In Defense Of Being Deeply Offended

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It’s happening a lot. It’s happening a lot more than it should. It’s an angrier world out there.

Back in the sixties (I wasn’t alive) the general protest of democratic populations (and those that were repressed) came from music and musicians (does anyone remember laughter?). Whether it was police brutality on campus, race riots, equal rights for women or the peace movement. The resistance to power came in song. Flower power, Woodstock and beyond created legendary rock stars, classic songs and our ability to reflect back on different times – whether we lived through it or lived through it vicariously through the music. Today, the general protest and resistance is not coming from music (sadly), but from comedians. Whether it’s late night talk show hosts, stand-up comedians in a local club or some hot shot with a Netflix special. You don’t even have to go that far back in time to see how parody or comedic news programs were actually delivering more facts blended with comedy than what the major networks were delivering in the 24 hour news cycle that is the cable news business. Many people turned to these comedians as news broadcasters. Audiences were looking for a depth of perspective and appreciated the irony of the comedy that is was shrouded in. Many non-comedy forms of news media and content would pull these comics in for additional perspective, to editorialize, to host their programs and more. The fine line between comedy, the news and reality television blurred… and then it disappeared. 

Knives out.

Whether it’s on college campuses, YouTube or in the mass media, the nuanced shift from the music of the sixties to comedy as the new resistance has happened. We’ve gone from reporting the news to editorializing the news to everyone having opinions of the news on social media. This is not a criticism. It is a fact. Those with little media skills and an equally lacking amount of knowledge – as it pertains to how real journalism happens – are now calling the shots on what is fact, what is to be shared and what holds the moral highground. It’s equally easy to dismiss everything that is put out there as a “right to freedom of speech.” It’s equally easily to dismiss everything that is put out there as, “you have the right to say what you want, but you have to face the consequences of your actions as well.” It feels like everything is binary. Opinions are either good or bad. Content is either good or bad. Media is either good or bad. Advertising is either good or bad. With that, many will probably interpret these words as commentary on one moment in time or as an editorial political piece attempting to sway an opinion. It is not. It is about how all of us – knowingly and unknowingly – are silencing (or trying to silence) a lot of voices (especially those we don’t like and don’t agree with). We may think that this is the right thing to do, but consider the fact that it could be one of the worst things that we could do, in this day and age.

It’s about knowing the difference between art, creativity and news.

You may not like this piece of art. You may find it truly offensive. You may find it hurtful, violently offensive or even repulsive. You may even question if it is art at all. This is fair and it’s your right/opinion. But there is something that you can’t question: the source of it. If it’s coming from any kind of artist – in particular a professional artist with any kind of history – we want to be careful when we starting lumping them in with protesters, angry mobs, sociopaths, people on the brink, those with criminal intent, etc. While our eyes and brains may lump the two sources together, they are not one in the same. We can repudiate art. We can’t ignore the source. By choice, people can vote with their wallets and feet. They can choose to not attend the shows and performances of the offending artists. We can not support their art by simply not giving it any attention all. An artist without attention is an artist that starves. With that, there are many who want to ensure that art (especially subversive art) has a marketplace. Fringe festivals are nothing new. Standup comedy has been driven by paying no attention to sacred cows. Hiphop music pushes the boundaries with every beat. Punk and heavy metal music may have achieved mass success, but its roots (and some of the up n’ comers) are not created for everyone’s enjoyment. The idea is that we have to be careful as we head down this road of silencing the sources before we can even criticize the value of the art that they are producing.

We should prefer to be offended over censoring these creative voices.

The things that we don’t want to see, hear and feel are often the things that stick to our guts. Good and bad. And, let’s not forget that this is important for us. It takes us out of our comfort zones. It shows us how we actually react to things that we’re not used to or comfortable with. Advertising has played into this for decades. It has stepped up to (and over) the line on countless occasions. Personally, I would rather see a brand fall flat on their face while trying to be culturally relevant, than the alternative. We may think – as an audience – that we’re propagating some kind of justice when the social media backlash hits, when – in the end – it may ultimately bring us all one step closer to book banning, book burnings and the repression of creativity, art, content and culture – no matter how much it offends you (or some other audience). Just think of the great literature and authors that our world would have been starved of had that practice perpetuated back in the day. 

Let’s not make social media the new town square that is being best served for burning books.