Kind of as corollary to yesterday’s post, the discussion with my friend about comedy, punching down and causing offence continued. A bunch of it is too specific to be of use here. One thing that stuck out was my friend saying that in his opinion, being offended is a choice. I disagreed.
“As for “being offended is a choice”. That stance is a luxury that not everyone has. As far as the two of us go, we have enough cultural capital to inoculate ourselves from a ton of stuff. We’re both white dudes from affluent, supportive, loving families. We didn’t have to struggle with issues of inequality in the same way others probably did. We weren’t beaten or relentlessly tormented for who we loved. We never had to fear for being shot because of the colour of our skin. It’s very easy to be unaffected by issues that don’t affect you, y’know?
At the same time, just because I don’t feel personally attacked, insulted or used as a punchline by a lot of comedy that punches down, that doesn’t mean to me that people can’t or shouldn’t be. I’ve got no place to judge how others react to anything based on their life experiences. If someone feels hurt by something, I’ve got no right to say that they’re not allowed to feel that way. I haven’t been in their shoes. For a lot of people it’s not a choice, and I don’t think it’s charitable to judge other people based on our own metrics.
As for being offended, it’s rare that I really am. What does happen though, when I hear lazy, sexist, homophobic, racist, etc etc etc content, is that I get disappointed or disheartened. I feel shitty for the people who feel like their struggles are being mocked by someone who has never lived them. I feel sad that people don’t understand the inherent power structures in our society and care more about trying to get cheap laughs by catering to the uncaring majority than considering how to more adeptly structure what they’re saying. Because that would require too much thinking. That’s lazy.”
The thing is, this is all a learned response. It’s not like most of this would be apparent unless someone pointed it out. Has anyone ever done that to you? Made you aware of something that you then couldn’t ignore? A friend once told me that Matt Bellamy, the lead singer of Muse, inhales sharply while singing. I couldn’t help but notice it every goddamn time after that. I’m not gonna say it ruined their music, but it definitely changed how I experienced it. This desperate gasp at the beginning of every sentence. How could you not?
Look, I’m a big ol’ loudmouth know it all. It sure is fun to spread your opinion all over the world wide web in a feeble attempt to get Internet Points. I’ve also, as I’ve aged (rapidly), learned a lot more about what feels worth speaking up about. Comedy, language, and progress are important to me. I’ve put a ton of effort into recalibrating my views on the world and figuring out where the disparity between my perspective and others’ lies. I know that there’s a heap of animosity between polarised political ideologies and, while I’m generally heavily left leaning, I don’t think anyone is totally right all of the time.
There’s a phenomenon we see in progressive circles quite often, where someone will learn something, then turn around and chastise others for not knowing what they themselves just learned. I don’t know what part of this is tolerance or progress. It directly feeds into the notion of holier than thou, ivory tower academia and it’s serving nobody. Learning isn’t always a one way street. Having conversations enables us to teach one another by sharing perspectives the other may not have considered. For this to work though, we have to be open to our own fallibility and view this as a strength.
The thing is, that’s hard. So much of society teaches us that to succeed, we need to be confident. For many of us, we take that to mean steadfast obstinance. If you don’t believe in yourself, your growth will wane. In reality, confidence includes openness to criticism. If you’re confident, you’ll know not to take it personally. That adaptability is a huge strength. That criticism is not an insult, but an opportunity. It’s difficult to hear that you’re not always right, y’know?
Be pensive, not defensive.