SO NOW even Mr. Magoo is politically incorrect. The hopelessly nearsighted old codger who serenely sidestepped one calamity after another in scores of old cartoons is about to be revived in a new Disney live-action movie, and the armies of the sensitive are on the march.
Last month, the National Federation of the Blind adopted a resolution slamming Magoo as offensive to the visually impaired. The federation's chairman berated Disney for thinking "it's funny to watch an ill-tempered and incompetent blind man stumble into things and misunderstand his surroundings."
Ah, but of course it is funny — in a cartoon. Just as it's funny to watch cartoon characters fall off cliffs, swallow dynamite, get run over by steamrollers, and stumble into beehives. Just as it's funny, for that matter, to watch Moe grab Larry's nose with a pair of pliers.
Rather than tell the National Federation of the Blind to lighten up and enjoy the show, however, the president of Walt Disney Pictures, David Vogel, offered a little sensitivity blather of his own. Magoo, he explained, is really an "intuitive" fellow who can "see what's going on" more clearly than others. "His visual limitation can impute poetic interpretation." Whatever that may mean, the myopia lobby isn't buying it.
A Virginia writer named Kathi Wolfe, who describes herself as legally blind, writes huffily in The Washington Post that "dusting off Magoo is as demeaning as bringing back Amos 'n' Andy would be for many African-Americans." Marie Cobb, a blind Baltimore woman, wails to an Associated Press reporter that "Mr. Magoo did a great deal of damage to my image of myself as a human being." What a pity no one ever told Cobb not to link her self-image to a cartoon.
You know this won't end with Mr. Magoo. No doubt it's just a matter of time before the eating-disorder activists demand a halt to "Popeye" reruns — after all, what's so amusing about Olive Oyl, a classic anorexic if ever there was one? And while Bugs Bunny may be OK, the Postal Service had better not think of putting Elmer Fudd on a postage stamp: The speech-impediment crowd would wesent any steweotype making light of the enunciation-challenged. (D-d-don't even th-th-think about about Porky Pig.)
After the Alliance for the Mentally Ill complained, Ross Perot apologized for using Patsy Cline's hit song "Crazy" as a theme song at his rallies.
Not that disability-PC is limited to cartoons, or to nearsightedness and speech defects.
Among the quickest to take offense are self-appointed advocates for the mentally diseased. "Murphy Brown" was blasted over an episode in which Corky speculates that her boss is late for work because "maybe a mental patient chopped him up in little pieces." The Alliance for the Mentally Ill of New York State denounced Ross Perot for using Patsy Cline's hit song "Crazy" as a theme song at his rallies and demanded that he apologize for comparing the federal deficit to "a crazy aunt we keep down in the basement." (Perot apologized.) In Narragansett, R.I., the Crazy Burger Cafe was condemned for the insensitivity of its menu, which features the Neurotic Burger, the Loco Burger, and the Just Plain Nuts Burger.
But here's a strange thing: The disability-esteem people haven't uttered a word about Michael Kennedy, who brushed off his alleged statutory rape of a 14-year-old as an addiction for which, he says, he will "continue to obtain the help I need."
Nor did the mental-illness lobby speak out against Janet Dailey, the romance novelist who admitted last week to plagiarizing the works of another author. "My essentially random and nonpervasive acts of copying," Dailey said, "are attributable to a psychological problem that I never even suspected I had. I have already begun treatment for the disorder."
What is the meaning of this silence? Are we supposed to be affronted by Mr. Magoo and the Just Plain Nuts Burger, but not by a plagiarist and a possible child seducer who blame their egregious behavior on phony disabilities? Which is more offensive — a cartoon and a hamburger, or blackguards who pretend to have a handicap when they get caught doing something shameful?
The PC preachers don't even object when murder is blamed on make-believe "disorders."
A few years back, Hubert Napier stabbed a woman to death on Roosevelt Island in New York — then told the jury he wasn't responsible because he has a multiple-personality disorder. Rashid Baz opened fire on a van crossing the Brooklyn Bridge, killing a 16-year-old rabbinical student — then claimed he couldn't be held responsible, since growing up in Lebanon gave him post-traumatic stress syndrome.
About cases like these, which are an insult to everyone who genuinely struggles with a mental handicap, the Alliance for the Mentally Ill of New York has nothing to say. But let Ross Perot ask the band to play "Crazy," and the group leaps down his throat, demanding an apology for his callousness and lack of compassion.
It is hard to take seriously advocates who explode over nonexistent slights but make no protest in the face of gross and ugly slurs. Whose portrayal of disability is the more demeaning, Mr. Magoo's or Michael Kennedy's? Murphy Brown's or the Brooklyn Bridge murderer's? Maybe it's time the sensitivity thought police learned to distinguished the trivial from the urgent.
(Jeff Jacoby is a columnist for The Boston Globe).
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