By Scott McNee
I noticed something funny over the last couple of weeks. A large number of the students supporting Charlie Hebdo’s right to freedom of speech and expression are the same people who attacked this university over a joke about Jennifer Lawrence back in early December. One is more serious than the other, obviously, but it’s impossible to take students seriously as defenders of civil liberties when they’re constantly railing against them.
‘I’m offended’ is a statement that is worryingly becoming louder with each moral panic. Both sides of the political spectrum are guilty: with the right wing consistently offended by basic human decency, and the left wing offended by basic common sense. Sometimes they get muddled, and otherwise liberal people end up defending foaming religious conservatives, as right wing lunatics defend the artistic expression they normally oppose, as in the Charlie Hebdo fallout.
The American comedian Chris Rock recently mentioned in an interview that he’d stopped performing stand-up on college campuses because students have become too ‘conservative’: ‘Not in their political views… but in their social views and their willingness not to offend anybody. Kids raised on a culture of “We’re not going to keep score in the game because we don’t want anybody to lose.” …You can’t even be offensive on your way to being inoffensive.’
He’s right. And frequently, the offended are enraged on other students’ behalf. I’ve written in this paper before about my own mental health issues, however briefly, and there tends to be a couple features on it now and again. And of course, the offended brigade has started popping up now, writing about prejudice against the mentally ill after spending five minutes on Wikipedia and reading The Yellow Wallpaper. I might be unstable, but I’m fairly certain I can speak for myself. And, looping back to the university’s attempt at a joke, I’m fucking certain Jennifer Lawrence can too.
And that’s only concerning real issues. I’ve seen students get up in arms about the slightest edgy joke on television. Hell, I’m basically writing this to prevent someone writing about how they were offended by the latest movie they didn’t go to watch. One would think, if there was a show, movie or book that legitimately offended you, you could just go in search of other things. Personally, Frank Miller’s work makes me uncomfortable, and I think it’s little more than a Neo-Nazi’s wank fantasy, but there’s plenty of stuff out there that isn’t. I’m not going to waste my time starting a Twitter mob to get him fired or blacklisted, or burned in a giant Wickerman.
I went to a Catholic high school. In RE the teachers would rail against something they found offensive. Because they were religious, the things they found offensive were things like homosexuals existing, and women having orgasms. And yet, these teachers seriously thought their value were being threatened. That’s what being offended does – it creates an insular, idiotic mind-set wherein you are the victim. Never mind the issue at hand: this is about you and how you want to be safe in your bubble. And from there, of course, comes the direct line to censorship, which is the real problem.
The UK has a pretty poor record in this regard. Forget about North Korea’s tantrum over the interview – several English cinemas refused to show the Irish film The Wind That Shakes The Barley, claiming offence at the accurate depiction of the Black-and-Tans. The Daily Mail and The Sun are waiting to start another witch hunt over perceived sexual abnormality in any media form except their own. David Cameron and Ed Miliband claim to stand behind the satirists at Charlie Hebdo, while they condemned jokes about Thatcher’s well-deserved fate back in 2013. The police are arresting people who may have made ‘offensive tweets’.
Reality is frequently offensive. It’s full of dead kids, genocide, religion and Piers Morgan. ‘I’m offended’, so often deployed in the comments section of an article, or at the start of a rich little prick’s tumblr post, should not be taken seriously. It’s the last resort of a threatened system, the response of a sheltered middle class to the stark reality of existence.
And these are the arseholes who cost us Chris Rock.}