Abraham Lincoln, the 16th U.S. President and leader of the then-new Republican Party, ended his second-term inaugural address – on March 4, 1865, following the bloody Civil War – with a plea: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation’s wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.”
The caveat “with malice toward none” can be rephrased as the modern and somewhat colloquial “no offence,” an abridged version of the disclaimer “no offence intended.” Whoever utters this phrase expects to hear the customary courteous rejoinder, “and none taken.” They expect it, although they are fully aware that whatever they may have meant, they may have sounded offensive as hell.
“No Offence” is also the title of a relatively new British police procedural set in Manchester showing on Channel 4 in the U.K., with a second season in the making. The first season is being broadcast on Israel’s HOT Plus on Sunday at 22.00. More about that later.
Evidently, someone did take offence at Lincoln’s words and policies. A little more than a month after his second inauguration, on April 15, 1865, Lincoln was assassinated by the actor and Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth while attending a theater performance in Washington, D.C. It seems like a prescient validation of a tweet by U.S. President-elect Donald J. Trump, “The Theater must always be a safe and special place.”
What does ‘political’ mean?
Precisely because things are the way they are, some segments of the enlightened human mind came up with the notion of political correctness, or PC (which used to stand for personal computer).
The OED defines “political correctness” as “orig. U.S. advocacy of or conformity to politically correct views; politically correct language or behaviour” and dates it to 1805. Which raises the question, what does “political” mean in this context? It cannot mean “involved, employed, or interested in politics; that takes a side, promotes, or follows a particular party line in political debate.” That collides with the very notion of universal “correctness,” since one side’s correctness may very well be – and mostly is – the other’s worst incorrectness.
Incidentally, recent U.S. presidential election campaigns were run, won and lost on the vast playground of political correctness. But the current president-elect was probably the most politically incorrect candidate in history, shooting insults right and left and simultaneously seeing himself as the potential butt of offences, real and imaginary. Trump carries a huge chip (of the analog rather than the digital kind) on his shoulder, and wields a huge axe to grind in the hand that will be poised – as of January 20, 2017 – over the red button.
Coming back to “No Offence” – it is a series created and written by Paul Abbott, of “Shameless” fame, and is a sort of hybrid between a police procedural and a weird sitcom. The star of the show is D.I. Viv Deering (played by Joanna Scanlon), an ample, 50-plus, blond force of nature, “a cast iron cop with a tough love approach in managing her team,” as Wikipedia puts it. She is quick to act and does not mince words, offends and ruffles feathers, but she gets things done and cases solved.
To be as politically correct as possible, Deering has two female policewomen under her command: the overly-shy but brilliant D.S. Joy Freers (Alexandra Roach) and the overly-emotional but courageous and impulsive D.C. Dinah Kowalska (Elaine Cassidy). Together they solve cases and fight prejudices and biases, with a precarious balance maintained between the suspense that glues viewers to the screen and the social issues the cases are meant to highlight.
The women run the show (they have some quirky, good-natured male accomplices), but the big boss of the police station is an alpha male, Detective Superintendent Darren Maclaren (Colin Salmon). He is apparently the only one, and the only man, who can take on Deering, and she accepts his authority, albeit grudgingly.
I won’t spoil your viewing pleasure by describing scenes or story lines, but there was a moment in one of the episodes that brought the PC theme to mind. After yet another altercation with her boss – he is tall, handsome and black – Deering refers to him in the subsequent talk with Freers and Kowalska as “Obama.” Hearing that, I asked myself how PC that was.
I guess that’s a question viewers will have to answer for themselves. Especially as President Barack Obama has been probably the most PC American president ever, without as much as even one faux pas on screen or off during his two terms of office in the White House.
There are many experts out there who are assessing Obama’s presidency and blaming him for the way things are, no offence meant. In my humble opinion, President Obama (and his family, mainly his wife, Michelle) showed us all how a reasonable human being can – and should – carry the extreme burden of statesmanship as humanly correctly (HC, not PC) as possible, without posturing, very much aware of the limits of his power and that of the U.S.
Which means that in my book, “Obama” is a huge compliment. No offence meant to those who disagree.