Science, help!

Why, after midnight, does Channel 4 feel the need to inform me that the following program includes ‘very strong language’? What constitutes language that might offend me may differ entirely from somebody else. If I’m at all worried about bad language, surely I wouldn’t be watching Channel 4 after midnight at all, would I? (Why is similar warning not provided before Eastenders, which I personally find highly offensive?)

When a footballer misses three chances on goal, why do commentators give us the staple summary, “He could have had a hat-trick”, when it is obvious that, had the first chance been netted, the pattern of the game is altered from that point on, and we have no idea whether he would have missed or scored a further ten, or instead been sent off for swearing at an official, because bad language offends referees, who therefore, one presumes, don’t watch late night Channel 4… or listen to Xmas songs.

One of the irritating things about the advent of Christmas is the unavoidable exposure to the same old dreary songs, metronomically ticking away our lives, while we kid ourselves what fun we’re having. One exception, to these ears, is Fairytale of New York, which the BBC suddenly deemed requiring of editing to remove the words ‘slut’ and ‘faggot’? Oh, and then backtrack, because they apparently sagely came to their senses.

Normally things are censored on release, because those who censor don’t deem us adult enough to choose whether or not we watch or listen to something that might offend us, or to which we shouldn’t be subjected. We don’t have minds individual enough to decide for ourselves. Ridiculous enough. But come on – around twenty years after the song was released, and we all know the lyrics! What the #### is going on here? (Oh dear, self-censorship, how hypocritical of me.) Because two particular words might now offend particular groups of people does not justify an Orwellian pretence that they never existed in that song. It’s like the infuriating silencing or overdubbing of ‘offensive’ words that occurs when certain films are shown on TV.

The song is a dialogue between Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl as an arguing couple, who insult each other; not the listener. That’s what arguing couples do. If we have to suffer Xmas songs, isn’t a bit of passion welcome, rather than dull monotony? How can anybody be offended here? And if they are, so what? They can always turn off, turn over, walk out (as I do when Eastenders comes on).

It works both ways: if you censor to avoid offending some, then you offend others by doing so. Let’s not be relieved by the BBC’s U-turn; they’ve only responded because they caught on that their moral policing exercise offended more people. (This means there is hope for our adult decision-making facilities.) This is what freedom of expression allows: the freedom to offend. If offended, we have the choice to either react or ignore.

Merry Christmas and a rational New Year.

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