In middle school, I wrote film articles for my school newspaper. After Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me was released (a movie that I'm still proud to have seen multiple times in the theater), I wrote a review. Although I kept the vulgar jokes from the movie out of the review, I still had my article censored in a most unusual way.
Fat Bastard, a central character in the movie, was spelled as 'Bulky Criminal' throughout the article. When I asked the teacher who advised the school newspaper as to why the name was changed to 'Bulky Criminal,' she said that it would be less offensive.
I had flashbacks of 'Bulky Criminal' this week when I read a new Pew Research Center poll saying that 40 percent of millennials (adults 18-34) felt the government should be able to prevent people from saying offensive statements about minority groups. Only about a quarter of Gen Xers and Boomers agreed that the government should limit offensive speech.
This Pew poll comes at a time when the issue of free speech is front and center on college campuses, with open displays of racial prejudice, student protests and speakers with unpopular viewpoints being banned from commencement ceremonies.
As a millennial, I would like to set the record straight.
The media portrays millennials as being 'politically correct,' and this is largely false. Political correctness has been around for decades. The difference is that, partially due to the Internet, millennials are continuously exposed to new ideas regarding equality and fairness. Sometimes, a millennial who is incredibly passionate about these important political issues might inadvertently correct some language they view to be offensive. In essence, it's not that millennials are more PC-crazy that other generations, but we're sometimes slightly more sensitive to certain words.
It is this sensitivity that could inhibit some free speech and block important positive dialogue.
Some of the millennials on college campuses might also hold sensitive viewpoints that the media labels liberal. The truth is that there are also conservative free speech issues on college campuses that largely go unnoticed.
I think it's great to see young people engaged in the political process, regardless of their ideology. Sometimes, it seems that the political viewpoints of college students must be constantly pampered. I don't necessarily agree with that assumption. I graduated from college just a view years ago, and I remember a campus where students were free to speak as they wished.
But there is still the sensitivity issue.
I wouldn't blame students for being sensitive about today's issues, and neither does writer Caitlin Flanagan, who says that this sensitivity stems from something else.
"They are the inheritors of three decades of identity politics, which have come to be a central driver of attitudes on college campuses," writes Flanagan in The Atlantic. "These kids aren't dummies; they look around their colleges and see that there are huge incentives to join the ideological bandwagon and harsh penalties for questioning the platform's core ideas."
The "ideological bandwagon" that Falagan is referring to includes some college professors who fail to challenge students to think of different and positive ideas. Before college, teachers might reinforce the sensitivity to words by failing to take the appropriate risks to ensure a lively discussion on modern issues. This is where my 'Bulky Criminal' example fits in.
The positivity of offensive jokes
College campuses were always the perfect facility to welcome the best standup comedians. When I was in college just a few years ago, I remember seeing hilarious and famous comedians perform on our campus.
Today, many of comedy's greatest stars are avoiding college campuses because of the sensitivity of the students. Chris Rock won't play colleges anymore because of what he sees as a "willingness not to offend anyone." Many comedians say that political correctness is harming comedy, including Lisa Lampanelli, Larry the Cable Guy, Patton Oswalt and Russell Peters. Jerry Seinfeld, who also won't play at colleges anymore, famously spoke out about students being too sensitive.
A college student who organized campus events told The Atlantic, "we don't want to sponsor any event that would offend anyone."
By avoiding any type of event that could offend a single person, colleges will miss out on the opportunity to discuss and learn about the important issues of the day.
"Everyone gets made fun for something and it's never 100 percent fair," comedian Bill Maher said on his show Real Time with Bill Maher to explain why all types of comedy is needed on campuses. He called this type of sensitivity among college students as a "new brand of censorship."
Comedy, and in essence satire, has always been an incredible source of insight and positive change in our society, precisely because it's not afraid to offend. Can you imagine if someone told Mark Twain to remove the racist lines in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn because it might offend people? Or can you imagine if someone told Charlie Chaplin to remove any references to the holocaust in The Great Dictator because it might offend people?
Great comedy pushes the boundaries and invites us to discuss injustices and urge positive change.
Why free speech is important
I'm glad that our generation is calling out racism and sexism, because someone has to do it. But I also firmly believe that the best way to correct intolerance in our society is through a public forum where we can all share ideas, even ones that we might not fully agree with.
We shouldn't be afraid to offend; we should embrace the opportunity to freely discuss important topics. By overcoming the sensitivity to certain linguistics, millennials will able to lead these important debates in our society.
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