Thursday 17 January 2019

Fury at C4 'Famine comedy' begs one question: who cares if you are offended?

Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge
Steve Coogan as Alan Partridge
Ian O'Doherty

Ian O'Doherty

It's an outrage! It's racist! It's glorifying genocide! The Jews would never joke about the Holocaust! I'm offended so I'm going to sign a petition! If I don't like the sound of something I have the right to stop it being made!

The ever-growing number of people who walk around with their knickers in a twist have been doing some extreme gymnastics to un-bunch their underpants following the news that Channel 4 has commissioned a pilot sitcom script about the famine.

'Hungry' may be good. It may be brilliant. It may also be awful. The thing is, nobody actually knows whether it's going to be any use or not because it hasn't been written. Even so, the show's creator, Hugh Travers, has spent the last few days baptised in the righteous ire of the cranks, the lunatics and the perpetually dyspeptic malcontents who seem to think that they have the right to stop anything they want, simply because they don't like it or because it 'offends' them

And boy, lots of people have been offended by this idea and they've been quick to dip into their endlessly flowing bucket of anger.

When asked for a comment, Travers said that: "I don't want to do anything that denies the suffering that people went through, but Ireland has always been good at black humour. We're kind of thinking of it as 'Shameless' in Famine Ireland."

Professional Irish-American Niall O'Dowd was reliably quick out of the traps, and in keeping with the rest of the outragerati (30,000 simpletons have already signed the petition demanding the show be scrapped) he managed to throw some factual errors into the mix be complaining that: "So, we are basing a sitcom on the Famine on a drunken Irish American series?"

Um, no. Presumably O'Dowd fails to realise that Travers was citing the original Channel 4 version of 'Shameless', rather than the disappointing American remake. But such glaring errors of fact count for nowt when you're fuelling your entire argument on that strange mix of wounded indignation, righteous fury and pointless, irrelevant rage.

Frankly, if someone like O'Dowd is so fervently against the project, the rest of us should be even more inclined to support 'Hungry', if only to prove that while he might like to think he's the King of Irish-America, he doesn't actually speak for every Irish person, everywhere and forever.

As it turns out, we have plenty of home-grown adjudicators of acceptable taste, such as Dublin councillor David McGuinness (nope, me neither), who fulminated that the show would embarrass and denigrate' the Irish. He then added what has become a disturbingly predictable element to this farcical debate: "Jewish people would never endorse making a comedy of the mass extermination of their ancestors at the hands of the Nazis." This is simply further proof that politicians, even lowly councillors, should be prevented from ever speaking about comedy.

Maybe he has never heard Joan Rivers's joke about the off-ramp at Auschwitz? I'm going to presume he remains unaware of Sarah Silverman's jokes about her Nana walking away from the same camp with a vanity tattoo that says "Bedazzled"?

Maybe he never watched one of the funniest episodes of 'Curb Your Enthusiasm', which saw an Auschwitz survivor have a furious argument with the winner of US reality show 'Survivor' about which of them suffered the most during their respective ordeals?

Similarly, perhaps the best episode of 'I'm Alan Partridge' saw the hapless broadcaster inform two Irish characters (played by Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews) that: "If it was just the potatoes that were affected, at the end of the day you will pay the price if you're a fussy eater".

Nothing, absolutely nothing, is forbidden in humour. In fact, comedians don't just have a right to tackle tricky topics, they have an obligation. On the other hand, nobody has the right to not be offended. This is a simple, everyday fact which has become lost in this thud and blunder of reflexive outrage which sees people simply react in fury rather than actually thinking things through.

These new Puritans, who have been so flatulently outraged, would undoubtedly curl their lips up at their spiritual forebears, the old-school moral majority.

How ironic that within the space of a few short years we managed to reject the suffocating cultural diktats of professional Catholics, who felt they had the right to ban anything they don't like and, instead, embrace exactly the same of kind of Philistine, censorious zeal - this time in the name of not giving offence or causing alarm.

Both responses are the same form of cultural vandalism and the fact that it is now framed in different language and terminology doesn't change the oppressive reality. That reality is a simple one - anybody who wants to ban something on the grounds that they are offended is a dangerous fool who would sleep walk us all into dictatorship. Would these people secretly be more comfortable if we became more like Iran, where a writer such as Travers would be publicly flogged or worse for offending the sensibilities of the self-appointed guardians of acceptable speech?

This whole stupid, dangerous farce where a committee of Twitter bores decide what the rest of us can and cannot watch or read brings me back to a question which has become increasingly pertinent in recent years - since when did the experience of being offended become such a bad thing? After all, once you start claiming that you're offended, you are forced to explain your position and how you came to your conclusion. So, ironically, offence is perhaps the most important tool we have in a free society.

So for those of you who want to ban a sitcom that may never see the light of the day?

Well, there is a simple response, concise enough to be understood by those who want to dictate to the rest of us: Tough. Get over yourself and stop telling the rest of us what we're allowed to watch.

Irish Independent

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