"It's political correctness gone MAD!": a phrase so overused that it has now become a cliché, but which nevertheless holds more than a grain of truth. In the late 80s and 90s (and even now) well-meaning busy-bodies were seeing offence being caused everywhere by people's callous use of language or molly-coddling people to death by giving unnecessarily warning of obvious hazards ("contents may be hot" on takeaway coffee). In the eyes of the political correctness brigade, such things must be eradicated, lest they scar our children for ever. This book collects together some of the oddest and worst "politically correct" ideas that people have managed to have.
As befits the idea of a "scrapbook", the book is a mish-mash of content drawn from sources far and wide - newspapers, signs, official press releases, the internet, word of mouth and so on. This gives the book a slightly disjointed feel and although some attempt has been made to split the book into themed sections, you can never quite shake the feeling that you are looking at a hotchpotch of things thrown together.
The best section by far is the nursery rhymes section. This highlights where nutty politically correct people insisted on changing the words to nursery rhymes that, in many cases, children had recited for hundreds of years without becoming corrupted. So, Baa Baa Black Sheep becomes Baa Baa Rainbow Sheep; Polly Put the Kettle On becomes Peter puts the Kettle on, and so on. This is interesting on two levels. First of all, the utter insanity of some people seeing "offensive" material in all sorts of innocent and odd places. Secondly, because this section provides a brief account explaining the origins of the nursery rhymes in question and what they mean. It's a real shame that this section is so short because it's easily the best, and I'd have happily read an entire book based around this idea.
Sensibly, the authors choose to lead with this section so the book does at least get off to a good start. Sadly, the rest of the content never even comes close to matching this strong opening and it's all downhill from there. There are odd moments that make you smile or cry out in disbelief, but for the most part, it's pretty uninspiring stuff.
The organisation of the book leaves a lot to be desired. I appreciate that it is a "scrapbook", which implies a slightly random approach, but didn't really work for me. The lack of any real focus (other than the vague concept of "political correctness") makes the book feel like it has been thrown together with things randomly included as the authors remembered or discovered them. Other than a few basic headings, there is no real rhyme nor reason to how items are grouped or even, in the case of some of the weaker material, why it is included at all. There's the odd interesting little snippet of information or useless fact but you have to wade through an awful lot of dross to get at them.
Presentation is also rather dull. There are a few cartoons, but they are not well drawn; for the rest, much of the book is simply text. Nor is the text presented in a particularly interesting or appealing way. The section on reports of political correctness in newspapers, for example, is simply transcribed text - surely it would have been more interesting to present a "cutting" of the original article (and more in keeping with the idea of a "scrapbook)? Similarly, the section on quotes is simply laid out as a rather ugly looking table (using some pretty horrific colour schemes) which have the quote in one row and who said it in the other.
It's all pretty boring stuff. The presentation of a book like this is crucial. Its pages should be bursting with daft cartoons, silly drawings and imaginative presentation that make you want to open the book, browse through it and keep browsing. The boring presentation of The Politically Correct Scrapbook doesn't help its cause. It should be the sort of book that's fun to dip in and out of, just flicking through and reading whatever catches your eye. Sadly, because the presentation is so uninspiring, when you do flick through, almost nothing does.
This is a book that smacks of vanity publishing - both in terms of the quality of its content and the standard of the presentation. It comes across as rather poor and amateurish. There are a few interesting pieces and a couple of things that will make you smile (though never laugh) or exclaim "WHAT?!" in disbelief at what you read. On the whole, though, it's a really disappointing affair.
Of course, I fully accept that there is a market for this kind of book and it will certainly appeal to readers of the Daily Mail. But then they deserve all they get. Even then, there are far better, funnier examples available and I'd suggest you bypass this and buy one of those instead.
There is a little bit of good news on the horizon, though: if you are really determined to own a copy of this it regularly crops up in second hand bookshops and it's not difficult to get hold of it for less than a pound. If you're really desperate to give it to someone as a stocking filler this Christmas, do yourself a favour and pick up one of those.
The Politically Correct Scrapbook
John Midgley and Laura Midgley
(c) Copyright SWSt 2012