{21/07/2012}   Causing offence

I, like most people, do not want to offend anyone, unwittingly or deliberately, but over recent years I have felt paranoid about saying and doing all manner of things in case it’s seen as offensive.  I know of someone who complained that the way a white colleague mauled and severed the head of a black jelly baby was racial harassment as the black colleague who saw it felt it was directed at him.

I have recently encountered the world of employment tribunals where issues on a scale I was largely oblivious to come to light.  There were things said that made me cringe but which were not made into issues and other things said that I didn’t think were offensive, yet clearly could upset and offend some people.

Is it a good thing that a lot of us are made to be more careful about what or how we say things?  If you see television programmes from, say, the ‘60s, there are a lot of inappropriate/offensive/ignorant comments or “humour”.  It’s great that we don’t have to endure as many racist, sexist, homophobic, etc, TV programmes, for example, but things do seem a bit sterile now.  In the years of heavy film censorship, it was risqué to show crashing waves in the context of a couple as this signified sex.  Nowadays, you’d just see people having sex, albeit with a packet of condoms on display by the bed, brand visible or concealed depending on the advertisers.  The weird thing is that it feels like those subtleties are the things that nowadays aren’t allowed, or rather have to be politically correct.

The thing I love about “Little Britain” is that it mocks our fear of saying or doing anything that could be offensive or politically incorrect by emphasising it.  Part of the humour of that series is that I think we all know people like that and no matter how much you sterilise television, literature, etc, there will always be people like the Little Britain characters.  Is it not better, more positive, to pity and mock them than to be offended by them?  Maybe, maybe not.

Unsurprisingly I am drifting in and out of potential points.  I think it is good that we are more aware of how we can cause offence, but I think it is a great shame that it has, I think, got to the stage where so many things we say or do can be perceived as being offensive.  Here is a scenario I borrowed from a friend, make of it what you will:

My friend, with limited time, was at work doing the hair and make-up of an actress.  They were both trying to get the actress ready in time and it was a bit tense but they were having a giggle about it.  The actress was in communication through an earpiece with, let’s say a producer but I can’t remember that detail.  The actress was black, the make-up artist white and the producer white.  The actress laughed and said that she was all arms everywhere.  The make-up artist concurred and said the actress was like an octopus, all hands and feet trying to get everything done.  They both giggled.  Then the make-up artist went quiet as she heard the actress exclaim that that wasn’t the case at all.  It transpired that the producer had heard their conversation and was asking the actress if she was offended by such a racist comment and that the producer was offended for her.


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