JOURNAL / By FRANK RICH
Seven Is EnoughJust as theres hope that political correctness might at last be running its course, permitting Americans once more to trade "farmers daughter" jokes and "AmosnAndy" videos on the open market, along comes an even more oppressive phenomenon to suck the humor out of life: emotional correctness. Under the new and terrorizing code of e.c., Americans risk complete banishment from polite society if they do not wholeheartedly join in each national day of mourning or celebration as decreed by the media. We can no longer admit that we did anything other than collapse in paroxysms of grief upon hearing of the death of Princess Diana. Nor can we confess that we slept quite soundly on the night of Mother Teresas funeral. And we certainly are not allowed to say a discouraging word about the birth of lowas "magnificent seven."
The e.c. code is enforced so strictly that even the normally irrepressible Don Imus could be heard on the radio this week solemnly vowing to keep his "negative thoughts" about the divine septuplets to himself. Such is the national imperative to preserve and protect the upbeat story line of this blessed event no matter whatand to idealize each and every character in the story as an angelic exemplar of faith, hope and charitythat any unpleasant detail that does not fit the e.c. agenda is simply airbrushed out of existence by press and public alike.The most literal example of such airbrushing took place at Newsweek, which touched up its cover photo so that the supermom, Bobbi McCaughey, would smile at us with the dazzling white teeth God did not provide at the same time He handed out fertility drugs. But there are other, more subtle forms of cosmetic surgery being performed on this e.c. fairy tale as well. Since its e.c. that Iowans be portrayed as the epitome of neighborly American generosity with their Governor, Terry Branstad, leading the gift giving to the McCaughey family - few dare note the estimated 9,000-plus homeless Iowan children who are being stripped of aid rather than showered with it even as donations roll in for the magnificent seven. Its also e.c. to applaud all those selfless American corporations that are giving the McCaugheys a "fully loaded" Chevrolet van, Pampers, Gerber baby food and all the rest. So what if corporate America until last week ignored a mother who gave birth to sextuplets in Washington, D.C., back in May? When a black urban mother has more babies than she can afford, shes not an automatic e.c. magazine cover subject; shes more likely to be branded as a welfare queen. It would also be very non-e.c. to point out that right after the McCaughey babies arrived, their father, Kenny, declared: "The big fear is that this does not turn into a big show. This is my family. ... Were not on for display." Within days he granted NBCs "Dateline" the exclusive to put on just such a big show -"The world-famous babies make their network television debut!" as Jane Pauley billed it - and started entertaining movie offers. Apparently the open letter written to the McCaugheys in Time by the surviving and much-displayed Depression-era Dionne quints, the subject of three Hollywood movies, has gone unheeded. "Multiple births should not be confused with entertainment ... [or] be an opportunity to sell products," they warned.
Like every American I am e.c enough to feel pity for the McCaugheys, who face almost unfathomable mental, medical and financial obstacles. But their cruelest fate may be the discovery of how quickly and callously Americans get bored with even our most beloved e.c. idols. It was only three months ago that Charles Spencer, that splendid funeral orator, was the idealized hero of his sister Dianas e.c. saga; now that the mourning has subsided, hes been downgraded to a serial philanderer - or, as The New York Post put it Thanksgiving Day in various headlines, to "Lord Louise," "Aristocad," a "Whiny Rat" and a "Turkey."
And whatever happened to Louise Woodward, with whom it was e.c. to sympathize only weeks ago? The rules of whats e.c. turn over far more rapidly than those that govern p.c. Were she to go anywhere near those babies in Iowa, a judge could strap her into an electric chair on the spot, certain that emotional correctness would forbid any American from so much as whispering a complaint.
© 1997 New York Times Co.