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Home > Culture and Society

Taking Offence: The Best Form of Defence

7 November 2005

It's been a good week for the easily offended. This week the Hindu Forum of Britain criticised a Royal Mail Christmas stamp depicting Hindus worshipping the baby Jesus, calling it 'disrespectful'. In one sense it is: Hindus don't worship Christ, any more than Christians believe in Buddha or Wiccans don't believe in nonsense. However, the Hindu Forum is perhaps overreacting a tad. The image of Hindus worshipping the baby Jesus (in fact they're just looking at him fondly) comes from a 17th century picture by a Hindu artist. This isn't as strange as it sounds because it was common for Hindu artists of the period to paint images that depicted western culture.

OK, the image is technically a misrepresentation of Hinduism, and the Royal Mail may have been a bit thoughtless in choosing the historical equivalent of chocolate box art for its stamps. It may have even been a clumsy attempt at multiculturalism - the image certainly implies different faiths happily co-existing. But it definitely wasn't intended to give offence. And it's only a postage stamp, for Ganesh's sake.

Not to be left out, Christians and traditionalists were offended by reports that Lambeth Council was calling its Christmas lights 'winter lights'. This taps nicely into loony left mythology, but a council spokesman said the phrase only went into print by mistake: 'It was certainly not a council policy that we should call the lights winter lights.' (As it turned out, a junior employee HAD suggested that other religions might feel excluded by 'Christmas lights' - and in fairness Lambeth is a very multi-ethnic borough, and the lights are there to be enjoyed by everyone - but no politically correct policy decision was actually taken.)

Meanwhile the Daily Mail, the spiritual home of the easily offended, had a field day with 'Rome', the 'controversial' arses-in-the-amphitheatre drama from the BBC. This was a bit disingenuous, because the sex and violence was so heavily flagged up in the publicity you'd have to be a complete imbecile to turn on expecting 'Carry On Cleo'. So why are people so keen to be offended by the most minor things? The simplest theory is that certain people enjoy being offended because it gives them a sense of purpose - and being offended on religious/moral grounds gives them a bit more to work with than, say, whinging about the weather. And in the absence of anything genuinely offensive, they find tiny, tiny things to be offended by.

It's pathetic, really, but it made us realise that there are lots more of us who have grounds for being offended. Why should having a good whinge be the preserve of religious groups and self-appointed moralists like the Daily Mail? Maybe it's time for the following groups in society to stand up and get whinging...


Drunks - Almost all portrayals of drunks are offensive. They're either bumbling idiots seeing pink elephants, out-of-control fuck-ups or pathetic victims sucking spilled vodka out of the carpet. But what about the achievements of drunks? How many moderate drinkers can hold a candle to the achievements of Kingsley Amis, Dylan Thomas, Winston Churchill, George Best, Oliver Reed (good actor despite cartoon persona), Charles Bukowski, Hunter S Thompson or Kenneth Tynan? And in any case, who'd you rather spend an evening with, pissheads or members of the Christian Union?

Northerners (esp. Liverpudlians) - Scousers and Northerners in general are always portrayed as coming from a vast and solid family, which is deeply offensive to those coming from dysfunctional backgrounds, and only-children. They all like simple, earthy pleasures: football, beer, carbohydrates. They always speak as they find. They are always working class. Books and cultural activities are either feared or prized. Petty crime is usually a source of familial amusement, rather than a trip to Risley Remand Centre.

Intellectuals - In popular culture clever people are invariably sexless. Quatermass, Dr Hans Zharkov, Yoda - none of them get a love interest/shag. They are content with going back to their lab/computer/Dagobah while the lead male and female characters fuck like mink. As if this were not bad enough, highly intelligent people in popular culture are mainly evil. From Mephistopheles to Dr No, it's a small step from good A-levels to death rays.

Policemen - Despite the phenomenal number of portrayals of the police, they usually fall into one of three categories: heroic, bent or stereotypical figure of authority. Again, this is deeply unfair on the many hardworking police officers who don't get to do anything more exciting than talk about road safety in schools and will never get the chance to shout, 'Shut it you slaaaag!'. Still more have never been offered a bribe/cut of drugs money, and even more have a fairly liberal opinion on many subjects.

Detectives - Detectives merit their own mention, particularly those investigating murders. Detectives usually have an uncanny insight into the mind of a serial killer, gained through personal anguish and/or an intuitive understanding of Evil. They shy away from this dark side of their personality whilst also being
fascinated by it. This is rather offensive to the many detectives who are perfectly ordinary but simply good at their jobs.

Serial killers - Serial killers, for their part, usually have some extra faculty that borders on the supernatural, e.g. precise photographic memory, an insight into human psychology that goes way beyond that of any psychiatrist or psychologist, or extremely high intelligence. As a result they have intricate verbal or intellectual sparring matches with their victims and/or the police. Real serial killers tend to lack even basic normal human faculties which is why they'd rather just strangle people, wank over the bodies and then hide them under the floorboards.

Satellite TV viewers - Invariably portrayed as plebian couch potatoes whose lives depend on Sky Sports and TCM (so mum can watch weepie movies). In fact many have a highly developed sense of irony and are thus able to turn tedium like The Islam Channel into a springboard for amusing conversation. Still more are not only capable of, but also actively *want to*, watch programmes about the birth of Israel all the way to the end.

Journalists - All journalists are always exposing wrongdoing at the highest level, or at the very least investigating something exciting. The films 'All the President's Men', 'The Odessa File' and 'Superman' are all equally culpable in perpetuating this myth. These portrayals remain deeply offensive to journalists whose working day consists of covering harvest festivals for BBC local radio, going slowly blind looking for typos in TV listings or re-hashing press releases about incubation systems for Poultry Farming World.

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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