ETA: it would appear Dave Truesdale beat me to the punch by at least 5 years. Click here to read his take on PC in the fanastic and the speculative. Ouch, Dave unloads with both barrels. I see also that there was a hissy fit in response. Not surprised by that, especially knowing some of the responders.
ETA: it also appears that writer Gustavo Bondini has a few reservations about Political Correctness as well. I was surprised to see this blog post at Apex which appears to have generated a (predictable) microtornado of stupid — with some very familiar faces weighing in to chastise and berate Mr. Gustavo for his ist and ism. Which perhaps proves the point (below) that those who are the most desperate to control the steering wheel of the genre, are those who can least tolerate anyone questioning whether or not the Political Correctness emperor has any clothes.
Political Correctness. I remember when I first encountered that concept in the early 1990s. It was a phrase, but it was also a nascent movement: the societal thrust by many and various disenfranchised and traditionally-ostracized or criticized groups to make it socially (and even legally) unacceptable to ostracize or criticize them. On its face, a nominally positive effort. What decent person doesn’t want to see racists and sexists shoved to the fringes of society for being racist and sexist? The egomaniacal chauvanists, the grossly-entitled Old Guard bigots, they were finally having their comeuppance, and as a young man who was wandering around in so-called progressive circles, I am not sure I saw much wrong with it.
As I got older though, I began to see that Political Correctness was a hungry thing. An entity with a bottomless belly. Because as more and more actions and words became “outlandish” under the new sensibility, greater and greater effort was expended to split hairs, such that more and more actions and words became unacceptable.
I did a bit of web browsing, to see if what I could find on the topic, and I stumbled across this remarkably cogent analysis:
Political correctness is the narrowing of the range of acceptable opinions to those held by a small group that enforces it. It is [an] attempt, often successful, to coerce the majority to accept the opinions of the enforcing group by suppressing any contrary opinion and making independent thought unacceptable. The enforcing group may be afraid of the consequences of open discussion, or of making the facts known. It generally has a practical motivation: it wants something of value (money, jobs, special privileges) to which it has a weak claim. So it attempts to enforce its claim by ruling any disagreement from it outside the bounds of acceptable discourse. This is unnecessary when the claim is self-evidently strong, but may be the only means of getting the claim accepted when it is weak. — Dr. Jonathan I. Katz
This seems especially true in Science Fiction, where the last five years have seen numerous internicine eruptions over matters of Political Correctness — authors, editors, fans, all accusing one another of sexism, racism, homophobia, Islamophobia, etc, etc. It’s gotten to the point now where you can set your clock by these fracases, because it’s guaranteed that every couple of months some unfortunate person — usually a writer, but not always — will say or do something which someone else finds offensive, at which point the Forces of Genre Correction will mobilize, and the individual in question will be mobbed on the internet, disinvited from conventions, his or her sales will be threatened through boycott, etc.
Political correctness also comes with an admixture of moral indignation. It removes the issue from the ordinary give-and-take of rational argument or the political process by injecting intense emotion. Political correctness uses language with strong connotations, such as “discrimination” and “racism”, or evokes ancient wrongs in order to associate any disagreement with support of past abuses. This emotional blackmail is effective in a self-consciously privileged environment. — Dr. Jonathan I. Katz
Which to me begs the question: what happened to the “dangerous” spirit of Science Fiction? The movers and shakers in this business used to pride themselves on being the people who said That Which Shalt Not Be Said, and showed That Which Shalt Not Be Shown. It was a badge of honor among SF people that they were the unconventional rule-breakers, be they social rules, or political rules, or even literary ‘rules’ imposed by the establishment at the time. And nobody seemingly gave a damn who they offended, because they felt like they were offending, “All the right people,” to use a phrase.
Now? Science Fiction isn’t dangerous anymore. It’s been Pasteurized and homogenized. Conformity is king. The formerly disenfranchised have swept in to “purify” the genre, and cast out everyone who does not flatter a given set of progressively-couched orthodoxies.
Thus it was that Elizabeth Moon, by any sane definition a fairly liberal and progressive woman in her own right, came to be cast down and trod upon by the Forces of Genre Correction — for doctrinal infractions so minor and insignificant it’s almost absurd to talk about them.
Elizabeth Bear too. And William Sanders. And Jagi Lamplighter. And John C. Wright. And Warren Lapine. And Jay Lake. And Kathryn Kramer. And Patricia Wrede. And… And… And…
The list of unpersons expands ever-outward. Along with the list of unreaders.
Speaking of which, I’ve complained before on this blog that one of the reasons I think SF readership has slowly tanked — to its currently anemic and atrophied state of 3% marketshare — is because readers have felt the Politically Correct singular contraction within the genre — and they’ve walked away. Taking their eyes and their buying dollars with them. It’s no accident that we have far more old-time SF readers who say, “I don’t read Science Fiction anymore,” than we do young, enthusiastic readers who say, “I love Science Fiction and I read it every chance I get!”
This is a genre that seems to speak to fewer and fewer people about a shrinking number of topics. Barring popular explosions like the Twilight books or Harry Potter, which are so far removed from Science Fiction as to almost not be part of the discussion, Science Fiction seems destined to drop off the radar of popular fiction altogether.
I suspect very, very strongly that the rise of PC — the ascendancy of an orthodoxy of thought and ideas — has coincided with the decline in popular consumption.
What concerns me is that I am not sure there is any force which can arrest the collapse. The denizens of SF seem perpetually confused by that 3% figure while at the same time they rail against the ignorant unwashed outside the “ghetto” that is the genre. If SF used to be the domain of geeks, SF now seems to be the domain of snobs, with people actively pushing for the genre to get even more literary, even more pretentious, even more Politically Correct.
That way lies financial oblivion.