As Joe Carter reported earlier , the now former editor of the French edition of Vogue tries, or tried, to include “something every month that is — how you say? — not politically correct. A little bit at the limit. Sex, nudity, a bit rock’n’roll, a sense of humour.” I suspect that upon reading this line many readers, like me, yawned.

Not being politically correct in this way is — how you say? — as politically correct as it can be. The instruction to push the boundaries and shock the sensibilities appears on page two of the (secret)  Guide to Politically Correct Behavior , and the instruction to claim while doing so to be acting against political correctness appears in the chapter on publicity and public relations. The editor of an publication like Vogue does something “daring” the way an eight-year-old boy on his bike says “Look, mom, no hands.” That’s what they do, and the people they care about applaud.

The trick, of course, is that the limits at which they dare to be are not those of themselves and their constituency, but of the great mass of middle class people, the bourgeois, the settled and complacent and philistine. How many of these people actually exist, and whether they’re so dull and thoughtless as they’re assumed to be, is a question, but the ideal is a major construct in politically correct thinking, the thing against which one measures one’s achievements and virtue.

The editor seems in this case to have miscalculated and actually done something truly daring, but people working at that level almost always have a much keener sense of what they’re allowed to do. As shown by how rarely they make this mistake.

In any case, it really isn’t a great accomplishment to upset the middle class church-going Walmart-shopping lady from eastern Iowa or rural South Carolina, or whatever is the French equivalent.  That’s as daring as saying “damn” in a motorcycle bar. But doing it makes you feel — how you say? — so good about yourself.

Articles by David Mills

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