Friday, 23 March 2012

Offense as defence? oh spare me.

The right to free speech and not having the right to not be offended is an interesting notion which I’ve been battling with for months, years actually.

This week an angry comic with a righteous fury decided to hurl a little abuse at a columnist voicing her opinion.

They are both in the business of curving words to suit their agenda so thus far both were equal.

It was a usual bit of twitter spattery which as usual leads neither to an understanding of the others point of view but it was interesting for the reactionary responses of others.

The comic decided to use graphic imagery on her anatomy to verbally abuse her and she decided to involve the police.

Some felt he was bullying her others felt he was justified because of her right wing opinions.

It sparked debate. It sparked further abuses of anyone who was perceived as supporting either and it achieved nothing. Except possibly traffic to the column and bigger ticket sales for the stand up.

The reason I’m not detailing the row and the points involved is precisely because the issue is one like abortion  which polarises opinion. Because people have a POV of the issue at hand they will naturally defend and protect the people involved.

I didn’t.

I don’t subscribe to the columnists opinion I’m actually in support of the comics opinion but the point at which he wished upon her a “fetid ovarian cyst” he lost any kind of intellectual advantage.

I said so on Twitter and bright intellectual men began explaining to me the list of reasons why this was justified.

This isn’t justified.

Others cited the comic's right to free speech.

What about the columnist’s right. The 'problem' with freespeech for some is that it means you have to hear things you neither like nor agree with. You can't cite it then silence or you become what you most detest.

I was then attacked with the very same imagery, only this critic went a stage further and stated that by wishing me in this situation perhaps I might feel like the comic did.

As I say I was already in agreement with the comic and had faced exactly the same situation but the assurance that I hadn’t and must be on the side of the columnist was absolute.

Also ironic was that by speaking freely myself, by stating that the abusive language was unfair irrespective of the circumstances I was exercising the very right that this critic championed. Free speech it appears is only free at the point of agreement.

Offense was another point. I was offended apparently and I have no right not to be offended. Leaving aside the idea that no one has the right not to be offended means that people have the right to offend (odd) . I wasn’t.

This isn’t about offence this about hate speech.  I couldn't care less about being offended. Offence is nothing. t's based on opinion, emotion and is used a weapon of silence.

The reference point to this stems from the language this comic uses to attack other people with whom he disagrees.

He uses disablist abuse or to use it’s correct term hate speech.

The right to free speech wasn’t framed so that a boy with downs syndrome can be called a spastic or a retard or anything else.

The peddling by comics of this terminology normalises abuse targeted against disabled people. It diminishes the compassion and strengthens stereotypical views of disability. Not their problem in their view. They have a job to do they have to bring the funny.

Yes perhaps but not at the cost of others. The worst “offenders” usually have the ‘right on’ card vividly on show as they support and defend other targeted groups and keep their real venom for learning disabled people. They do love to do the “charidee” route too so we all know they are great guys really. They don’t do the charity away from the camera’s you see, they do it in the full view of the public as they tour the country spewing disability targeted material.

Some claim ignorance or reclamation but all return to the default position of context. Reclamation only works when the negative meaning of an abusive term is reversed. Retard and spastic and mong aren't being reclaimed if they are still being used in a negative way. That's reinforcement not reclamation.

Whether right wing left wing or bingo wing, there is no value no merit and most definitely no art to demeaning others with a humour which contains a subtext so deeply entrenched as to be imperceptible to the naked eye.

There is a reason why the fan bases of those who choose to demean disabled people are predominantly abusive thugs. Those who will also hunt down critics of their idol with slavering joy and impart their hatred upon the critic and their family.

They pay to see these comics because they are hearing the stuff they like. Undisguised hatred and the freedom to cause hurt. It’s not embarrassed laughter it’s the screaming ecstasy of those who exploit the vulnerable and would laugh just as hard if you set fire to a kitten.
Because that’s what bullies do.


  1. Well said. Funny, this week I have been cripplingly disappointed by two friends using the word 'fucktard' and 'mong' in normal conversation without a second thought. They know I have a little boy with learning disabilities, I don't think they make the connection though.

    1. Sadly, the connection is not always made in a wide spectrum of things we do and say by all of us. We get caught up in our own small worlds and what is going on in our world at the time that we don't see beyond it. Your friends don't make the connection and won't unless you explain to them how it makes you feel and even then they'll have to be reminded. Nicky, as always very well put. :)

  2. Sometimes I think about calling those people you have to keep reminding at 2 am,3am,4 am, 5 am, and reminding them how you just keep hearing their words over and over. Just letting them know you are thinking about them seems like a friendly thing to do.
    I am so glad to have found Nicky Clark. You make me feel powerful.

  3. Keep up the battle. There is a power in words to hurt or heal. Too often they are used to hurt those who do not have the voice they deserve in society. When I hear students at my school using the word "retard," I show them a picture of my daughter who has Down syndrome and tell them that they are making her (beautiful, kind her) the insult. That makes the words they use to abuse and tease more real to them and they usually respond well to this personal approach. Thanks for this post.

  4. The words we use when labelling people or things colour our attitudes toward them. People don't seem to realise that freedom of choice and expression should walk hand in hand with responsibility.