Neal does not like my fiction blogs and wants me to steadfastly write about actual things that have happened. He has been my friend for 24 years. He and his family met us the other day in Charleston. We had a great time wandering around the Charleston Market and spent considerable time in the Moon Pie General store, a restaurant and a coffee bar. It was great to see them.
Over the years, Neal and I have had many conversations relating to political correctness. His view is that we have gone too far in trying not to offend anyone. My view was always that if you can avoid offending people, why not keep your words to yourself. As Neal is a number of years younger than me, our views were based on what we have lived through. Until last night and a night a few weeks ago, I would have disagreed with Neal, as I always have. Now, I am not so sure.
A few weeks ago, when our 17 year old grandson was here, we watched Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles. We laughed from beginning to end. I took notice that the movie would not be acceptable to movie-goers today. It is filled with inferences and downright words that would antagonize large swathes of people of every kind- from African Americans to Native Americans, to the gay community and many others. It kind of made me pause for a moment.
I had not thought of those lines till last night. We had a bunch of our friends over to watch a Mel Brooks movie and have dinner. We had a ball. We were all pretty much in the same age cohort and the film we chose was History of the World Part I. If you thought that Blazing Saddles couldn’t get a screening today, History was even more politically incorrect.
Yes, we all laughed at the silly scenes from the cave men to the French Revolution. The scenes were bawdy and distinctly filled with phrases and statements that would offend many groups. Mel Brooks has always had a kind of love-hate relationship with words and scenes that no one else would ever touch. The only one, who comes close, is Woody Allen. Funny, Woody and Mel actually worked together as writers on the Sid Caesar pt. show in the early ‘50s. I am not sure that has anything to do with it.
As I think about the films, I am confused about how I feel about Brooks’ references. Maybe in the wrong hands, political incorrectness is a damnable activity. You can see those kinds of things during this presidential election season just by turning on your t.v. set. However, maybe, as with most things in life, it all depends on the intent. Brooks skewers many of our icons from politics (see Hedley LaMarr in Blazing Saddles) or psychiatry (see Professor LilOllman in High Anxiety) to the Nazis (The Producers, which offended many Jewish people). Maybe, in some way, Neal is correct (he will never believe that I said that). We have gone too far in not offending anyone at all. Maybe it’s time to step back and see where this has taken us?