Monday, December 20, 2010

Something good

Weather - do I really need to say it's cold? Minus nine last night, but at least the journey into work this morning was spectacular with the sun peeking through the mist and ice rimed trees at the edges of the fields. I had plenty of time to appreciate it whilst I was sat in the usual queue of traffic from junction 39 onwards. Grmmph.

One thing that I have been looking at recently is an iPhone app called DoGood which makes daily suggestions for a good deed for the day of one sort or another. The one today was 'Refrain from using offensive language' with the added detail being to avoid using words like 'gay' or 'retard' in a hurtful way. It got me thinking ...

I rarely use offensive language, in terms of swearing, but I do like to keep my powder dry for those occasions where a bit of profanity is richly deserved. When I do swear, at least on this blog, you can assume that I really mean it. I don't tend to use personally hurtful words and I would hope that somebody would pull me up on it if I did use one unthinkingly. One of the reasons that I rarely play with random Americans on Xbox Live is the preponderance of squeaky voiced adolescents calling each other 'gay faggot' or similar (aside - is that a double negative and a 'gay faggot' is actually straight?).

However, what if something I say offends somebody simply by virtue of contradicting their deeply held beliefs? I may not use language that is technically offensive (at least according to the dictionary), but the concepts and logical conclusions certainly will be. If I say that there is no evidence for the existence of god (or gods) and that the god portrayed in the bible is a blood thirsty megalomaniac who wouldn't be worthy of worship even if he did exist, then that is sure to offend somebody somewhere. Is that covered by the 'DoGood' definition of offense? (Another aside - is it more offensive for an atheist to say there is no evidence for the existence of god than for a theist of a different flavour to tell their co-religionist that they have picked the wrong god and are going to hell as a result?)

I know that I have offended people (to the point of de-friending me) by questioning their beliefs in alternative therapies (for which there is not a jot of evidence) and magic (likewise), so should I avoid asking pointed questions in future to be on the safe side or should I continue to call a cocking twunt, a cocking twunt where appropriate?

Another relevant issue is offensiveness in comedy. It's a fine line to tread and it is difficult to define why I find Richard Herring so funny whereas Frankie Boyle recently (at least when you take his gags out of context) is as funny as arse cancer. I would say that the dividing line is whether the material has a point to make (either directly or by provoking a particular response - Herring's 'Hitler Moustache' is a perfect example of this) or if it is just offensive for the sake of it (as with Boyle making jokes about the disabled child of Katie Price). Sometimes you need to push at boundaries (and step over them) in order to establish where the boundaries are and whether they should be there in the first place.

1 comment:

Nancy said...

Very interesting topic and commentary. As far as swear words are concerned, I rarely use them, especially in front of others besides Mark, but I'm also very little offended by them. I don't like to offend or upset others, and my mother's presence is a constant reminder that words themselves can be upsetting. But while one part of my brain is very conscious of not offending, another part remains puzzled as to why "shit" is bad and "poop" is fine, or "cunt" is bad (and it's REALLY bad on this side of the Atlantic, apparently much more so than there) and "vagina" is . . . anyway, you get the point. I remember being shocked one time on a Teachers of ESL listserv when people were being cute about the word "fuck" - changing it to "fine" or saying "the f word" or whatever, and these were mostly linguists. I thought they should be desensitized.

But then again, prejudicial language is much more offensive - but that's because of the meaning. Body parts and their natural processes aren't, for me, inherently offensive, but hate language is. I apologize for the American teenagers saying "gay faggot!" Really. I'm too old for that trend, and it shocks me when I hear it. A very good friend of mine, only 5 or 6 years younger, calls everything she dislikes "gay" - meaning "lame" I think, and swears she makes no mental association to homosexual people. I've asked her about it and she was surprised that I thought there was anything wrong with it.

Beyond that, if I were going to try the do-good exercise, I would avoid intentionally causing a direct, personal offense. But I wouldn't worry too much about expressing an opinion publicly where anyone might find it and react. And comedy is another story altogether - comedy has permission to be offensive, but whether the result is in some way enlightening or rewarding is a matter of opinion. . . It's a big gray area.

But, I have to tell you that I am very upset and offended by your use of the term "cocking twunt." I have no idea what it means, but it sounds rude.