It’s snowing outside, which I suppose is a cue for a cosy post on crime novels with a snowy background. But I’m pretty sure I’ve done that before, more than once, and anyway, my thoughts have been running in different directions of late.
More specifically, since the appalling events in Paris a couple of weeks ago, and their aftermath which is still filling media slots. So I have a question to ask. But first, let me make something absolutely crystal clear, in an attempt to avoid any kind of misinterpretation of what I’m about to say. It’s this: I do not, in any way whatsoever, for any purpose or in any circumstances, condone acts of violence. No matter what the apparent justification (and those who perpetrate it can always find one), it solves nothing; ultimately it is always counterproductive; and there is always, always, a better way to make a point or solve a dispute.
OK. Now the question. Can anyone point to the moment at which satire ceases to be wryly amusing and begins to be not only offensive but downright hurtful?
Satirists say that being offensive is part of what they do, and yes, OK, I see that if someone’s sacred cow is under attack, it might, possibly and sometimes though not certainly and always, make them look at it and think a little more carefully about it. Which, presumably, is the point of the satire. Apart from making other people laugh, of course.
I laugh at satire a lot, mostly when it’s aimed at politicians. Self-consciously politically correct language is also fair game. A description which seems to tie those two together is self-important – so you can add pretty well anything that exhibits that dubious quality to my list of targets I don’t have a problem with. Religion I’m kind of neutral about; whatever I believe myself, I’ll defend anyone’s right to believe what they choose and what works for them, preferably as long as it doesn’t damage other people; and I don’t find it especially clever or amusing when someone’s beliefs are trampled underfoot in the name of humour.
But where does humour end and trampling underfoot begin? Sometimes, when the barbs go flying out apparently in random directions, my reaction is ‘Ouch! That’s a step too far – it’s not funny, it’s nasty.’ Usually when the person on the receiving end isn’t in a position to hit back and really doesn’t do any harm. I wouldn’t call myself an active royalist, but I’d include most of the British Royal Family in that category; they’re just people doing a job (bringing in tourism dollars and euros counts as a job, surely, and a useful one in the interests of getting the economy back on track and avoiding yet more cuts in public services) and they’re careful to make sure no one really knows what they think.
So how far is too far? And what is a legitimate target? I venture to suggest that if I asked a hundred people those question, I’d get a hundred different answers to each – because we each draw the line in a different place, depending on our own personal sacred cows.
Go on. I’ve told you mine. Now you tell me yours.