The P.C. culture of the ’80s and ’90s didn’t decline and fall. It just went underground. Now it’s back.
The 1994 movie PCU, about a rebellious fraternity resisting its politically correct university, was a milestone. Not because the movie was especially good—it wasn’t. It was a milestone because it showed that political correctness had officially become a joke.
The derisive term “P.C.” had referred to a genuine and powerful force on campus for the previous decade. But by the mid-1990s, it had become the butt of jokes from across the political spectrum. The production of a mainstream movie mocking political correctness showed that its cultural moment had passed.
At the same time, punitive campus speech codes were being struck down. Among the most prominent cases was Stanford Law School, which boasted a notorious speech code banning “speech or other expression…intended to insult or stigmatize” an individual on the basis of membership in a protected class arguably including every living human. You don’t have to be a lawyer to see how a ban on anything that “insults” would be abused: Even showing PCU itself, which makes fun of campus activists, feminists, and vegetarians, could potentially get you in trouble under such a broad and vague rule. The 1995 court defeat of the Stanford speech code marked the end of the First Great Age of Political Correctness.