No Turn Unstoned—How To Live With Giving Offense
Irony, wit, gaiety, and sociable pleasure—all are being killed by legions of dull-minded reactionaries who believe themselves champions of the oppressed and downtrodden. In truth, they stand for nothing outside of their own yearning for attention. It is sometimes said that such people are over-sensitive to the comments of others. But as far as I can see sensitivity doesn’t come into it. The need to be applauded for pointing out some perceived instance of political incorrectness is what really drives them.
The latest example of this madness occurred yesterday with Blake Lively’s “LA Face, Oakland Booty” joke on Instagram. Soon after she sent it the virtual goon squads commenced their aggressive simpering on Twitter. The main idea behind the complaints was that as a rich white woman Lively had no right to compare herself to poor black women—Oakland being known as one of the most economically deprived areas in southern California.
A moment’s reflection will show the absurdity of this notion. First, it is clear that Lively was quoting lyrics from Sir Mix-a-Lot’s 1992 classic Baby Got Back. Second, she is pretty and she’s definitely got back—the kind of large, juicy, squeezable, huggable, fuckable ass celebrated by the song. That her Instagram message amounts to racism is one of the most preposterous claims ever made on social media—and that’s saying something.
The entire episode is the latest effort of the fake offense-takers to kill fun. Such people are everywhere. You may have encountered them yourself at work or in school. No matter which way you turn in trying to lighten the mood and make yourself agreeable, the fashionably moral are ready to stone you for what they see as a slight against gays, women, or racial minorities.
Common sense is enough to determine whether most jokes or comments are appropriate. Expressing other witticisms involving historically oppressed groups will always put you at risk of causing offense. But given the spirit of the age, you will need to learn how to live with it—to work or study with people who, in the realm of irony, will leave no turn unstoned.
How to do it? The first, and perhaps most contentious, piece of advice is to expand your circle of friends to include people who differ from you in their race, gender, and sexual orientation. People often take this as a suggestion to gather about them token individuals from such groups so they can say “I have black or gay or Muslim friends” etc. All I mean to suggest is that you disregard external differences and look for minds—attitudes, ideals, aims, and purposes—that are similar to yours. If you are, say, a white straight man of an open and tolerant temperament, having close personal relationships with people who aren’t will give you an intuitive understanding of what is genuinely bigoted and what is not.
The second habit you must acquire is forbearance. The fake offense-takers thrive on outrage. They want, of course, for others to join them in their effort to scream the virtual world down. But they are especially keen to provoke the named offender into saying something nasty about them. Don’t take the bait. Respond to whatever absurd objection they make to your joke by calmly and wittily pointing out the errors in their reasoning.
Third, always remember that some people deserve to be mocked and ridiculed. Making fun of people with extreme beliefs—whether political or religious—is nowhere near the same as putting people down for who they are as human beings. The fake offense-takers purposefully conflate the ideas that people hold with the body they were born with. A person can do nothing about their gender, sexual orientation, or skin color; but they can choose what to believe about the world. People who say they are offended because you’ve expressed a strong opinion about their politics or religion refer only to a problem for them, not a problem for you.
About Christopher Reid Chris was born in Washington, D.C. and lives in Britain. He works as a blogger, essayist, and novelist. His first book, Tea with Maureen, has just been published.