Free speech is a tough one when it causes offence, mainly because people are offended by everything if you look hard enough – 90% of things on television offends me, and yet no one has banned television yet. I will write another letter!
I watched a small video-clip of Owen Jones and Jonathan Pie a few days ago, and admittedly got barely halfway through before a distraction came my way in the form of a cute cat video. If you don’t know them, Owen is an excellent and embarrassingly young journalist that makes me scream ‘what have I done with my life!?’, whilst Jonathan Pie is a fictional character (real name XXX) that plays the roving reporter losing his mind at the world. It’s quite wonderful.
Whilst championing free speech during the interview, Jonathan was asked whether that free speech should include a hateful remark directed at him by a stranger during a walk in the park when holding his boyfriend’s hand. This was painted as a hypothetical but since I think Owen is actually gay, the chances of that happening are quite high.
Shackling peoples freedom of speech based on what someone feels is offensive is about as tricky as juggling hot knives on quicksand with your balls in the mouth of a rottweiler. Offensive things are said to people every day, it’s just your tolerance for what you think is offensive. Religions are insulted constantly (go and draw a picture of Mohamed near a mosque to see what I mean), celebrities are fat-shamed, politicians are called useless, people of all ethnicities are finger-pointed for their big bums, small eyes, large boobs, hairy chests, big noses etc Visually it’s what separates in society and what makes us individual without having to bother getting to know someone.
However, education is the key in ensuring that people understand the impact of their language, not rigging up laws to punish the output. It’s illegal in Germany to deny the holocaust, for example. A hundred years ago it may have been common to use the term ‘nigger’. Over time this has been explained to people to be derogatory and one that is very offensive, so it isn’t used often. Why one group of society still uses it is a little beyond me, however, it is simply a word. Words don’t instantly make you lose a limb. Yet, anyway. One of the most offensive words in the English language seems to be ‘cunt’, yet it’s still just a word, and one that is used every day in Australia without even batting an eyelid. It’s common for someone to say they are ‘having a cunt of a day’, for example, and makes me smile just thinking about how relaxed Australians are around one of the most offensive words in the dictionary – not only to not admonish it but use it everyday vernacular. Or maybe my friends are potty mouths, who knows.
It’s often the outrage to the remark, the response, that people who hurled the offence are looking for in the first place. How many ‘news’ articles start with ‘you won’t believe what <insert celebrity name here> did next’ and ‘<person> causes outrage by calling <ethnic group> evil’ or some such nonsense. An interesting one currently in Australia is that the Prime Minister got in trouble for identifying Sudanese gangs as an issue in Melbourne. African Groups were up in arms about racial profiling and yet I do have friends living in the suburbs that are scared of the Sudanese gangs in their street, have reported issues with gang violence etc It would be slightly different if he said ‘all Sudanese are violent thugs’ but probably better to admonish all gangs – how many gangs are gangs for good? Not many, I’d wager. But saying controversial things that may cause offence or alarm does garner people attention, and attention is power.
Garnering attention is imperative to all these types of media as you’re getting slices of the most important thing in the world: time. People are spending seconds, minutes and hours on your website, cat video (hot damn!), social media page, Instagram, news channel, television soap etc. The more people attracted to it the more influence you may have if you sell an idea, product*, cause offence or be a champion for good. The chosen path though is entirely your freedom.
*by the way, to the five of you that read my blog – thanks mum! - that’s one of the reasons I have no adverts.
Writing and writing...