Will Young was in the news recently, because he asked for Sadik Kahn’s help, as Mayor of London, in finding the identity of a bus driver. He was on a bus and was abused by a homophobic driver, who apparently called him a “poofter”.
The online commentary was …. interesting. Some were supportive, as you can imagine. Others were more on the “get over yourself” camp:
“Is this really news? Will Young is called a name!??! A bus driver once called me a **** because I asked him to drive slower with a packed bus. I didn’t feel the need to report it to the Mayor of London… “
“What should Sadiq Khan tackle first? Terrorism Knife Crime Acid Attacks Hell no, spoilt luvie Will Young has demanded Khan intervene after a bus driver yelled poofter at him as he drove by. This despite admitting TfL are already dealing with it “
And one person linked to a video of comedian Steve Hughes, who had an interesting little tirade about the notion of offence:
Political correctness is the oppression of our intellectual movements, so no-one says anything anymore in case someone else gets offended.
“What happens if you say that and someone else gets offended?” Well they can be offended. What’s wrong with being offended? When did ‘sticks and stones may break my bones’ stop being relevent? Isn’t that what you teach children, for God’s sake? That’s what you teach toddlers – ‘He called me an idiot’ ‘don’t worry about it, he’s a dick’. Now you have adults going ‘I was offended! I was offended and I have rights!’ Well so what. Be offended, nothing happens. You’re an adult, grow up, deal with it. ‘I was offended’ I don’t care! Nothing happens. NO-one says “i went to the comedy show, and the comedian said something about the Lord, and I was offended and in the morning I had leprosy”
How do you make a law about offending people? Being offended is subjective, that has everything to do with you as an individual, or a group, or a collective, or a society, your moral conditioning, your religious beliefs, and you want to make laws about this? I’m offended when I see boy bands, for God’s sake. It’s a valid offence, I’m offended! They’re corporate shills posing as musicians to further a modelling career, and frankly, I’m disgusted. But what am I going to do, call the cops? ‘Hello, it’s me again. They’re on telly this time. Five of them, white suits, dancing like girls.”
It’s funnier live than it is written down, but it does point to one side of the argument on offence. Which is that offence is a notion that is completely subjective, and that being offended is an emotion which the individual ought to deal with, rather than expecting other people to deal with their behaviour.
That’s certainly a valid argument. I’m rarely offended at things, and often when I see in particular religious people being offended at things where people are critiquing or satirising religion, I find that a bit wincingly embarassing. Think of the “offence” caused by the Life of Brian, or Jerry Springer the Opera. I found neither offensive, and whilst I really don’t like the things said by folk like Ricky Gervais about religion, that’s mainly because he’s aiming at straw men, and deliberately wanting to make fun of people like me based on a very ignorant perception of what religious people are. That’s annoying, and I suppose I could call myself offended by it, but I wouldn’t want to do anything about it, other than call it out if I got the opportunity, which so far I haven’t.
But – and this is strikingly important – all the people criticising Will Young for bring offended that I have read are almost all male, all white, all straight. IN fact, just for the purposes of research (very poor research but there you go) of the latest 100 commentaries on twitter, 99 were male, all were white, and whilst you can’t tell someone’s sexuality, I’d be surprised if they weren’t all straight.
The analogy about being offended by boy bands is an interesting one. Because straight white men can be offended at something which is external to themselves. But that’s being annoyed. It’s not being offended.
Is it offensive to imply to someone that their mother sleeps around? It wouldn’t offend me – I’d be annoyed that someone was trying to insult my mother as a way of irritating me, but it wouldn’t offend. But if my mother was someone who had had a number of boyfriends, who needed emotional stability and was treated like dirt by the men she was with, then you bet I would be offended. Because in that instance you would be insulting something core to me, something deep within me.
Is it offensive to insult someone for their sexuality? It wouldn’t offend me, because I’m perfectly okay with my sexuality, and I’ve never had to live in a society where my sexuality was a problem. But if someone insulted my sexuality, something very core to who I am, in a world where just being me was the cause of prejudice, violence, threat and hatred, then yes I would be offended.
Is it offensive to insult someone for their physical appearance? It wouldn’t offend me, because I’m okay with my physical appearance. I’ve been made fun of for wearing glasses, or being bald(ing), but other than finding that slightly ridiculous, that’s genuinely water off a duck’s back. But when I was overweight, and deeply ashamed of it, as I was when I was on occasion in school, and people made fun of me for it, then I was offended. I was hurt, not just cross but emotionally bruised, and it felt like a physical injury.
For some people the reality of their lives is that every day that happens; every time they walk down the street they’re ready for that to happen; that every bus they go on, every shop they enter, the core of who they are is being challenged, threatened, mocked.
So yes, boy bands are annoying. But comparing an opinion on boy bands with demanding the right not to be demeaned in public? That’s a whole different thing.