Compliance with the new speech code is impossible, even to its enforcers. Exhibit A can be found in a single paragraph from The Cut’s new profile of fourth-wave favorite Lindy West, who’s out promoting a dubious new Hulu show based loosely on her life.
In the process of making just one point, West inadvertently commits a rapid series of transgressions against the laws of wokeness, tripping over her words to repent in real time. As a result, there’s an amusing but incoherent muddle where a cogent thought could have been.
Here’s the paragraph in question (emphasis added):
‘Teenagers are in a different universe. They don’t know what a magazine is, they just like memes,’ she jokes at one point, before correcting herself: ‘But, no that’s not fair. That’s really underestimating teenagers, who I actually think are amazing.’ She calls a situation ‘crazy’ and then, under her breath, reminds herself not to use that word. She tells me, laughing, about the fans who, to this day, wait outside the bench outside of Kurt Cobain’s former house, which now belongs to ‘some rich family’ and then shakes her head, sighing, ‘I shouldn’t make fun of people who are sad.’
It’s politically incorrect to mock teenagers; it’s politically incorrect to call situations “crazy”; it’s politically incorrect to make fun of rabid Nirvana fans because they’re “sad.” West’s comedy of errors is actually a pretty decent illustration of how the increase in de facto speech restrictions is decreasing our ability to clearly communicate. (If sad people are off limits, comedy is canceled.)
It’s all kind of lame coming from someone who actually had the ability to be funny on occasion—if even in the process of advancing an objectionable cause. Asked in the same interview to name the turning point in her career, West pointed to her viral review of “Sex and the City 2,” which brought her a literary agent and even impressed Rober Ebert. As it happens, West now finds the piece “deeply problematic in so many ways.” It was written less than a decade ago, and it was also pretty funny. (“Sex and the City 2 makes Phyllis Schlafly look like Andrea Dworkin. Or that super-masculine version of Cynthia Nixon that Cynthia Nixon dates.”)
Aside from stifling creativity, the latest strain of political correctness has become so stringent it’s also making conversation impossible for its own creators. Whether West would have offered a similar string of apologies in private conversation, I do not know. But that she was at least uncomfortable ribbing meme-crazy teenagers in an interview, or using the word crazy, tells us enough about the effect of these restrictions. None of what she said warranted an apology, but she was either fearful enough of potential complaints or convinced enough of the rules to walk perfectly reasonable remarks back.
There are, of course, reasonable boundaries decent people accept in order to avoid hurting others or promoting noxious bigotry. Those necessary boundaries, however, are being steadily narrowed to the point where full compliance is impossible and unnecessary. Sometimes it’s okay to just talk, and if a teenager gets offended by an off-handed comment about her generation’s meme-mania, or a sad person is hurt by a jab about his lingering Kurt Cobain obsession, the problem is not with Lindy West.