American paradox: Political correctness coexists with extreme vulgarity

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Our society has pulled off quite the paradoxical feat, being at once tolerant of rampant, base vulgarity and sensitive to the slightest slur. It's much like the Orwellian "doublethink," wherein one can hold two opposing ideas at the same time, believing both to be true.

This week's cashiering of the captain of the U.S.S. Enterprise for making "raunchy" videos on the giant aircraft carrier a few years ago when he was the ship's executive officer illustrates the current extreme sensitivity to anything politically incorrect being said by someone not a member of a protected group.Protected groups are the designated victims of things insensitive. Victim classes include blacks, Latinos, women, the handicapped, gays, lesbians, transsexuals, Native Americans and - come to think of it - everybody except white men.

Captain Owen P. Honors, a 1983 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, fighter pilot, instructor at the famed Top Gun flight school, and, until Tuesday, commanding officer of the nuclear-powered Enterprise, is a white man.

Two days before his firing, a series of videos surfaced that he had made on board the warship in 2006 and 2007. The videos showed Captain Honors mimicking masturbation and looking into shower stalls in which pairs of men and women were supposedly showering together.

There was also his use of the gay-unfriendly word "fag," certainly taboo in the wake of the repeal of the military's "don't ask, don't tell" policy. Ribald humor and sexual innuendo are virtually absent in the macho military culture. (You're right, I'm kidding.)

I do think Captain Honors should have had more sense than he displayed in these videotapings, but why the delay in taking action against him? The Navy says it's investigating who knew what, when. We'll wait on the candid report sure to come our way shortly.

A possibly serious result of this is that the ship, home to roughly 6,000 sailors, got under way to the waters off Afghanistan with a brand-new skipper. It's akin to the Ravens replacing John Harbaugh as head coach two days before the team plays in the Super Bowl.

Also in the news this week is that, according to Publisher's Weekly, NewSouth Books' upcoming edition of Mark Twain's "Adventures of Huckleberry Finn," maybe the greatest American novel by the greatest American novelist, has been sanitized.

It will not contain any of the author's frequent uses of the "n" word. "N-word Jim" is called "Slave Jim." The word Injun has also been plucked from the great man's tale, which, ironically, is in large part a most critical portrayal of the crude, violent and bigoted people Twain observed in his time.

While it's true that children heretofore protected by nervous Nelly school boards may now be exposed to this work of genius now that it has been scrubbed of offensive terms, it does seem silly to think this shielding keeps the kids from hearing the word that can't be spoken.

Because it is spoken, shouted and sung from sea to shining sea every day by, among others, rappers who often pair it with "bitch" or "ho." And this "music" is listened to by young kids, white and black alike. It's featured on MTV all the time.

But coming across the forbidden word in a genuine work of art will taint or shock the kiddies? That's absurd, but absurdity is the norm in our time and place. Watch for Shylock to be plucked from "The Merchant of Venice" and flushed down the memory hole.

For the textbook company, this is business. The sanitized edition of "Huckleberry Finn" will be sold to schools that removed the original from their library shelves. That's called adjusting to a changing marketplace.

Meanwhile, pornography is by far the biggest moneymaker in the cyber world, and a new study shows that potty-mouthed toddlers are legion as they imitate their elders.

Look around. Men dress like boys and women dress like sluts (especially on Halloween, but that's a story for another time).

Out-of-wedlock birthrates are sky-high. Fewer than 10 percent of Baltimore households are "traditional family" units. With all our rigorously but selectively enforced sensitivity, we just can't seem to avoid racing to the bottom.

Ron Smith can be heard weekdays, 9 a.m. to noon, on 1090 WBAL-AM and His column appears Fridays in The Baltimore Sun. His e-mail is
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Andy Green, the opinion editor, has taken the "know a little bit about everything" approach in his time at The Sun. He was the city/state editor before coming to the editorial board, and prior to that he covered the State House and Baltimore County government.

Tricia Bishop, the deputy editorial page editor, was a reporter in the business and metro sections covering biotechnology, education and city and federal courts prior to joining the board.

Peter Jensen, former State House reporter and features writer, takes the lead on state government, transportation issues and the environment; he is the board's resident funny man and capital schmooze.

Glenn McNatt, who returned to editorial writing after serving as the newspaper's art critic, keeps an eye on the arts, culture, politics and the law for the editorial board.

Portland's potty water problem [Poll]

The Portland (Oregon) Water Bureau ordered 38 million gallons of clean, potable water drained after a smirking teen-ager urinated in a reservoir. Was that an overreaction?

  • Yes
  • No
  • Not sure