effort to utilize politically correct, or inclusive, language in one’s own discourse are not mutually exclusive. The key to reconciling these two forces is understanding the difference between comedy and conversation.
Satirical commentary serves the purpose of drawing attention to the inconsistencies and ironies often overlooked in everyday life. This is inherently different from targeted bigotry, which serves to offend an outside party without any greater purpose. Comedians like Seinfeld generally aim to do the former, which sometimes requires sacrificing political correctness.
In the same vein, those who perpetually search for opportunities to be offended represent only a small (vocal) minority of this generation.
This is certainly not to condone racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive behavior, but rather to encourage an examination of the intentionality behind a person’s words. We ought not to obsess over choice of language merely for the sake of being politically correct, but instead should consider the implications of certain terms and how they may be negatively tied to an individual’s lived experience.
In the fall, 2300 first-year students will arrive to Boston College bringing not only their luggage and school supplies, but also a variety of different racial, ethnic, geographic, cultural and individual backgrounds and experiences. Rather than fixating on the terms to use or avoid when describing such differences, the community as a whole would benefit greatly from individuals expressing genuine interest in the lived experience of one another, and the different ways in which everyone has been formed by such experiences.