[EDIT TO ADD: PEOPLE ARE COMMENTING BASED ON READING THE TITLE BUT NOT THE CONTENT... I'D HAVE THOUGHT THAT WAS OBVIOUSLY A STUPID THING TO DO]
So November 30th was a day of industrial action. And it was also a day when the professional contrarian, Jeremy Clarkson, was a guest on The One Show.
They, perhaps unwisely, asked him what he thought of the strikes. He, unsurprisingly, said something contrary. He suggested that the strikers should be lined up and shot. In front of their families. (By the way, his Mum was a teacher).
It was an oafish, insensitive, unfunny remark... from a man whose trademark is his oafish insensitivity. It was offensive. I don't think he should have said it. I think the BBC was right to apologise. [EDIT - according to one commenter, the BBC didn't apologise for this. I thought they had. Pfft]
But I was still surprised to see hundreds of people suddenly baying for his blood on twitter. The mob was reaching for their pitchforks. A campaign to get him sacked was suddenly started. It all seemed a bit out of order to me. Yes, I thought it was offensive and no, I didn't find it funny... but I don't remember arriving at a place where we decided we had a right to not be offended. I don't like the sound of that place. I don't like it at all.
I said something about it on twitter. It was obvious from my tweets that I didn't like the man and didn't approve of what he'd said. I just suggested that starting a campaign to get someone sacked because of a joke you didn't like was what they do. You know, them. Not us. That's their territory, not ours. That's that thing they do and we don't like.
From the way many people reacted, you'd think I'd tweeted "Ha ha ha... Jezza Clarkson's ace isn't he. LOL #LineThemUpAndShootThem"
"But he's an odious pr*ck" someone frothed. Yes. I agreed.
"Why are you apologising for Clarkson?"asked another. Um. I'm not.
"He's suggesting people be lined up and shot, we're suggesting he should be sacked. Who most deserves your criticism?" He does. And he's received it.
A few years ago Charlie Brooker wrote a glib line about wishing George Bush dead in his Guardian column. Some Americans thought his joke was offensive (see the comments here). How dare he call for Bush to be assassinated! That is an outrage!
You might have heard of a man called Paul Chambers and how he tweeted "Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!!" it was understood by all who follow him on twitter to be exactly what it was: a hyperbolic venting of frustration upon discovering that he couldn't visit the woman he loves. Nobody took it seriously. But he was prosecuted for menace or somesuch. The case - the twitter joke trial - was a cause celebre, with many of the liberal twitterati rallying to his support.
I'm pretty sure that many who spartacussed their support for Paul a year ago, were calling for Clarkson to be sacked earlier today. Which seems to me to miss the point completely.
I know which of the jokes I liked and which I didn't. I know which one offended me. But it's not about which jokes you find funny and it's got nothing to do with whether the joke targets the strong or the weak. You have to defend the jokes you don't like as well as those that do. Be offended. Register your upset. Change the channel. But don't go assuming you have a right not to be offended.
Because if you really think that you and I are entitled to live in a world without offence, then you have to concede that everyone else is equally entitled to the same. And that means that all the jokes you like but they don't will have to go too.
A world that stops Jeremy Clarkson doing that is also a world that would have stopped Bill Hicks doing this:
Be offended by Clarkson - and by Hicks too, if you like. But you should defend your right to be offended, because it's also your right to offend.
*Not really. D'you see?