Let’s talk about respect and tolerance and being objectionable and offending.
At the Oscars Chris Rock told a joke. Many laughed. Some saw it as a compliment to the person to whom is was directed. She didn’t. Her husband laughed then saw her reaction and his mood changed. He hit Mr Rock.
Yes, the whole Will Smith fandango, he ostensibly reacting to an objectionable reference to his wife’s appalling auto immune disease of alopecia, in the guise of a joke about her being the next GI Jane, a character that shaves her head.
It has thrown up so many discussion points. I even heard one commentator say Smith’s actions were yet another version of toxic masculinity with him presuming to ‘protect’ his wife’s honour/feelings without having discussed it with her.
But here’s the one with which I’ve been toying this week. How far is it appropriate for a comedian to be objectionable and defend his joke on the basis that the recipient needs to grow a thick skin? Is every comedian, or at least someone who holds themselves out as the same, entitled to be as objectionable as they want in the name of humour?
It takes me back to my days in management, and an associated line of debate with my senior colleagues (largely but not exclusively white men) over their behaviour around more junior members of staff, especially junior women. The idea that something they may have said in jest/as a compliment/as banter could be so misconstrued that they were in the wrong often caused them some contrafabulations.
The point I had to get across was that it wasn’t for them, given the power dynamics involved, to determine what was and wasn’t objectionable, but that the recipient was the best, indeed the only judge. Intention, as claimed by Mr Rock in the context of his comment being intended as a compliment, was irrelevant.
I think that stands. We can debate politeness and taste till the cows are on their way back out again but here, had the joke been aimed at Will Smith, it’s offensive nature could well have stood. He’s as rich as a [this analogy has been deleted because it was unintentionally crass; goodness knows where my mind goes sometime] and, with that, comes the need to ‘take it on the chin’. Does the same go for his wife? Probably not.
But even here, we find ourselves in a bind. What of Will Smith’s colour? Could that be the subject of an egregiously offensive joke? Especially one told by someone of a different colour, especially someone who is white? Is that a step too far? Probably. Race does seem to be top trumps when it comes to a line that is uncrossable, as purported humour or otherwise.
Which brings us to respect. Ah, but how we all would like to receive respect. But the more I think about it, the more I agree with those that hold the unquestioning giving of respect is flawed. I have friends who have not and will never have a covid vaccine, who hold that the approach to covid vaccines is fundamentally flawed and those of us who have accepted them are no better than sheep. Of course, I tell them and myself that they are welcome to their views, but do I respect those views? And them for holding them? Fuck no. They’re total tossers. I will, of course, tolerate their intellectual fallings with charity. But of respect they can whistle.
I love the idea of free speech, of the idea that all debates are open and that everything should be capable of being discussed and debated. But I’m too long in the tooth to believe that is possible. There are subjects and opinions and actions that are so offensive that there does have to be some curtailment.
But if that is true the list must be both very short and regularly revised and limited. And those who prompt issues and ideas and categories to be added to any such proscribed list are by their very proselytising inclinations not to be empowered to curtail any such debates.
A bit of a heavy week, as you can see.
This week I upgraded my phone. I’m not a fruit phone person, ever since I gave up my blackberry. I’m an android, and this week received my Samsung Galaxy s22. All very cool and, in truth, I acquired it mostly because it has a pretty chipper camera. I’m never keen on confronting new technology, believing I am but a mispress away from rendering the same totally unusable because I’ve set the language at Serbo-Croat. However this thing was both intuitive and helpful and before I knew it, I’d set it up.
Yippee. But Sod is my guardian angel and, sure enough there he was sniggering behind his hand. The charging cable. This.
As you can see it is of the pushmepullyou kind, with no USB connection. And while, at first glance the dual ends look the same as the charging cable for my current Samsung, they aren’t. You need a different plug. Really? Why? And if that’s so, why not include said plug with box of bits? The phone came 52% charged. By the time I despaired it was at 13% and shrinking quicker that a Slimming world champion. I’m not good in these situations, inclined to phone up some hapless call centre in Bangalore or Belfast or Balham and exercise my range of sarcastic putdowns on the minimum wage intern they put up for evisceration by the likes of me. I resisted. However we will need a new dustbin sometime soon.
On the subject of frustrations, the Textiliste and I undertook a rather pleasant walk with Dog on the last mild day for a while. We arrived at the café in Dulwich Park about 12.30 and in need of some comestibles. ‘What about a bacon roll?’ I suggested. ‘Scrummy,’ came the response. So while she soaked up some sun, I tottered into said café to place our order. ‘Two cappuccinos and two bacon rolls please,’ I requested mine host. Mine host was a young man of little emotion and such as he evinced was of the mildly eeyorish sort. He pointed to a large board behind his head. I squinted. He said, ‘You’re too late.’
As I adjusted to the frankly appalling choice of font, it became apparent that bacon rolls ended at 11.30 as being limited by their very nature as only suitable for breakfast.
I blew out a disappointed breath. He said nothing. No sympathy, no ‘I’ll see what I can do sir’. Eventually I met his eye. Maybe he was shamed by his previous silence because he pointed at the counter in front of me. ‘What about a croissant?’ he suggested. ‘We have plain, chocolate and almond.’
I knew without looking that the Textiliste, had she heard this exchange would have been as stony faced as Jada Smith at the Oscars. I didn’t hit him. It wasn’t his fault. But really, in what world are croissants suitable as lunch fayre and bacon rolls are not?
Dog, let me tell you, was not impressed…
And finally, for those in the UK, I want to share a link to an organisation that campaigns to change the law in England and Wales to allow assisted dying in certain circumstances. Currently assisting is a crime and those who have a settled intention need to travel abroad, usually to Switzerland or the Netherlands. Scotland is progressing its own change as is Jersey in the Channel Islands. But not in England and Wales despite 80 percent or thereabouts consistent support in opinion polls. Ah me. I’m a member of My Death-My Decision, one of several organisations and I attach a link to join if you feel as I do. https://www.mydeath-mydecision.org.uk/