The Subjectivity of Offensiveness

Shep Rose



This entry will definitely offend someone. I can’t help that, and I don’t care. Sometimes I catch myself caring about the one person in a room of 100 that is pugnacious and vociferous in their disapproval of something that I say or do. But I must fight the normal human gravitation towards reconciliation and appeasement because letting a small minority of opinions dictate how we behave is completely corrosive to the hallowed tradition of free speech in this great country and, even more importantly, often threatens to quell creativity, honesty, and humor. I’m sure we all know the saying “if you want to make an omelet, you got to break a few eggs.” To me, this means that nothing great has ever been accomplished without pissing off some faction of the public. This is no more true than with some great films and even comics that tackle controversial and incendiary motifs and somehow deflate their importance, or at least help create a constructive dialogue. Now, there is no way that everyone will ever agree with an opinion or laugh at the same joke, but that’s what your legs and remote controls are made for—walk away or change the channel. It baffles me that someone would actually personally attack someone on social media and (God forbid) in person. What sort of psychosis does a person have to possess to be vocally (or physically) combative towards another person because of a perceived distasteful remark or behavior? How pathetically lonely and how low must their self-esteem be to take time to slander another person for something they said on Twitter or posted on Instagram, or movie they were in, or game they lost? For example, I do not like Ben Affleck as an actor, and I dislike almost all of his movies. However, in a million years I would never think about finding him on social media (or encountering him in person) and voicing my displeasure. If I see a movie I dislike, I have beers with my friends and pick the film apart, like other hyper-critical and cynical jerks like myself. What gives people the idea or inclination to seek out and fire shots at people with whom they disagree? It’s lunacy.


As I was preparing to write this post, I had enough thoughts and examples to easily fill the space, but as I browsed, I found yet another sad example: Apparently Russell Wilson, who is a devout Christian and fairly public about it, tweeted that he saw Fifty Shades of Grey, and the backlash was immense and vitriolic from the perverse and pathetic religious zealots on Twitter. “How could you??? That filth goes against what God, Jesus, Saint Paul, Peter, etc. ever taught Christians.” So good Christians aren’t allowed to watch a film or look at any art that is sexual in nature? Wow, I wonder what they thought of Basic Instinct? Guess Russell will think twice before he tweets anything remotely personal or expresses any affinity for art in the future. And this is the problem. A few are ruining it for the whole. I don’t care to follow many athletes on Twitter—seems most aren’t terribly insightful—but I think it's interesting and funny that Wilson saw the film. If I ran into him, I’d sure rather talk about that than his work with the local churches. 


What really got me inspired to write about this debilitating weight given to political correctness and those who are easily offended came from a quote I read by a British writer and humorist named Stephen Fry:


"It’s now very common to hear people say, 'I’m rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more than whining. 'I find that offensive' has no meaning; It has no purpose; it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. 'I’m offended by that.' Well so fucking what."


Political correctness is threatening to hijack free speech, basically silencing people who are real, not measured, and neutering those who are otherwise colorful and irreverent. For me, it comes down to personal judgment. I sometimes have funny and/or satirical pictures or comments that I’m fairly sure most people will like and understand, and I go ahead and throw them out on social media and hope they entertain. Then there are times when I’ll have something that is a little dark and inappropriate, and I’ll err on the side of caution and just say it to friends I’m with or text it to some degenerate friends with similar senses of humor. Self-censure is definitely a good thing because for something to be truly politically incorrect, there has to be a collective offensiveness, and I have a pretty good idea how to identify that. I think it’s pretty safe to avoid the three hot button issues: religion, race, and politics. But that’s a personal decision. I completely respect and value people like Chris Rock, Louis CK, Howard Stern, and even (gulp) Bill Maher for taking positions on topics that are very taboo and just skewering the moral police that troll the waters around them


Now, it is admittedly a very large leap I’m about to take, and in no way would I want to minimize the memories of the fine people in France who worked at Charlie Hebdo that were brutally slain by Islamic extremists, but wasn’t that the absolute extreme version of crazy zealots taking action against words and images they don’t agree with? 


Not long ago in America, civil rights leaders were assassinated for their words and actions by extremists. And we’ve come a long way since then, but we’ve also lost a certain authenticity and honesty that comes with progress and change. We’re terrified of tipping over the apple cart. To me, it was quite revelatory, albeit deplorable, when Sony was hacked by North Korea. What we saw, amongst other things, was inappropriate and un-PC language between high-level executives. To the righteously indignant moral police, it was horrifying and unbelievable that they would communicate in such a manner. But to the rest of us, it was unadvisable, but hardly surprising. Because we know that society has come a long way, but there’s still bigotry and unfair judgment occurring all around us. Most of the time, it manifest itself in glib and unmeaningful comments, not in violent physical attacks. But the fact is we live in one of the most, if not the most, progressive countries in the world. There’s no need to publicly attack and call for the execution of someone for something that they say or do that is distasteful to a small and vocal minority. Why not just shake your head, turn the page, change the channel, and decide to silently disagree? It will cause much less stress and confrontation for all involved, and it perfectly demonstrates the uncensured greatness of our country.