Offense. What does it mean? Bookish definition is “a violation or breaking of a social or moral rule; a transgression; sin.” So I guess you could say it is when someone or something communicates with you in a manner that is at odds with your personal morals and beliefs. I have to say this post was borne of my personal and general media reaction to Ricky Gervais hosting the Golden Globes a few weeks ago. For those that missed it, here is a taster:
This was his 2nd time hosting, and I guess he thought he would hit a bit closer to the bone. Last year he made a few cheeky jokes about Mel Gibson’s drinking problems, Paul McCartney’s costly divorce and other showbiz fodder that was a little bit naughtier than what the late night talk show hosts were monologuing. And he probably wanted to top it. Personally I thought it was okay – I liked that he didn’t pull any punches (who else would have the bollocks to make a joke about tinseltown darlings Angelina Jolie and Johnny Depp, who were seated a few metres from the stage and Gervais himself). Undoubtedly he was the most entertaining bit of the awards show (which is, let’s face it, a circle jerk for extremely well-paid people whose job entails talking and walking around on film). In terms of actual comedy, the jokes were a little lame (seriously, trotting out the Robert Downey Jnr jail schtick? dude has been clean for like 8 years now; what’s next – a joke about Liz Taylor’s husbands?) But did I think it was offensive? No.
It’s not like he was making fun of the terminally ill or orphaned children – he was taking pot shots at over-privileged, over-pampered adults who are paid exponentially more than teachers, nurses and other true pillars of society. And perhaps they needed a little taste of reality, to take them back down to earth.
Obliquely conservative American media had a field day with Gervais, which I have a sneaking suspicion would have pleased the formerly chubby funster – The New York Daily News called him "tasteless, bordering on nasty", while the LA Times said his jokes set "a corrosive tone" for the night. Suppositions abound that Gervais wanted to go out in flames, which is feasible – fans of his standup will know that he is no stranger to controversy, indeed he courts it. I guess he took George Bernard Shaw’s words to heart: “The secret to success is to offend the greatest number”. Some stars (Al Pacino, Christian Bale) came out in support; others were vocal in their protest (Judd Apatow). It all boils down to what offends us on a personal level, which is further derived from our social mores, values etc.
It appears to me that the current state of the world’s morality is we are in a state of flux. The days of political correctness have no doubt left an indelible mark on our general psyche but we are simultaneously rebelling against these strict confines – comedians such as Louie C.K. are masters of turning political correctness on its head whilst still showing warmth and humanity in their routines.
So what constitutes offense to me? I am offended when others fail to see that if you and I do not agree, that is not a bad thing; saying ‘I guess we will have to agree to disagree’ is a valid result. I am offended that news of a celebrity baby and sports headlines take front page, whilst the oppression and desperate nature of the situation in Egypt is relegated further down. I am offended that many people don’t understand the difference between an Individualistic and Collectivist political ideology, but know the names of both the trainers and ‘contestants’ on the Biggest Loser.
I am also sure that I offend others; it’s human nature. No doubt my neighbours take offense to my haphazard guitar plinking, and I doubt they care too much for my appreciation of music that contains explicit lyrics. But who cares? Being offended doesn’t actually do anything – I think that’s the point most people seem to forget. Just because I get offended by the ever-growing onslaught of reality television doesn’t mean my life will change in any way – you don’t go to bed offended and wake up with cancer. What I’m saying is, everybody needs to chill the fuck out. Also, if you delve deeply enough, there is certain level of genius in someone who has offended you, to paraphrase Robertson Davies. Feeling offended can trigger something within you; a need to reexamine your life and values; and that sort of introspection is always a good thing.
Aah, I dunno; perhaps we should try and emulate Abraham Lincoln “We should be too big to take offense and too noble to give it”. But where’s the fun in that?