Friday, April 14, 2006

COLUMN: Politically Correct

Everywhere I've gone the past couple of weeks, people keep asking me the same question:

"How can one man be so funny AND so doggone sexy?"

Okay, maybe I'm embellishing a little bit. But honestly, I HAVE been getting pestered lately. Many people really HAVE been coming up to me lately, and everybody wants to know why I haven't written a column on the Virgin Mary's appearance on the I-74 Rock River bridge span.

I went out to Harold's Landing and checked it out when the news broke. I couldn't see it. Not even remotely. It just looked like a bridge to me. Perfect column fodder, right? Wrong.

I've sat and thought about it and I've decided: I'm not going to write a column about Our Lady of the Underpass. Why? Because I am an extremely large chicken.

There is NO way to make fun of a vision of the Virgin Mary without the possibility of horribly offending a large chunk of the population. It's tough being politically correct these days. Yet, society has pushed and pushed until none of us really understand the boundaries before us. I don't even know what the correct term for my own race is these days. Am I white? Caucasian? European-American? Just a plain ol' honky?

I just can't keep up. The last thing I ever want to do is innocently offend someone reading my column (unless it's Tom Cruise.) I'm happy to consider myself a pretty non-biased guy -- I have friends who are black, friends who are gay, friends who are Jewish, etc. I could care less. My buddy Bruce isn't "my GAY friend Bruce." He's just my friend, even if he IS my Friend Most Likely To Break Into a Dolly Parton Song in a Public Place.

But between Howard Stern's mouth and Janet Jackson's nipple, the FCC has turned mass media into a politically correct minefield, and we've all got to watch where we step. Nowhere is this more exemplified than in the tail sections of this very paper.

Classified ads have a surplus of opportunities to offend, and it's up to our staff to meticulously check those suckers for anything remotely offensive. If you want a good read, you should see the Equal Employment Opportunity guidelines for help wanted ads.

Some of the stuff makes sense: of course you can't say "Help Wanted: Latinos Only" or "Women Needed Now!" or anything like that. It's not just patentedly offensive, it's just common sense. But as you read on, you find out just how specific the rules can get. For instance, you can't specify the sexual orientation of a prospective employee. But there's an asterisk next to that rule, and the asterisk says "This rule does not apply to transvestites." Ergo, it's highly illegal to say "No gays" in a help wanted ad, yet it's perfectly legal to say "Transvestites need not apply."

Then you get to the terminology rules. "Waitress" is out; "wait staff" is in. "Handyman" is out; "handyperson" is in. The unions can give apprenticeships for "Journeymen Linemen," yet when the ads run in our paper, they have to say "Journey Level Line Workers." Which brings us to my favorite.

"Janitor" is an offensive word. That's according to Equal Opportunity Employment guidelines. Sorry, I guess I just never considered janitor to be a male-gendered word, but that's apparantly the case. If janitor is a sexist word, shouldn't it follow that there's a female equivalent? If so, what? "Janitette?" (FYI: the book says that "custodian" is the neutered word of choice here.)

Rules are good to have, though; without them, boneheads could get away with anything. One of my favorites was a guy who once called us to place a Roommate Wanted ad. No joke, this is how he wanted it to read: "Middle-aged man seeks young, attractive, blonde female roommate." And the guy seemed genuinely shocked when he found out he couldn't run such an ad with us, or with any other paper in the free world. That guy was probably SO proud of himself when he came up with this novel way to score a girlfriend. Sorry, buddy - keep dreamin'.

So I'm not touching the Virgin Mary with a 10 foot pole. Wait, that's offensive, too. What I MEAN is I'm not going to write about her, not even if she pops up on my cheese sandwich. I'll leave it to someone else to make the snarky comments, and someone else to clean up the mess. Just as long as the person cleaning up the mess is a custodian and NOT a janitor (transvestites need not apply.)

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