Every time anyone says anything at all, someone somewhere is offended. When I state I want to have a smoke in a pub, someone is offended. When antismokers decide that are going to come to my home and stop me smoking here, I am offended (but that doesn't count).
If Muslims get Halal meat in defiance of the UK slaughter law that applies to everyone else, then everyone else is offended. I'm not. I've snared rabbits and I like fishing. I have beaten a trout to death with a 3/4 Whitworth spanner because I couldn't afford a priest. It's still in my fishing bag because it's quicker than the silly little brass thing I bought. I'm going to kill it, cook it and eat it. There is no point being all precious about it. If you eat meat then something has to die. If that bothers you, become vegetarian. I know some who have, and for that very reason. That doesn't bother me either.
If someone draws a cartoon of the Prophet, billions take offence. If someone says something about a black person (whether it's racist or not) then the race-spotters (who are mostly white) are offended. Anything I write here has the potential to offend someone. Any comment anyone makes has the potential to offend someone. People can even get offended by references to the Bible, for Christ's sake!
Somebody is going to be offended at the content of this post. Some are already, I suspect. I have to say up front that I don't care. If you are the sort who gets worked up over a few words on a backwater blog, then you really need to look at yourself very hard.
All this 'offence' does not mean we have all, every single one of us, become offensive, racist-Nazi-bigot homophobic Islamophobic ravening maniacs setting out to offend as many people as possible. It's just the way things are. I'm not gay. I might say something to offend gay people. I'm not black. I might say something to offend black people. I'm not religious and I know I've offended most religions. It is not intentional. These things don't matter to me and shouldn't. No, I should not have to worry about every last word and phrase and neither should anyone else. Offence is in the eye of the reader, and the written word has no inflection. I do not set out to offend anyone but once in a while a phrase will appear to be offensive. Not because I meant it to be but because you'll read it in your voice, not mine. Nobody can do anything about it. It's the way of the written word.
Before the Internet, before TV, before the telephone, any comment made by anyone in the UK would take days to make its way across the country - and months, sometimes years, to make its way across the world. If it went anywhere at all. Now, every last word is available to the entire planet from the moment someone presses 'send'. An innocent remark that would not even raise an eyebrow in Liverpool could potentially set off a major uprising in Delhi. Different cultures interpret things in different ways. Even within a culture, different people interpret the same thing in different ways.
My grandmother, the Welsh one, would often chide us as mud-caked children with the words 'mochyn ddu'. An entirely inoffensive remark in a Welsh mining village in the 1960's but I dare you to use its English translation in public now. It means, literally, 'black pigs'. Oh, I can hear the massed hiss of indrawn breath.
She used the term to equate us with muddy farm animals. She did not use it as a racist remark (we weren't black although sometimes you'd have had to scrape away the grime to tell) and she did not use it as a religion-disparaging remark (we weren't Jews or Muslims). That phrase did not refer to anyone human other than the filthy little urchins dragging half of the topsoil of Wales into her kitchen. No connotations, no hidden meanings, no racism. Just her way of telling us that we were exceptionally grimy. Which means we heard it a lot.
Now, of course, she doesn't say it any more because she's dead. If she wasn't she'd still be saying it and still be meaning what she meant before. The only difference is that now, she could be arrested for 'hate speech' simply because the phrase is made up of the words 'black' and 'pig'. If she said it to a Sudanese Muslim child, there would be absolute hell to pay. She would, in effect, be saying 'clean your face' but the professionally offended would only hear 'cleanse the race'.
It is not that we have all become more offensive. We have become dramatically less offensive since the sixties. Remember Bernard Manning and Jim Davidson and their like? Prime time viewing for all the family once. I don't know if they are even available on VHS, never mind DVD, these days. Now, a comedian offending one member of his audience can expect a hard time in the newspapers. Even though he is well known as 'offensive' and that audience member paid to go and see him for that reason.
Frankie Boyle is only 'offensive' if you have tissue-thin skin. He likes to pretend he's pushing the boundaries, but when you think back to shows like 'the Comedians' from years ago, you'll have noticed that the boundaries are shrinking, no matter how hard poor Frankie pushes. We have not become more offensive. We have become far less so.
What has changed is that we have become far more sensitive to any perceived slight. Tell a joke such as 'What do you call a Welshman with a hundred girlfriends' and you will hear the squeak of a puckering anus from a hundred yards away. It will pucker so hard it can actually heal up when you tell them the answer is 'A shepherd'.
Half of Wales will now be sharpening their scythes and heading this way. Bring some more of that Penderyn with you, folks. The professionally offended will be out in force, and yet we used to tell that joke in school.
Nobody took offence. We laughed and moved on to Scottish, Irish and English jokes. Everyone was the butt of some joke or other and there were no street-burnings, no floggings, no ethnic cleansing because of the jokes. They were just jokes.
Frankie Boyle made fun of Down's syndrome kids. Do I find it funny? No idea. I didn't hear his jokes. He can be funny when he's not trying too hard to be offensive. Sometimes he's funny, sometimes he's not. Not because of the subject of his jokes, but because of the delivery. Sometimes he's trying for a shocked reaction rather than a laugh. When he does that while looking down his nose it just makes me want to drive my two-pound lump hammer into his face. Other times, he makes me laugh.
Long ago, there were a series of jokes about a kid born with no limbs or body. His parents called him 'Ed'. On his fifth birthday, he opened his present and exclaimed. 'Oh great. Another hat'. These were from the sixties. Even Frankie Boyle would balk at that one now. Thalidomide jokes. Wheelchair jokes. Zimmer frame jokes. Jokes about black people and about Pakistanis, about white people and about Chinese, about Jews and Arabs and Irish and Welsh and German and French and... everyone. Nobody was excluded, nobody was treated as a special case to be handled with long tongs and never touched. Nobody was above being the butt of a joke.
Most of all, nobody was afraid to be the butt of a joke.
Now, every group takes offence at everything. Tell a joke about a Muslim and there will be riots in the streets. Tell a joke with a black man in it and you're racist. Tell one of those old jokes about a woman driver and you're sexist. Tell a joke involving anyone gay and you're a homophobe. Tell a joke about a disabled person and you're... whatever the term is. Disablist? I don't know if they've thought of one yet.
Interestingly, you can now tell jokes about fat people without being labelled 'fattist'. Don't get too confident if you currently enjoy 'protected' status. That can change, fast, and it can be dramatic. Last year, if you told a joke about someone so fat that pies orbited their waist, you would be roundly condemned. This year, the NHS and a council plan to burn an effigy of a fat boy. When they drop you as one of their protected groups, they drop you all the way.
In the interests of 'not causing offence', we cannot now tell those old jokes because it will make someone feel bad. It didn't have that effect in the sixties and seventies. People just laughed. The more detailed and convoluted the joke, the better. If a specific group were the butt of the joke, it wasn't some nasty racist jibe. It was because the joke didn't make sense otherwise.
We are told that we have 'outgrown' such things, that we are more adult now than we were then. More adult? When I was young we had a saying. Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never harm me. We, as children, responded with that line whenever someone called us names. Then we forgot all about the name-calling. Now, if one adult says something to another adult, and a third, non-involved adult overhears, the police are called and the speaker has to face criminal charges. Even if the person he was speaking to took no offence at all, and he meant none. All it takes is for someone - anyone - to say they considered the words offensive and were a little bit upset. And that is considered 'more adult'?
If I called the police every time someone called me names, criminals would be delighted because the police would be fully occupied with me. I have been called names all my life. I have never reported a single incident to anyone. It doesn't trouble me. If someone wanted to do me physical harm that would be different but words will never harm me.
Jokes about sheep-shagging Welshmen can be funny. I don't curl into a ball and cry when someone explains about slipping the back legs into the oversize wellies. I laugh, tell them I might have slept with the contents of their mutton pie and ask if they spit or swallow when they're eating it. Cruel? The best humour often is. I don't drift into depression when I hear about the Italian WWII tanks with one forward gear and five reverse. I remember those Airfix models from when I was a kid. Italian tanks, let's face it, were crap. Not as bad as that Japanese Chi-ha tank but pretty bad. To be honest, the German tanks were the most interesting models to make. But I'm digressing.
So I'm a stumpy sheep-shagger in a tomato-sauce-stained string vest, untrustworthy in debt and cowardly in battle. I've been called all those things and worse just because I happen to be part Italian and part Welsh and lots of bits of other things too, and badly assembled to boot. The way my family gets around, I might be part Martian. So I could never support any race in any ethnic cleansing attempt, because every race on the planet would start with me.
Socialists like to call themselves progressive. They have turned the people of this country into a mass of easily-offended cringing weaklings who are desperately upset by words a five-year-old would shrug off. Oh, they are progressing all right. Just... in entirely the wrong direction.
We are not brought closer together by political correctness. When two people of different races meet in this country, they are wary of each other and they choose their words very carefully. One slip and it's gotcha! Even where two longstanding friends of different coloured skin are in a public place, they have to take care. Their banter might be overheard and although they mean no offence to each other, and take none, the thought police are listening. Nobody even needs to be genuinely offended now. A third party can take offence by proxy.
Where we would once laugh off a comment, we now have to take the commenter to court. Where we would laugh at a joke, we dare not because the butt of that joke might prosecute. Where we would once respond to a jibe with a better one, we now respond with a summons. This is not an improvement. This is division.
You know, black people used to go to Jim Davidson's televised shows. I remember one where he singled out a black audience member and said 'I thought it was an empty seat until he smiled'. The camera zoomed in on the black guy and what was he doing? Was he writing to his solicitor? No, he was laughing so hard he nearly fell off his seat. So was his wife/girlfriend. He knew who he had paid to see, he knew the kind of humour he could expect and he had a sense of humour himself. Now, he is not allowed to have one. He is not permitted to find a joke aimed directly at him as in any way amusing. It is Racist, you see? It is Forbidden.
That white woman behind him, the one with the cardigan, with arms folded so tight it's a wonder she can breathe, with hair twisted into a bun that looks as though it's made of concrete and pulls her face into a fair representation of an axe. That one. She can now take offence on his behalf. If he laughs, she can take offence at him too. The comedian is controlled, that audience member is controlled, and nobody is allowed to laugh unless the Righteous approve.
So our comedians - the ones allowed on TV - are telling us the kind of jokes we tired of in secondary school. They are not allowed to go further. One step into the dark zone and the Righteous are waiting. Education is dumbed down and so is entertainment. Ant and Dec, also known as Pants and Dick, would not have survived five minutes in the seventies unless they were on those Saturday morning kids shows with people dressed up as furry things who played music. What the hell were they called? Now, Pants and Dick are seen as serious show hosts. It's as if Ali Bongo was reading the news.
No more long, complex jokes. Harry Hill started out being exceptionally good at those. He interleaved jokes and came back to them with lines you didn't expect. Now? He shows funny videos with voice overs. His act has become very straightforward because people can't keep up with his previous complexity.
What happened to the surreal jokes? What's the difference between a duck? One of its legs are both the same. Or the distraction joke. Two fags went into a bar. The barman said 'Oi, no smoking'. Can't people grasp those any more?
I don't think they can.
They have Progressed. Beyond childhood and into something even infants sneer at.
Time to grow up.