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The ‘art’ of political correctness

For good or ill, we live in a politically-correct world. I say that because it seems to me there are both plusses and minuses to asserting the right of groups of human beings not to be discriminated against – not least that, when you get down to the bottom line and specific matters of principle (the ‘nitty-gritty’ if you will), there are some things that – on the face of it apparently discriminatory – in fact are simply instinctive, straightforward and perhaps in some instances just matters of instinctive personal taste or even choice.

Inevitably here it will be necessary for me to give further and better particulars before proceeding much further.

I suspect ageism, especially in the world of entertainment, is one of the most glaring and useful examples in the sense that it helps to demonstrate or highlight both sides of the argument or coin.

Here’s a link to an article by Gabby So on the topic that appears today on the website of – THE INDEPENDENT

MiriamIn the UK one of the most celebrated cases of the recent past was the fuss kicked up by television presenter Miriam O’Reilly when she was dropped by the BBC’s mainstream Sunday night programme Countryfile at the age of 52 in 2009. She later successfully sued the BBC for ageism and sexism, in part claiming that, in rubber-stamping the editorial decision to drop her, former BBC 1 Controller Jay Hunt (a female ten years her junior) ‘hated women’.

O’Reilly subsequently went on to become a regular ‘go to’ pundit on the subject of ageism in the media, at one point maintaining that she had ‘saved’ the careers of many ladies beyond the first flush of youth, and (now having apparently given up her media career) apparently concentrates upon her charity the Women’s Equality Network.

However, there is another side to O’Reilly’s story. It is in the nature of the media that, from time to time, in order to refresh or relaunch a programme or series – and thereby prolong its popularity and importance – ‘the powers that be’ change things about it. Examples might be any of the following: alter its branding (e.g. the title music, the opening credits sequence); the editorial stance from light and fluffy to a bit more cutting edge and/or newsy – or indeed vice versa; switch the programme from being based in a studio to being recorded or presented ‘on the road’ or on location; and yes, sometimes the presenters themselves.

Let’s concentrate upon the last of the above.

It is in the nature of things that fashions, taste, ratings and popularity evolve and change. Countryfile has a mainstream appeal, including as regards the age-range of its viewers. But it might be that audience research has shown that its appeal amongst 18-30 year olds is smaller than other ages groups, or even smaller than its producers would like it to be, or have been told to make it. One of the ways to make it younger-friendly is to ‘refresh’ the presenter roster, which might include dropping a well-established senior figure for someone younger and less well-known.

It happens all the time.

O’Reilly’s gripe with the BBC might well have struck a chord with oldies everywhere (“Surely the sole criteria should be ‘if you’re good enough, you’re young enough’?), but at the same time it flies in the face of not only ‘facts of life’, but instinct and indeed the fundamental right of personal choice.

meetingOtherwise you’d never be able to drop a single television or radio presenter who retained a degree of competence. After all, if any Miriam O’Reilly – or even a Michael O’Reilly – (after perhaps an apprenticeship in journalism and having worked up from local radio to national television) becomes an established mainstream television presenter at the age of 30 – she/he (and political-correctness) could surely argue that an uninterrupted 35-year career (and some might argue on the David Dimbleby principle that, provided she/he retains their skills, why not a 45-year plus career) was her/his absolute right.

Er … not quite, folks. Real life is a jungle out there. Sometimes your face fits – and one day, most probably or even inevitably, it just won’t. And that’s when – if you’ve chosen a life in the media – your ‘time in the spotlight’ ends, or at the very least you have to adapt your skills and/or move on to apply them in a different way and perhaps upon different types of programmes.

It’s what being a member of the human species – indeed any species – is all about.

The fact is that nobody has the right to be successful in the media, especially in front of the microphone and/or television camera.

The bottom line is that from the moment we are born, unless devastating crisis or chance intervenes, we grow up … have a period of wonderful young adulthood … and then gradually decline. And there’s nothing we can do about it.

Jennifer Aniston

Jennifer Aniston

Acting and sport are good cases in point. I would never suggest that age discrimination is not a problem in Hollywood, but by the same token – let’s be blunt – modern PC campaigners cannot seriously be contending that the likes of Jennifer Aniston or Cameron Diaz (currently aged 47 and 44 respectively) should have the eternal right to play the parts of twenty-somethings in supposedly sassy, ball-breaking, behaving-badly sexy modern rom-com movies.

Or even that, amidst the modern ‘cult of youth’ that underpins most modern movies and television drama series (which are presumably aimed basically at those aged 40 and below), there have to be an equal number of similar projects aimed specifically at 40 to 60 years olds, or even 60 to 80 year olds … together with (perhaps for PC-completeness?) an attendant requirement that for every male or female role designed for a young actor, there must also be an equivalent one in every project for actors of both genders aged 40 … 50 … 60 … or 70 and beyond – simply in order to ‘tick all the boxes’ and protect the producers from any age discrimination law suit.

I suppose my fundamental point is that – whatever our abilities or potential – we all have a shelf life. Otherwise the BBC children’s magazine programme Blue Peter would still be being presented by Valerie Singleton and Peter Purves … and so on [dear reader, please continue my theme for as long as you wish].

Lynn Davies

Lynn Davies

Sport is an even more acute example.

Taken to its PC-extreme, one day someone will begin arguing that just because Mary Rand and Lynn Davies (the female and male 1964 Olympic long jump champions) are now 77 and 74 respectively, it would be out-and-out age discrimination to exclude them from the Team GB Olympic team for Rio.

Or indeed, perhaps, for the IOC not to include events for Over-70s in the Olympics.

Yes, there are sometimes clear cases when the demands of political correctness should be heeded and acted upon. But they are not absolute and the PC industry is sometimes in danger of making a laughing stock of itself.

One day – when a young woman is asked to specify the type of man she is attracted to and responds “tall, dark and handsome” – she’ll get ‘done’ for being politically incorrect, having plainly discriminated against those men who happen to be short, blond and not exactly good-looking.

I rest my case.




About J S Bird

A retired academic, Jeremy will contribute article on subjects that attract his interest. More Posts