Watch Me Entertain Myself!

Sacha Guitry once said, "You can pretend to be serious, but you can't pretend to be witty." Oh yes, I'm the great pretender.
(pilot episode: 20 January 2004)

Friday, January 09, 2015

Freedom Fries

Ah, freedom of expression and free speech! It demands that we be allowed to offend for the purpose of satire (and our targets are free to offend us back, fight satire with satire). And because the purpose of satire is to offend, it doesn’t work if it’s not offensive. So the target has to be offended.

Only, it requires that our target be mature enough to take offense without resorting to physical violence as a means of retaliation. “I am offended! But you have the right to offend me, just as I have the right to offend you.” Keep it within reason; keep it on the level of a discussion, or at the very least an exchange of opposing ideas. But as we all know from experience, the moment opposing groups from across a picket line begin taunting each other with words, it doesn’t take long before an object is thrown, someone gets hit, and the whole thing dissolves into a free-for-all.

Now some may say that as a society, we’re not yet that mature or civilized to handle such offense, so let’s put a warning label: “He who excessively offends shall be responsible for any repercussions, including physical death.” But is it right to hold the offender responsible for his death, and not the offended that pulled the trigger on the gun that killed him? Or maybe we should espouse curtailing excessive offense. But how excessive is excessive? Who’s the arbiter of offense?

So we’re back to the right to offend, and the maturity to take offense. Or if you lack maturity, you are free to not subscribe, to switch channels, or to walk away. But can we? Can you? And what if you cannot walk away, or switch the offensive thing off? Can you tell someone preaching inside a crowded bus, “I am offended by your preaching, stop it”? Or are you expected to just stay offended?

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