I’ve been thinking about the death of George Carlin for the past few minutes — specifically his Seven Words You Can Never Say on TV routine, which can be seen in my previous post.
In 1972, Carlin was arrested in Milwaukee for disturbing the peace after performing this act and, even though I don’t know a great deal about the man (I only recently discovered him; he wasn’t that well known in my neck of the woods), it seems obvious that even then he could very clearly see the road down which we were travelling — the road to that place where the greatest sin of all is to cause offence.
Personally, I’ve never really been someone to deliberately go out of my way to offend. Except in exceptional circumstances. But increasingly I find myself appalled by the cultural mass-mindset I see around me. Everyone is perpetually afraid, it seems, to offend. Words that were once acceptable now no longer are, everyone is a minority in need of protecting, of cosseting, of being kept happy and free from unnecessary stress. You can’t say that, but you can say this — unless such and such a person is present, then it might be construed to mean something quite different, in which case, say this instead, making sure that you smile at the same time so that it can’t be misinterpreted as unnecessarily sarcastic or ironic. Whether you’re gay, black, Asian, disabled — or just a plain old vanilla Caucasian with everything in working order — you can guarantee that at some time someone will perform a nifty little verbal Riverdance routine in order to avoid causing offence. And, without wishing to offend (!), it is a complete load of fucking bollocks.
Now I’m fairly sure there’s someone out there with an “ah, but” at the ready. And quite rightly so. There is a line that cannot be crossed — a line that isn’t about the choice of words but about intent. Offending people, I will state quite clearly, is not always a bad thing. Quite often, in fact, it’s to be applauded. But this doesn’t mean that by saying this we are sanctioning bigotry and hatred. Quite the opposite, in fact.
You see, any liberties and rights that we might have (and I’d recommend hearing what George has to say about these things!) are for me founded on one basic principle: my right to have and express an opinion. Yes, with this comes responsibility. If I say something unacceptable (for example, something intended to incite racial hatred) then I should be held accountable. But for mere offence? Should I be gagged simply because I make someone feel uncomfortable, or make them question the number of burgers they eat in an average week? I don’t think so.
You see, I can say that. People like George help us see that. I can say that and, more to the point, so can you.
And if they don’t like it… well, fuck ’em.