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Frankie Boyle: "Taking offence is often simply an attempt to deny reality"

The comedian takes aim at the press.

Image: Sean Dempsey

COMEDIAN FRANKIE BOYLE says that those who take offence are simply avoiding difficult conversations.

In a lengthy piece posted on this website, the Scot criticised the media for censoring offending material.

Boyle, who last year won damages from the Daily Mirror in a libel case, says that most people don’t trust journalists, but still allow them to decide what is and isn’t offensive.

I find it incredibly worrying that we no longer need to hear the actual content of the thing we’re told to be offended by. We hear of people being arrested for tweets without the tweet being reported; comics are blasted for routines that aren’t printed; newspapers hire lip-readers to find something to get offended by at the tennis and then print the resulting fuckfest as asterisks. And who decides whether we should be outraged at something we haven’t seen or heard? The press. Our seething collective Id. None of us would trust a journalist to hold our pint while we went to the bathroom, yet we allow them to be ethical arbiters for the entire culture.

The piece goes on to say that even when the press prints stories about offence being taken to jokes or tweets, it is a false stance.

I don’t read newspapers anymore – I just lie to myself and cut out the middleman, but I think it’s important to note that the press themselves are not actually outraged by what they report on as being offensive. No tabloid journo -whose life is invariably a shattered kaleidoscope of prostitutes, gambling, cocaine, self-loathing, literally going through a strangers bins, erectile disfunction and cocaine- is genuinely offended when some students dress up as the Twin Towers for Halloween. Outrage just makes good copy. It’s easier to write, and simpler to understand. A tabloid hack knows that their average reader can barely read and they’re not going to try to communicate anything like ennui in the vocabulary of a ten year old.Offence is often simply an attempt to deny reality. Avant-garde film makers get attacked for saying things that are avant-garde; comedians get attacked for making jokes and footballers get attacked for being stupid. Nowadays offence is taken symbolically. It even gets translated into symbolic terms.

He adds that if he made this joke, people would get offended despite not having heard it.

The thing about that paedophile ring at Westminster is that they weren’t even the worst MPs. There were people in Parliament who were to the right of MPs that STRANGLED KIDS. And they actually did more harm than paedophiles. I mean, the nonces tried to do harm in their own little way, but Thatcher fucked ALL the kids.

He says that people are being asked to make snap decisions on big issues too often.

It’s a feature of late capitalism that we get a lot of information thrown at us, and we have to make snap decisions and form strong opinions without really knowing anything. Sure, if our football club buys a new centre half we might do a bit of research. But often we’re just being asked if we should bomb Syria or not, and we’re busy, and we just have to say fuck it, yeah, my mate Gavin’s in the army, so yeah.

He says that teenagers trolling is the sort of thing a “normal, healthy teenager might be up to”.

He added that “even on a good day” he only half agrees with himself.

So why did I write it, if it might offend you? Because it’s worth saying, even though it’s not entirely correct, and I don’t really give a fuck about you, someone who might find a group of words in the wrong order too much to bear.

In any case, he argues, not offending someone is impossible.

The sheer range of opinion on this planet means you can’t be inoffensive. It’s something that can only really be aspired to within homogenous groups or authoritarian societies. What would a completely inoffensive cartoon look like? Those little cartoons you used to see in Punch or Private Eye in a doctor’s waiting room maybe?

He says that people fail to recognise their own prejudices and assign their own beliefs a moral force.

Perhaps we’re encouraged to see ourselves as embattled pockets of morality because that’s how our country sees itself in the world. Rather than, say, a nuclear armed, money-laundering pirate ship, where all the ship’s officers have been sent away from their families at a young age and deliberately driven insane through the medium of sodomy.

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Tweets, jokes and cartoons, he goes on the say, should not be asked to be socially responsible and have the right “targets”. That, he says, is the job of journalists.

I’m actually all for political correctness. If you want to work to change the usage of a word that’s discriminatory then fine, I’m behind you. But that’s a conversation that needs to be had in the culture. You can’t just decide that commonly used parts of a language are evil and that the people who didn’t get the memo must be bad people.

He said that the producers of the Live At The Apollo comedy show stopped him from saying the word rape.

I tried to do a routine about why I thought we should be worried about Britain’s “rape culture” on Live at The Apollo recently ( and I do feel we’re reaching a crisis point where some people view rape as mere bad sexual etiquette, like patting your cock dry on a tea towel or paying in loose change) only to be told that while the sentiments of the routine were acceptable I just couldn’t say the word rape. If you’re any kind of writer these days the culture seems to be saying “Please challenge and provoke me, redefine how I see the world, while I scream my head off every time I hear something I don’t like.

He closes by saying that taking offence is a cop out.

We don’t live in a shared reality, we each live in a reality of our own, and causing upset is often the price of trying to reach each other. It’s always easier to dismiss other people than to go through the awkward and time consuming process of understanding them. We have given taking offence a social status it doesn’t deserve: it’s not much more than a way of avoiding difficult conversations.

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