More Vanilla Anyone?
The world is not vanilla, and life is not easy. Offence is subjective, which is why we must be open to it but above all, let us all respect each other
Column by Elizabeth Moore
Strange times are upon us, very strange times. In the rush to invent new and exciting ways to avoid offending anyone and everyone, we seem to have forgotten to tell our children about things like respecting others opinions, and politeness, and the very important point that if you take extreme left wing views far enough, they join up in a circular way with fascism.
The many problems that come with this politically correct, but morally dubious pathway to enlightenment are all around us now. Transgenderism, for example in itself, is surely not an issue for any right thinking, kind, polite Brit who has about as much interest in what you do in the bedroom or with your body as he does in the Kardashians, but where are all the polite Brits hiding? I think they are increasingly too scared to come out, literally, as they watch the galloping pace of change and a country they thought they understood acting as if it has lost all sense of proportion and had an intelligence bypass.
I grew up in a country where it was absolutely assumed that everyone had a right to express themselves in whatever way they felt appropriate as long as it didn’t hurt, or endanger anyone else. We are now in a situation where it seems to be a badge of honour to shame and verbally and even physically attack anyone holding a view that varies from yours, and that holds true for the far right, and increasingly the far left. Can you tell the difference on news reels? I can’t.
Along with the obvious examples, such as Jacob Rees-Mogg being attacked for no other reason than he turned up, politely, to address a university meeting, there are more subtle signs that the press need to stop giving air time, endless air time at that, to the strident voices of the mob. You would think that the issue of transgenderism for example involves a vast number of people in the United Kingdom, it is everywhere. No show is PC without a representative of this community, God forbid that your little girl is a tomboy and you don’t get her down to the doctor for some hormone suppressants quick smart, and yet only 0.1 per cent of the UK population identifies as transgender. It is growing, and I totally respect them and their bravery, as I respect every other individual’s right to live in a country that gives them equal standing to any other member of our society. Meanwhile, the percentage of our citizenship who identified as gay or lesbian in 2016 reached 1.7 per cent of males, and 0.7 per cent of females. This is also a growing and important part of the fabric of our community, and I celebrate the fact that people no longer feel shame, or have to live double lives, or hide in closets; what could be worse than the type of existence my hero Oscar Wilde had to endure, with imprisonment and social stigma. I celebrate anyone being able to live an authentic life. Anyone.
There then is the rub. If you are generous with statistics and assume that for whatever reason the figures are inaccurate, and double them for good measure, you are still left in 2016, the last set of figures available, with 95 plus per cent identifying as heterosexual. Does it matter? Actually, not really. It is simply a statistic, and for me, living in a home where young people abound, of all sexualities, it is not now and never has been about someone’s sexual identity. I love people, I love talking to them, about their views, and their dreams and their problems. At the moment these vital conversations are difficult to have, because people are cross, and not really sure what they are cross about. Personally I feel it’s the drip drip, drip of a sense of persecution which I might suggest in a tiny voice could be more in the minds of the press than rooted in reality.
I have no way to extrapolate the proportion of positive coverage of this tiny minority of our country in the press or on television, but I can tell you one thing, it far outweighs coverage of say autism, which involves a similar percentage of the population.
I am, I suppose, wary of frenzy. I am worried when every editorial meeting I go to is more concerned with not touching on hot potatoes than genuine discourse and opinion, and I am concerned when every industry is trying to be safe. My book, The Man on the Middle Floor, is full of strong characters. The storyline is controversial, and full of social commentary, but it is a novel, it is fiction. Every time I sat down with a publisher, or an agent, or a PR they all had the same messages……”so, your policeman is really old fashioned, do you think you could tone him down?” or “the mother seems really unpleasant, that could alienate readers” or even, “your protagonist is on the autistic spectrum and kills someone, do you think you could make him, umm… not autistic?”
The problem with all this is the fear of offence. We have all met bigots, people who actually go out of their way to offend, who are downright unpleasant, but being easy to offend will not make them go away. We need to be aware, to be careful, to think for ourselves and just as keeping away from germs takes away our immunity, keeping away from any opinion that varies from ours takes away our ability to make decisions and to see actual offensive behaviour for what it is. It will, by the way, for me never be Just William books, Friends on Netflix or Noddy’s friend Big Ears, but then I am not of this generation and my skin is thicker and my sense of humour from the era of self-depreciation and mockery of all. It’s funny to make light of our frailties, it’s dry and amusing to me to have a gallows humour approach to disaster. Offence is subjective, which is why we must be open to it. Sadness, anxiety, stress, unhappiness, and people who may not think like us, are important, they make us grow up, be able to give advice and they make us human. As for opinions we don’t agree with, think about them and discard the ones you find abhorrent, but think for yourselves, and don’t absorb your opinions from mainstream media in a type of osmosis.
Apart from the fact that the written or broadcast word should be there to ask questions, to provoke reactions and to make us think, the current climate of fear and persecution is dangerous in another way. It is dangerous because when a society can only criticise one section of the populous then a whole other section becomes disenfranchised. They might sit at home for a bit, baffled by the fuss, wondering whether the world has suddenly gone through a sea change, but eventually they will get a bit irritated not to have a voice and they will vote accordingly. This way lies extremism. Famous mob whipping up exercises have never ended well, look at 1939 Germany. Remove tolerance and give the whole stage to minority rhetoric at your peril and I say that from a safe space.
It is not the job of the media to whip people up into screaming mobs, it is their job to inform. I watch sensible, rational people unable to get their views, right or wrong over on television and radio every day, and the clamour and noise is drowning out all sensible debate.
Let us all respect each other. Assuming that we have given thought to what we believe, and not just got it off the telly, then most people, whom I believe are kind and basically decent, will treat others how they would wish to be treated themselves. The world is not vanilla, and life is not easy. Whilst we obsess and navel gaze, wars we are hardly aware of or informed about continue. People die of thirst and hunger, Cape Town becomes the first city on our planet to be on the point of running out of water. I respect anyone’s right to identify with whatever makes them feel comfortable and happy, but everyone’s life and everyone’s view has to have equal weight and that does not for a second mean the fights that the LGBTQUIA community or women generally, or the black community and others have gone through count any less. It doesn’t mean that the offences of the past promulgated largely by the self-satisfied upper and middle classes don’t count, but we live now, and now the voices of the few are drowning out the voices of the many, and that is never a good thing. Extremism creeps through the cracks we leave when sensible conversation is unable to be engaged in.
A cartoon depicting Piers Morgan with his nose up Trump’s bottom is apparently amusing, but he’s right to be outraged with the BBC for broadcasting it, imagine Peston with his nose up Hilary Clinton’s rear end. The Presidents’ Dinner was not a pretty picture, even if as the mother of three daughters I would have looked at the job description and on seeing it included sexy underwear would have firmly discouraged them from taking the job. Meanwhile naked waiters on hen parties and aggressive sexually predatory females are fine. It goes on and on, and we must be careful that the argument that this is just ‘redressing the balance’ doesn’t lead to us just repeating the sins of our fathers but with a politically correct costume covering up the rot underneath.