Political correctness used to be a joke, now it’s downright scary
Lou Reed performs at the Lollapalooza music festival in Chicago on Aug. 9, 2009. (John Smierciak/AP Photo/Files)
You never know what’s going to be deemed off limits by the social justice brigade next. Slut-shaming, victim blaming, cisgender patriarchy ... you could make a whole Billy Joel song from just sounding off all of the fictitious neuroses that are already a big no-no.
But like all good forms of cultural appropriation, Western political correctness is an ever-evolving phenomenon, with more and more offences coming down the pipes.
Speaking of rough-around-the-edges New York City sounds, Lou Reed is the latest artist to be deemed off limits. In Canada no less! For being transphobic!
The University of Guelph’s student association took to Facebook the other day to apologize for a “hurtful” incident that happened while they were selling bus passes to students.
They had music playing in the background and one of the songs – horror of horrors – was Lou Reed’s Walk on the Wild Side.
As the apology states: “The playlist was compiled by one of the Executives with the intent of feeling like a road trip from the 70s and 80s. The song was included solely on those terms and made in ignorance as the person making the list did not know or understand the lyrics.
“We now know the lyrics to this song are hurtful to our friends in the trans community and we’d like to unreservedly apologize for this error in judgement.”
Huh? What lyrics? Well, presumably these lines from Reed’s iconic 1972 album Transformer:
Holly came from Miami, FLA
Hitch-hiked her way across the USA
Plucked her eyebrows on the way
Shaved her legs and then he was a she
She says, “Hey, babe,
Take a walk on the wild side”
The German poet Goethe was maybe asking a bit much when he wrote that those who cannot draw on three thousand years are living from hand to mouth, but, good grief, today’s campus crusaders don’t even have three decades of pop culture under their belts.
Reed's song in fact chronicles the personalities behind Andy Warhol’s Factory, a key incubator of 1970s American counterculture.
And actress and cabaret performer Holly Woodlawn, the transgender person referenced in that verse, maintained her pride in the song up until her final interviews (she died in 2015 at the age of 69).
The Guelph student union appears to have deleted the apology from their Facebook page, but clearly not soon enough, as their regressive antics are now featured on American and British news sites.
We can all have a good laugh at this and other tales of campus outrage because these are just student groups and what else are sophomoric know-it-alls for if not to be mocked by adults who’ve been there, done that and know the pains of youth are something to just get over and done with.
Little problem though. This nonsense is permeating the broader culture, fuelled by social media. The universities are no longer where the insanity ends. It’s where it begins.
Political correctness run wild is no longer a joke. It’s now scary. If you violate their ever-changing rules, you can face real life consequences.
This is the key takeaway of the surreal cultural appropriation scandal in Canadian media that’s seen three prominent people get, as United Airlines would put it, “re-accommodated” for their harmless comments on the subject.
If you voice a mild opinion on certain subjects these days that violates rules that you didn’t even know about in the first place, you can find yourself public enemy number one in no time.
The most tragicomic part of it all is that everyone who jumped on the bandwagon is clearly oblivious to the fact that their number could come up when they least expect it.
Another great song on Transformer is A Perfect Day. It's got simple and upbeat lyrics:
Just a perfect day
Feed animals in the zoo
Then later a movie, too
And then home
But it’s got a haunting, sinister tone to it that tells us there are cracks underlying all of these niceties. At any moment, things could fall apart.
That’s the song students at Guelph should be playing on their loudspeakers next.