Well, it’s fair to say the world is pretty fucked up these days. Everyone is offended by something and everyone feels it is in their rights not to be offended and the issue of offence be removed or abolished. Where will it end? Comedy and satire by it’s nature is offensive or funny depending on which side you stand. Jokes about Trump to me are hilarious, to a Trump supporter, certainly not. But he is a racist, misogynistic, homophobic bully, right? And if I can’t shoot him, then surely, the least I can do is mock him mercilessly?! Politics and religious difference are viewed as offensive by those who different viewpoints.
People are often afraid to speak for want of causing offense. What if you accidently mis-gender someone or use the wrong term for a disability or ethnicity? It is no longer about intention it is all about language; use the wrong language even with good intention and you are liable. If you do it and you are in the public eye, you are destroyed. If your opinion is not the ‘correct ‘opinion of the time, then you are scum.
Ok, there are obviously things that are not acceptable; violence against anyone out of hatred be that verbal or physical. But if people become so afraid of the words rather than the intent then the result is avoidance.
I remember 20 years ago managing back to work schemes to help disabled people back into the workplace. The disability awareness courses we went on became obsessed with language. The impression given was use the wrong language and you could be sued. Staff became afraid to interact with the clients for fear. Disability training became obsessed with language rather than support and awareness. Wheelchair user not person in a wheelchair (or is it the other way round); person with a disability not disabled person etc etc… you get my drift. We were there to help people, empower them, help them identify their abilities, translate them into a skills set, build confidence, breakdown barriers and support our clients back into the workplace… instead everyone became fearful about using the wrong term and being sued. And SOME angry frustrated disabled people DID use this to their advantage. I had a member of staff who happened to also use a wheelchair. He was absolutely appalling at his job. It turned out that he had lied repeatedly on his CV and not worked for or as many of the positions he claimed, yet HR was too afraid, and he played the discrimination system. Some people do that. Whether they are black, white, yellow, blue, purple, male, female, non-binary, able, disabled, young, old, blode, ginger, fat, thin. There will always be some people who play the system and spoil the cause. There will also be some, a majority, that will not. Same the other way round, SOME people will deliberately try to offend on the ground of ethnicity, disability, sex etc, but most will not.
Most people are not trying to cause offence.
They might ask someone where they originate from as they are interested in heritage and culture of that person. Or that person has an unusual accent (I bet you immediately assume I’m talking of colour, the person I was thinking of was me when I moved to Wales from Essex!). Does that make someone racist? My dad for example, eventually struck up a very deep and meaningful conversation with the doctor renting next door but not after many aborted attempts when he was afraid he might cause offense or get in trouble for using the wrong wording. They’ve been sharing food, recipes, supported each other and hadcultural exchanges since and built up a beautiful rapport.
The world is confusing.
Should we tear down ALL the statues? How far back in history should we go before we accept it as how it was. The Victorians? The Romans? Every single person who is depicted, I suspect, have behaved, at some point in their personal history, in a way that modern society finds abhorrent or unlawful. Time changes what is the ‘norm’. We learn from it. History doesn’t and shouldn’t change BUT we should learn from it ; use the past to realise how far we have come. Not erase it or whitewash over it.
By removing all historical references in film and tv of thing depicted that are no longer acceptable removes the opportunity to have a conversation about it. Do we stop showing Pride and Prejudice etc because of the way women are treated in those plays, or lower classes were treated… or do we accept that this is how it was, and celebrate the suffrage movement and welfare reform; remind ourselves that times have indeed changed?
Apply that example to any of those we are having now with dramas, plays and comedies from the 60s and 70s, its the same issue only the nerves are rawer. Do we abolish it all? Or do we add a disclaimer about how times and prejudices have changed for the better and remind ourselves that quite possibly, 20/30/40/50 years from now we may well look at things that seem acceptable in the now with the same shock and outrage our children look at our behaviour from the 60s and 70s. Time moves on, rules and acceptability change. But do we ban everything from the past? Do we no longer talk of it except for the odd bits in the odd history class or educational prose?
I’m sure anyone who was at their prime in the 50s will look back at what was acceptable then compared to the 70s and look back at the 70s compared to the 90s and the 2020s compared to then and think ‘how the hell did we think that was ok? Yet in the 70s we looked at the 40s and thought, haven’t we become wise and more tolerant; and in the 90s we looked back at the 70s in the same way and so on for ad infinitum. But to not accept that it was ok and ‘the norm’ at the time, and instead try to pretend it was never ok , we just all did it and didn’t do anything about it, is plain ridiculous.
I repeat, where do we draw the line? Actors who are skinny can’t play a character that’s fat because its fattist and offensive? If you’re character is ginger, or blond or afro and you put on a wig, will that be offensive? Is an afro wig only offensive on a pale skinned person? If you play a transvestite but aren’t one are you offending transvestites? If you play a gay /lesbian person as an actor rather than actually being gay or lesbian, is that offensive? What is acting and getting into character? When does it stop being ok? There was a time when all parts were played by men as women were not allowed to be actors. Pantomime still has ‘best boy’ played by a girl; and usually someone in drag? Ok? Not Ok? What about in 10 years from now? If you play someone old but you are not, is that ageist. Where does it end? ‘We’ may think we know where it ends because we will judge it on the morals of today, but I bet your bottom dollar that we’ll look back and disagree/disapprove of our attitude towards it in the future.
We believed we were open minded and forward thinking and liberated when we abolished slavery; we realised we were more open minded and fair when women won the vote; more so when being gay ceased to be a crime.. But there were times in history before then where these things were not frowned upon; then there were long period of time where they were frowned upon;, then there was time when there was protest, both peaceful and otherwise as the practice of the time became less and less acceptable until it was, quite rightly, no longer acceptable at all. But we should surely never forget that the past once was. Surely? Be it through literature, education or entertainment of that time. Yes, don’t continue to make it and repeat it. We don’t have gladiators fight to the death as a form of entertainment anymore but we can still enjoy ‘Gladiator’ the movie… and so no and so forth.
Feel free to debate. This post (unlike many of mine) is not intended to cause offence, merely to point out how self righteous we all are in the now. ..
Whenever the now is… or was.