Why I'm a bleeding-heart drippy pinko pansy

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The Independent Culture
THERE I was, minding my own business, reading the film reviews in a monthly music magazine, when suddenly this sentence happened to me, and I turned into a snapping, snarling, rabid liberal: 'A van-load of Asian women going to the seaside might smack horribly of Political Correctness, but this . . .' Whoa] Hold on there, Mr Film Reviewer - you've lost me.

'A van-load of Asian women going to the seaside might smack horribly of Political Correctness'? What is politically correct about going to the seaside? My mum, my sister and I used to go to the seaside every summer, and nobody ever accused us of being politically correct. Is that because the phrase didn't exist then? Or because we went in a Morris Minor, not a van? Or because we were a mixed-sex car-load? Or because we were an all-white car-load? What are you supposed to do, if you're a group of Asian women and you wish to go to the seaside without being accused of political correctness? Hire a car? Hire some male Caucasians?

Let us be charitable to the writer here and assume that it is not the van-load of Asian women, but a film about the van-load of Asian women, which may cause offence to those who have a problem with political correctness. (You know the sort: the people who write letters to Any Answers? and the Daily Express saying that it has All Gone Too Far and the Thought Police have taken over and George Orwell warned that this would happen and do you know nobody in Hackney is allowed to eat Milky Bars, and if you do you can be sent to prison for years . . .)

OK. You can kind of, sort of, maybe see what he means; or at least, you can see how the current cultural and political climate has lent his sentence meaning. But the director of the film - Bhaji on the Beach - is Gurinder Chadha; it stars Kim Vithana, Sarita Khajuria and Lalita Ahmed. These are all Asian women. What are you supposed to do, if you're a group of Asian women and you wish to make a film? Hire some male Caucasians to make it for you? And does this mean that we can write off Vikram Seth's A Suitable Boy? The films of Satyajit Ray? The Joy Luck Club?

I don't want to be accused of political correctness myself, but . . . No, sod it. Actually, I don't give two hoots. We have reached the stage where one only has to say, politely, that one disapproves of, for example, the charming contemporary custom of pushing excreta through the letter boxes of Asian families, and otherwise humane people start to sneer about social workers and Guardian readers. Political correctness and postmodernism make uneasy bedfellows; it's hard to be ironic and to have an opinion at the same time.

It is not as if liberal ideology has wrought much havoc here. In the United States there is some evidence that political correctness has impaired the occasional human life, particularly in academic circles, but in Britain it is hard to see what damage it has done: we came over all hysterical and blew it out of the water even before it got as far as the Atlantic. It is true that those poor Hackney children were tragically denied the chance to see Romeo and Juliet, but at my school we would have chaired the lesbian headmistress round the playground for getting us out of that. (It wasn't even the Shakespeare version. It was a ballet]) It is also true that, in the play Oleanna, currently on in London's West End, a lecturer is unfairly dismissed for sexual harassment six nights a week and twice on Saturdays; but it is, after all, only a play, and an American one at that. And then there was Angus Diggle, the attempted-date-rape lawyer, but it is hard to raise too much masculinist enthusiasm for him. The rest is all apocryphal tabloid-talk about black bin-liners and white coffees.

There was a Jewish kid in my year at school - just one as far as I am aware - a large and somewhat slow-witted boy whose very existence seemed to enrage several of his classmates. 'You're a fucking Jew, Frankie. What are you?' one 11-year-old boy would yell at him day after day; he would accompany the rhetorical question with the occasional cuff around the head for good measure, when he could be bothered. Asians were 'Pakis', and they stank and ate dog food; Afro-Caribbeans were 'coons'; girls 'scrubbers'; we told Irish jokes and Biafran jokes and queer jokes. We were hardly unique or unrepresentative: this was what Britain was like in the late Sixties and early Seventies.

Remember Love Thy Neighbour, the hilarious sitcom about a white couple who lived next door to a black couple? The Black and White Minstrels? The Comedians, with Bernard Manning & Co in full foul-mouthed flow? (A tremendous source of Paki jokes, The Comedians, although it was hard to find a fresh pair of ears to receive them.) Trade unionists marching in support of Enoch Powell and his 'Rivers of Blood' speech? This was what I grew up with, and perhaps a few retrospective liberal qualms are forgivable.

Have things really gone too far the other way? Love Thy Neighbour and The Black and White Minstrels are unlikely to be revived, and Bernard Manning is now confined to the Northern club circuit; but I cannot, in all honesty, find it in my heart to grieve for their absence, and if that makes me sound like a bleeding-heart drippy pinko pansy, well, I'm sorry. Elsewhere, it looks pretty much like business as usual. Local councillors with Nazi sympathies, drunken Tory MPs interrupting important debates with moronic homophobic abuse, terrifying assaults on Asians in the East End of London . . . I know that the modern male is not really supposed to express concern about such matters, that it is naff, uncool, dreary, worthy (and these adjectives are all PC synonyms), but they do seem to me to be Bad Things, on the whole.

He gave Bhaji on the Beach a good write- up, by the way, that reviewer: '. . . might smack horribly of Political Correctness, but this joyous and hilarious romp is less easily dismissed.' Is it easy to dismiss a van-load of Asian women going to the seaside? I suppose it is, at the moment. -

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