Human beings can be offended in a myriad weird and wonderful ways. I recently learned that to describe someone morbidly obese as fat is ‘fattist’ and that it’s a no-no to describe someone as suffering from HIV, instead of as someone living with HIV, for example.
We’ve all heard examples of political correctness gone MAD; the phrase itself is so hackneyed that some may find it a bit offensive. And actually we probably shouldn’t use the word ‘mad’, that’s quite likely to offend people with mental health issues. Problems. Disorders. People living with mental health challenges. Consumers of mental health services.
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Being offended has become something of a national sport in this country. That said, there have been a few things of late to be legitimately offended about.
Greg Ritchie could probably work on some new comic material, given the unsurprisingly negative response to his allegedly side-splitting zingers about kaffirs, and how he keeps Muslim children locked in the boot of his car. Alan Jones offended many people, myself included, with his cruelly twisted suggestion that Julia Gillard’s recently dead father died of shame over his daughter’s lies.
Being offended by Ritchie or Jones is one thing. Advocating that they be fined, banned from speaking or sacked from their jobs is something else altogether.
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Remember when weather was the most neutral topic in the world? The topic you’d turn to when all avenues of small talk were exhausted? Not any more. That notion now belongs in an age when dinosaurs may or may not have roamed the world, depending on whether you buy the science.
Weather is the new religion. The new politics. It’s the new black-listed topic that you dare not broach at dinner parties for fear of turning a pleasant occasion feral.
Feral was pretty much the tone this week, after I tackled the issue of the heavy March rainfall in SE Australia. My innocuous story last Friday was picked up by my senior News Ltd colleague Andrew Bolt, who proceeded to give me quite the intellectual shakedown on Monday, with another on Tuesday for good measure.
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Simon Katich doesn’t deserve a reprimand. He deserves an award for restraint.
After falling foul of the thought police at Cricket Australia he was called up before that stuffy little outfit’s resident kangaroo court to explain his so-called “spray” against Michael Clarke. “Spray”, as it was dubbed in headlines, is a ludicrously overstated term for what Katich had said. All he said was that he doubted he would ever get a spot in the Test team under captain and selector Michael Clarke.
Katich, you will recall, grabbed Clarke by the neck in a dressing room dust-up in 2009, risking serious damage to Clarke’s latest haircut. His assessment of his chances of reclaiming a baggy green under Clarke was both accurate and unremarkable.
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You don’t often hear people challenging someone’s claim to be Italian. Or Swedish, or American. Generally you accept what they say even if they don’t have an accent, or a funny surname, or blond hair.
Aboriginality, on the other hand, apparently remains a contested field.
The Federal Court last week decided that high-profile and controversial columnist Andrew Bolt had breached the Racial Discrimination Act in his columns ‘It’s so hip to be black’, and ‘White fellas in the black’, which questioned why nine prominent ‘fair-skinned Aborigines’ identified as Aboriginal.
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This is a difficult column to write. It involves a matter of principle which is important to me. It also involves a colleague whose work leaves me cold.
If this were a year 10 debate we would take the gentleman’s option of inserting the obligatory declaration from the French writer Voltaire, the tiredest quote in political philosophy, where we state that we disagree with what Andrew Bolt says but would defend to the death his right to say it, and everyone goes home feeling good about themselves.
I am not inclined to defend Andrew Bolt to the death. Not even close. His columns make me laugh in disbelief or fold up the paper in anger. I am sick of seeing Bolt being held up as if he were a company spokesman. He is no such thing.
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It’s easy to defend free speech when you support a speaker’s views. It’s harder when you oppose them. Now, after the ruling in the Bolt case, free speech champions – even those who dislike and disagree with Andrew Bolt – should be speaking out.
They line up, to the right and to the left, the self-appointed arbiters of political and societal fashion, the media commentariat. From their pulp pulpits they lay down how we ordinary Australians should think. Their words today are the gospels of tomorrow, regurgitated in dozens of accents and emphases throughout workplaces, bars and coffee shops as well and re-broadcast by phone, email and Twitter.
The best known is Alan Jones, motor mouth of the airwaves, syndicated nationally on commercial radio, hard-core conservative. But there are a dozen or two others, in newspapers and on radio and TV, of various political shades. Most of the time, the harsh pronouncements wash us by, grating and irritating in equal measure on either side of public debate. But occasionally they hit the mark, roughly on target: a surge of public opinion forces focused governments to respond to what appears to be the will of the people.
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The aftermath of news like that from Oslo leaves only numbness. The injustice of it, the disbelief that this was even possible. Bombs at least kill in a single action. The deliberate persistence involved in attacks like Anders Breivik’s make them all the more distressing.
For a writer with comedic inclinations, the usual set of responses are neutered. Laughter falters, mouth half open. Even in our bleakest political situations, there are moments of light. Something like this is all darkness.
As reports began to come in, it was the last subject in the world you would have imagined being used for political point-scoring. But if ever someone was going to do just that, it was Andrew Bolt.
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It won’t be long before Andrew Bolt has a cameo on Neighbours discussing validity of climate change with Harold Bishop. (Yes, we know we mentioned Harold on The Punch yesterday - sorry. Ed.)
Network promotions departments assume you could easily digest Mr Bolt popping up on Ramsay Street without any real thoughts about why he is there. This is exactly why underhanded cross promotion is becoming ubiquitous. Your favourite shows are being morphed into unbearably bland advertisements for the network.
Promotional departments shamelessly hijack mostly live TV, from sporting events to the news, sneakily forcing the hosts to endorse shows that need a bit of a ratings oomph.
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Are you feeling offended? Put out? Insulted? You’re not alone.
He Who Almost Always Offends, Andrew Bolt, offended some people a while back. Then their lawyer offended him. Then one of the offended turned around and offended a third party, who offended her right back. Youch.
Surely it’s time to start building some bridges – of the reconciliatory, conciliatory, and the ‘get over it’ kind.
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