It probably won't come as a complete shock to anyone if I say that political correctness is not an unmixed blessing.
Some people may even agree with me that P.C. has had a stifling effect on freedom of speech. It used to be said that one's freedom of speech stopped just short of the right to shout "fire" in a crowded theater and that the right to swing one's fist stopped at the other person's nose. Now, however, freedom of speech stops just short of hurting someone's feelings, and the right to swing one's fist in the vicinity of the other person's nose depends on whose nose it is.
We've always had cranks, idiots, and bigots among us. The (unfortunately) blond UCLA coed who posted the rant about "hordes of Asian students" using their cell phones in the college library -- in the aftermath of the tsunami, no less -- was demonstrating almost unfathomable ignorance and insensitivity.
But those who called for her expulsion were as much out of line as she was. She's an idiot. She's demonstrated publicly that she's an idiot. She'll be living it down for years. The only people who will make friends with her will also be idiots. If we're going to do anything official about this, perhaps it should be a re-examination of UCLA's admissions standards.
See, she has the right to be an idiot. Freedom of speech doesn't mean freedom to say things everyone agrees with. It's designed precisely to protect speech many of us don't agree with. Otherwise, why would it need protection?
But all this is by way of an oblique introduction to my actual (literary) topic. I've been seeing a lot of movies lately and even some TV, and I'm frustrated by the dwindling pool of suspects.
Gauging from the things I've been watching, if someone were to stage Ten Little Indians these days and the cast was mixed, in terms of race, ethnicity, and sexual orientation, the audience could get up and leave five minutes in, right after all the characters gather for the first big scene in the living room. See that one straight white guy over there? He dunnit. Let's go eat.
(Not to mention that the play would need a new title, which is kind of amusing since the title it has now was chosen as a less offensive form of the title of the original rhyme.)
It seems kind of crippling for those of us trying to construct mysteries or thrillers to be told (gently, largely by example) that it is not done these days to have gay villains or villains of color, unless there are also very good characters who are gay and/or of color. No such restrictions exist relative to white male villains; they're the utility infielders of films and popular fiction. Good and villainous in any position, capable of any crime. After all, look at everything they're already responsible for.
I personally would leap at the challenge of writing an Eskimo-African American transgendered serial killer. A whole new spectrum of personal experiences and grievances to work with. But the book would wind up in my drawer, atop the other misfires whose existence I usually omit when I talk about my writing life.
But I think real equality will only come when we can relax and let anyone be the bad guy.