Bic: Has SA broken its funny bone?

2015-08-16 18:53

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Has humour come under attack from what some call the tyranny of political correctness, asks Mondli Makhanya

Tswanas are stingy. Xhosas are duplicitous. Sothos swear too much. Zulus are violent. Shangaans wear bright colours and drink Fanta Orange.

Swazis don’t wear underwear during harvest season. People from Limpopo are experts at manufacturing lightning.

Indians are cunning and love the Golf GTi. Coloureds don’t like school but love the bottle. Boers are thick. English speakers are fake and facile. Jews are money-grubbers. Muslims bomb things. Catholics breed like rabbits. Zimbabweans find goats sexy. And so on, and so on, and so on.

These are all stereotypes. Stereotypes that are the staple of jokes that we tell about and to each other. They have been here since time immemorial and no social gathering is complete without them. The comedy scene would not be what it is without jokes based on these stereotypes.

But this humour is coming under attack from what some have labelled the tyranny of political correctness. We came face to face with this tyranny when Bic was forced to apologise for a Women’s Day advert that exhorted the fairer sex to “look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man and work like a boss”.

After widespread outrage, Bic’s bosses withdrew the ads, poured ash over their heads and paraded themselves in public squares wearing tattered clothes. In their statement, they said they were “incredibly sorry for offending everybody”.

“That was never our intention, but we completely understand where we’ve gone wrong. This post should never have gone out. The feedback you have given us will help us ensure that something like this will never happen again, and we appreciate that.”

While I agree that the “post should never have gone out”, it is for a totally different reason. That reason is that it was just a pathetic advert that failed dismally at playing on the movie title Act Like a Lady, Think Like a Man.

That is where my objection ends. The politically correct fascists in our midst had many other objections, though. They told us that the advert was sexist, condescending, patronising and demeaning towards women.

In the age of social media, these fascists have gained a great deal of power. While the rest of us are getting on with life, they are busy looking for opportunities to kill the joy.

The march of political tyranny is a disturbing phenomenon that flies in the face of attempts to create mentally healthy societies. This is more so in South Africa, where we are trying to negotiate a path towards normalcy.

There are things we are told we should not say because they are offensive to this or that section of society. Jokes should be not told because they are racist, tribalist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic or offensive to people living with disabilities.

This is not to say we should protect the rights of bigots and allow bigoted talk to run rampant. We do need to fight backwardness with all the legal and informal instruments at our disposal.

The issue is that as we are fighting bigotry – let us not lose our ability to have fun. Let us not get into a situation where we have to look around before telling a joke, or where creatives at advertising agencies have to consult the Equality Act before designing an advert.

Humour should not be confined to comedy theatres or Channel 122 on DStv.

If we are to be a healthy society, we should allow ourselves to breathe easier. The tyranny of political correctness should not turn us into a dull and dour people.

Talk to us: Do we take ourselves too seriously?

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