British comedy star and Provost’s Visiting Professor at Cornell John Cleese recently blasted society’s growing hypersensitivity and political correctness, particularly on college campuses.
In a video for Big Think, Cleese, co-founder of the British comedic act Monty Python, said, “Sometimes when people are offended they want someone to come in and say ‘stop that’ to whoever is offending them.”
“There are some people I would wish to offend… The idea that you have to be protected from any kind of uncomfortable emotion is one I absolutely do not subscribe to.”
Cleese, who served as Cornell’s A.D. White Professor from 1999 to 2006, and from then on as the Provost’s Visiting Professor, holds an M.A. from the University of Cambridge and honorary LL.D. from St. Andrews University, where he was rector for several years. According to the Cornell Chronicle, on campus he “used his role to introduce other notable visitors to campus whose knowledge, expertise and enthusiasms were in concert with his own.”
Cleese’s style of comedy, most notably with the 1970s British television series “Monty Python’s Flying Circus”, “Fawlty Towers”, and a slew of movies including “Life of Brian” and “Monty Python and the Holy Grail”, was bitterly satirical of nearly all aspects of government, religion, cultures, and society in general at the time.
In the video, Cleese says he has been warned to avoid college campuses, of which he observes: “political correctness has been taken from being a good idea, which is ‘Let’s not be mean in particular to people who are not able to look after themselves very well,’ to the point where any kind of criticism of any individual or group could be labeled cruel.”
“If people cant control their own emotions, then they have to start trying to control other people’s behaviors. When you’re around super-sensitive people you cannot relax or be spontaneous because you have no idea what’s going to upset them next.”
Cleese summarizes his points saying, “All humor is critical. If we start saying, oh, we mustn’t criticize or offend them, then humor is gone, and with humor goes a sense of proportion, and then, as far as I’m concerned, you’re living in 1984.”