DISCLAIMER – I’m going to be quite sweary and generally pretty coarse in this article. Why? Because I can. And because it’s fun. Yep fun – you remember that don’t you? It’s pretty fucking important if you want to make it through life without opening your wrists up on a gloomy Monday.
One of my favourite TV moments of all time was in 1976 when the Sex Pistols appeared on the Bill Grundy show and bollocked the patronising old duffer for leering over their female companions. Back in ’76, someone being called a “dirty bastard” and a “fucking rotter” on tea-time telly was enough to end careers. Nowadays the BBC would probably have to broadcast Johnny Rotten ferociously sodomizing Grundy’s corpse with a whaling harpoon to elicit anything more than a handful of complaints.
We do have some limits though. Most people don’t react massively favourably to jokes about handicapped kids, for example. Frankie Boyle got into trouble a few years back for making some off-colour jokes at the expense of Katie Price’s disabled son Harvey. Ironically, Harvey himself caused something of a stir recently by saying “hello you cunt” live on breakfast TV when asked how he responds to bullies (although it’s possible that this is just a perfectly natural reaction to sitting on a sofa next to Piers Morgan.)
However, some people’s threshold for offence is way lower. I’ve been chastised on Twitter for defending the rights of “homosexuals” rather than “gays”, or “members of the LGBT community” or whatever the preferred lingo currently is. Yet, I know gay people who call themselves “poofs” and “queers”. Who’s to know? Similarly, Benedict Cumberbatch was forced to apologise for using the term “coloured” in a remark he made supporting the casting of more black British actors.
Do these whining pansies even care that this behaviour just comes across as deliberate self-imposed victimhood? If these fragile snowflakes become so intensely distressed by a mere word, then you have to wonder how they’re going to cope with the daily horrors and injustices of real life. It’s simply complaining for the sake of complaining. Christopher Hitchens described this kind of pedantry and wilful offence-taking as “climbing up on the ladder, balancing it precariously on your own toilet cistern, to be upset by what you see through your neighbour’s bathroom window.”
Genuine offence is a spontaneous emotional reaction, not the cynical never-ending quest for sympathy that these professional cry-babies treat it as.
I once heard the comedian Stephen K Amos earnestly make the following statement:
“The word ‘nigger’ is offensive in any context.”
This is a small masterpiece in oblivious, self-refuting bullshit yet it simultaneously and inadvertently illustrates how subjective offence is, and how reliant on context certain words are.
But presuming that offence is necessarily a bad thing, is a problem in and of itself.
I’m a massive fan of grossly inappropriate humour and behaviour. As Charlie Brooker puts it: “gratuitous offence, when performed with aplomb, is the funniest thing in the world.” To date, nothing has had me more helplessly paralysed with laughter than Doug Stanhope’s appalling stand-up routine in which he fantasizes about arse-raping an American Footballer in front of a delighted, cheering crowd. Another routine where he recounts the time he went to see an elderly Okinawan “performance artist” clumsily performing lewd tricks with a banana had me laughing so hard I almost choked to death on my own tongue. What I like about this sort of comedy is the unashamed gratuitousness and puerility of it. Obscenity for its own sake. Maybe I’m just childish or fucked in the head in some way, but that sort of thing frequently makes me laugh until I’m doubled over, weeping and blowing snot bubbles from my nostrils. And I don’t particularly like the idea that I might be denied this source of enjoyment to protect the sensitivities of the mollycoddled, whimpering, joyless pussies of the world, thanks very much.
Case in point. In March of this year, a German comedian named Jan Böhmermann used his satirical TV show to recite an abusive poem he’d written about Turkey’s revolting President Recep Erdoğan. The poem heavily implied that Erdoğan was a viciously repressive woman beater and a paedophile with an uncontrollable bestiality fetish.
Being the humourless, narcissistic fascist that he is, Erdoğan failed to see the funny side and demanded the immediate prosecution of this comedian for insulting him; and for what his Deputy Prime Minister, presumably with a straight face, described as a “serious crime against humanity”.
Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel then took her turn to criticize the poem, and went on to set the catastrophic precedent of allowing a foreign despot to bring criminal proceedings against a citizen of her country for exercising free speech.
Political commentator and all-round good guy Douglas Murray then stepped up to the plate with the perfect response to this insanity: he used to his Spectator column to solicit thousands of offensive poems about President Erdoğan from all over the world and offered a prize of a thousand of Her Majesty’s Great British pounds to the author of the best one. He suggested limericks as being the best, most succinct form of poetry based abuse, and strongly encouraged people to submit the most insulting and slanderous verses they could come up with.
Here’s my effort:
Erdoğan isn’t quite right
He buggered his mother one night
He spunked up her spout
Then tongued it all out
And called it a Turkish Delight
Not only is it horrendously defamatory but the rhymes are also as tight as a ducks arse. It even manages to incorporate a joke about Turkey’s national confectionary having the appearance and consistency of congealed ejaculate covered in shit. A masterpiece I’m sure you’ll agree.
Murray had also written some of his own and submitted this as his best attempt:
Recep Erdoğan is the Turk’ll
Never tire of rim-jobs from his circle
Yet his chief-est delight
(Now Khilafa’s in sight)
Are the felchings he gets from Frau Merkel
Here’s a cracker that my mate came up with:
Erdoğan the president of Turkey
Found farm animals made him quite flirty
He fucked them without lube
Whether they quacked, clucked or mooed
Now his cock-skin resembles beef jerky
The winning entry however, was submitted by erstwhile mayor of London, Boris Johnson:
There was a young fellow from Ankara
Who was a terrific wankerer
Till he sowed his wild oats
With the help of a goat
But he didn’t even stop to thankera
It’s not the best poem by any stretch. It doesn’t match mine, my mate’s or Murray’s for either outright vulgarity or lyrical and rhythmic symmetry. Its rhymes don’t quite work and it contravenes a couple of rules about made-up words and rhyming things with “Ankara” that Murray had imposed.
That being said, I’m glad he won.
There’s something intensely uplifting and joyful about the idea of a British politician using his authority to call the theocratic head of a foreign state a wanker and a zoophile. Plus it’s pretty difficult to imagine the current mayor of London gleefully accusing a foreign leader of blowing his load in a goat.
Johnson had the following to say in an interview with a Swiss magazine:
“If somebody wants to make a joke about the love that flowers between the Turkish president and a goat, he should be able to do so, in any European country, including Turkey.”
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of free speech but it seems in this day and age, that this most fundamental of liberties needs constant defence and protection. Those who most regularly threaten this indispensable freedom tend to be, by and large, devotees of the Prophet Muhammed – a warlord who, legend has it, had one or two sexual quirks of his own. Whether it be by gagging comedians or blowing holes in cartoonists, many Muslims are more than willing to enforce the profound intolerance for subversiveness and dissent that runs through the heart of Islam. And people like Angela Merkel are their accomplices.
Freedom of expression is a right that people have literally died to attain, secure and defend. It is the ultimate freedom. The only real weapon against tyranny. Which is why tyrants like Mr Erdoğan and his co-religionists are so keen to trample all over it.
Do you want to be told what is and isn’t acceptable comedy? Do you want a micro-dicked president of a foreign state appointing himself as adjudicator of what is and isn’t funny? Do you want to live in a world where we can’t arbitrarily accuse fascist dictators of getting balls-deep in livestock? I certainly don’t. And just as piss breaks on a road trip should not be dictated by the person with the weakest bladder, so we should not be allowing those with the thinnest skins and the greatest capacity for kneejerk offence to be telling the rest of us what we’re allowed to laugh at.
Stanhope puts it like this:
“There is no such thing as laughing at something you shouldn’t. You should laugh everywhere you can find even the slightest glimmer of humour. Life is a series of heartache, tragedy and injustice, punctuated by a few cocktails and that one trip to Reno. The more you can laugh at the ugliest parts, the better off you are… If I’m laughing and you’re not, I win.”
Except it still feels like Erdoğan has won. Hamburg State Court ruled in favor of the Turkish President and found that Mr Böhmermann’s poem was unacceptable. Since he took office less than two years ago, Erdoğan has frequently locked up his critics and has attempted to prosecute over 1,800 people for insulting him. That’s the real crime against decency here.
Of some small consolation is the poetic justice that Mr Erdogan has brought upon himself. In kicking up an international shit-storm over a comedians joke, he has ensured that his name is forever associated with the subject of that joke, namely sexual depravities against farm animals. In attempting to censor abuse, he has become the most publicly abused man on the planet. Google Erdogan’s name and immediately be confronted with a multitude of links to articles and slanderous limericks about his proclivity for dipping his wick in hoofed vertebrates.
Ultimately though, not only has President Erdoğan gone effectively unopposed by the powers that be, in his relentless suppression of criticism, of comedy, of expression, and of good old-fashioned fun, but he’s actually been aided and abetted by one of the most powerful leaders of the western world. And that’s what should be truly offensive and intolerable about this whole woeful episode. Erdoğan’s unimpeded assault on democracy and liberty is the genuine obscenity that should be making us all feel pretty queasy right now. Well, that and the fact that he fucks goats.