January 30th, 2013


Free Speech, at a Price

Ever since the triumphs of Ciceronian rhetoric that festooned the British press a couple of weeks ago in defence of the sacred freedom to publish offensive material, I've been sensitized to the centrality of this inviolable cornerstone of the British constitution. You'll remember how the editor of The Observer was castigated for his pusillanimity in apologizing for publishing Julie Burchill's trans-bashing piece. The paper "weedily capitulated" said Fionola Meredith. Tom Peck warned: "That the Observer should then capitulate [...] marks a depressing sea change", while Simon Kelner asked apocalyptically, "Are we so cowed by vested interests that free speech, which includes the freedom to offend, is now constrained?" Sturdiest of all was that warrior for truth Toby Young: "This isn't merely a black day for the Observer. It's a bad day for journalism."

Perhaps they were right, for the terrible blight of editors apologizing for their publications seems to be spreading. Just a couple of days ago, Rupert Murdoch apologized for running an offensive cartoon of Benjamin Netanhayu in the Sunday Times. I'm sure that Fionola, Tom, Simon, Toby and their pals are just trimming their quills to take Mr Murdoch to task for this cowardly act.

Strangely enough, though, so far they've not said a word about it. I wonder why not?

Meanwhile, on this morning's Woman's Hour they had a piece on misogyny in comedy. Rape jokes are apparently very fashionable in comedy clubs just now, on account of being so edgy. The comedian Michael J. Dolan was a guest, and although he's given up using such material himself he was quite eloquent on the daring of those young male comedians who were willing to say just about anything to stick it to the Man (i.e. to fantasize about raping and killing women):

Jenni Murray: Why has [rape] become such a popular joke?
Michael J Dolan: I think largely because people have been told they're not allowed to do it, and the comedian mindset is always to immediately go to the thing that you've been told you're not allowed to say.

Jenni Murray: What is generally considered off limits, would you say?
Michael J Dolan: From a personal point of view I don't think anything should be off limits.

Well, you may not approve, but you've got to admire their guts, haven't you? There's nothing these guys won't say! Oh, wait...

Jenni Murray: Would you do racism and homophobia?
Michael J Dolan: We know that it's something that's not going to be stood for. If you do racist material, you won't work.

Whatever happened to "the comedian mindset is always to immediately go to the thing that you've been told you're not allowed to say"? Oh, I see... there's nothing these guys won't say, as long as it has absolutely no negative consequences for them personally. Got it. But isn't there a slight contradiction here? Jenni was on it in a flash...

Jenni Murray: You know that's unacceptable, but actually hating women's all right?
Michael J Dolan: *changes subject.... burble burble*

You know, if I didn't know better I'd guess that some of these people who bang on about the freedom to be offensive were hypocritical scumbags.