The taking of offence is what rests in the bosom of the stupid ones. — Ecclesiastes 7:9
You may not like this post. It may offend or upset you. If you are of a sensitive nature hit your BACK button now. This is your one and only warning.
Of course you won’t know unless you read it. Not for sure. At least some of it. But if you’ve been reading my blog for a while you’ll know that I often start out talking about one thing and end up going on about something completely different. So the only way you’ll know is if you read the whole thing which means that anywhere from here until the end of the post I could assault you and there’s nothing you could do about it.
Assault. That’s pretty strong verb. It’s not as if I’m going to lean out of the screen and beat you about the head with a metal bar or anything. But that’s how some people feel when they come across things in their books or magazines or on the web that they would rather not read about. They feel the author’s gone too far.
Shit! You didn’t see that coming did you? I should’ve warned you, shouldn’t I, that there might be a wee bit of swearing in this article? Sorry. But pleased be assured that was the only “shit” in this article apart from the two “shits” in this sentence. There that’s all done. So, let’s say I was going to put up a warning at the start of this article, how might I word it?
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS 3 COUNTS OF MODERATE SWEARING
Isn’t that a bit OTT? I mean who is going to take offence over that? It’s not as if I’m chucking expletives about all the time just for effect. The words were used in context and to make a point. But did I need to use them at all? Couldn’t I have used my literary skills to make my point without resorting to swearing? Fuck, no.
The thing is, I don’t swear. Not in everyday life. I didn’t grow up in an environment where people swore and so I’ve never got into the habit of swearing. I’ve never seen the point of it. Swearing doesn’t offend me though. I just don’t do it. Only some people would say that I do. I have a habit it of saying, “Sod it!” and, as far as some people are concerned, that is swearing; I’m talking about sodomy and only bad people do that. The 1533 Buggery Act said it was bad and it remained bad until 1980 when someone decided it was un-bad in Scotland. So is, “Sod it!” swearing anymore? Some people continue to think so. Some people believe that although it may no longer be a crime it is still a sin.
Did you notice how we’re suddenly talking about (un)natural sex acts. Bet you didn’t expect me to be talking about those at this time of the day. Perhaps I should expand my warning notice:
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS 5 MODERATE SCATALOGICAL SWEAR WORDS, 1 STRONG SEXUAL SWEAR WORD AND 3 REFERENCES TO SEXUAL ACTS
There that’s better.
When you go to the cinema beside every film listed there will be a little icon. They vary from country to country by the ones used in the UK currently are: R18, 18, 15, 12A, 12, PG, U and Uc. I had a look on the BBFC site to see how they ruled on certain films:
Contains a scene of aborted suicide and images of smoking
Contains strong language, violence and hard drug use
Contains references to sexual abuse and child prostitution
Contains infrequent mild innuendo
Contains moderate violence and one scene of sexual violence
Contains strong language, once very strong, strong sex, violence & drug use
Contains very strong language
The films I picked pretty much a random. But take a look at the entry for The I Heart Revolution. Yes, the PG (that would be Parental Guidance) rating is correct. The film is a documentary film about an Australian praise and worship rock band called Hillsong United. The film shows their experiences of poverty and deprivation, and provides historical context and explanations of the social problems they encounter.
Here’s what the site has to say about the rating:
There are some verbal references to sexual abuse and child prostitution. These include officials and child protection workers referring to children being born with HIV Aids because their mothers were abused, references to child prostitutes being offered for sale, girls being raped and forced into prostitution, children being raped and mutilated and a man remembering childhood sexual abuse. These references are factual, soberly presented and lack sensationalism or supporting visuals. They are disturbing and exceed the BBFC's 'U' Guidelines which state 'While problematic themes may be present, their treatment must be sensitive and appropriate for young children'. However, given the general lack of detail, they accord with the 'PG' Guidelines which state 'Where more serious issues are featured (for example, domestic violence) nothing in their treatment should condone unacceptable behaviour'. – BBFC reference AFF269322
Now I don’t know about you but this is the first time I’ve ever checked the rating on a film. I’ve never consulted it in the past before I’ve taken my daughter to see a film. Normally I’d just see the PG and think she was old enough. Luckily we tended to stick with things like My Little Pony: the Movie and Jurassic Park. I suspect she might have objected had I tried to talk her into watching a film about an Australian praise and worship rock band, whatever the heck “praise and worship rock” is. But you see where I’m coming from.
Online, of course, there’s no rating system. But there are still plenty of ways you can protect kids. You can install software which usually checks for three things:
1. Compares requested URLs to a list of blocked sites in their repository, which is automatically updated like anti-virus updates.
2. Reviews the text on the site for banned words. If it finds any such words, it blocks the site's content, if not, it moves on to the next step.
3. Checks the images on the site. Using a special algorithm, it determines whether the image contains too much "skin colour", and blocks it.
But what about adults? Adults are supposed to be able to look after themselves. Which is why when we get all those dodgy e-mails in our inboxes we simply delete them. We know better. And we don’t go out of our way to search for things that will offend us. Taking about My Little Pony, I have never typed the words “donkey show” into Google in my life and never expect to. I did type them into Wikipedia just now and found an article with this message at the top of the page:
This article is being considered for deletion in accordance with Wikipedia's deletion policy. Please share your thoughts on the matter at this article's entry on the Articles for deletion page. Feel free to edit the article, but the article must not be blanked, and this notice must not be removed, until the discussion is closed. For more information, particularly on merging or moving the article during the discussion, read the Guide to deletion.
Wikepdia is not censored. It states clearly:
Wikipedia may contain content that some readers consider objectionable or offensive, even exceedingly so (see Wikipedia:Content disclaimer). Anyone can edit an article, and changes made are displayed immediately, so Wikipedia cannot guarantee that articles or images will always be acceptable to all readers, or that they will adhere to general social or religious norms.
It’s general rule of thumb, however, is that “words and images that can be considered offensive should not be included unless they are treated in an encyclopaedic manner.”
That seems fair enough to me.
This blog is not Wikipedia though. So who decides what is suitable? Broadly speaking it’s the person running the blog. That would be me. Okay, the web publishing service (in my case Blogger) can come along and be heavy-handed but they don’t want to play Big Brother. They have a content policy and it is pretty much what you’d expect. It does allow ‘adult’ content as long as the site stays within its guidelines.
The question is what is ‘adult content’?
I think this counts as ‘adult content’:
1. The world is everything that is the case.
2. What is the case, the fact, is the existence of atomic facts.
3. The logical picture of the facts is the thought.
4. The thought is the significant proposition.
5. Propositions are truth-functions of elementary propositions.
(An elementary proposition is a truth-function of itself.)
6. The general form of truth-function is:
This is the general form of proposition.
7. Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.
It’s the opening to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. What kid is going to be able to read that? Most adults aren’t going to want to read that. What IQ do you think you’d need to be able to grasp that? 110? 120? Should we start adding warnings in case some stupid bugger (or non-bugger as the case may be) blunders onto our site and gets confused by all the big words?
Where do you draw the line?
This is not about censorship. The Human Rights Act 1998 grants me the rights to freedom of thought and freedom of expression. This is about preparing your reader, warning them if necessary. Just how far do you need to go?
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE MIGHT CHALLENGE YOUR CURRENT VIEW OF THE WORLD
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS FLIPPANCY, SARCASM AND FACETIOUSNESS
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE MIGHT TAKE YOU MORE THAN 30 SECONDS TO READ AND IS NOT RECOMMENDED FOR PEOPLE WITH SHORT ATTENTION SPANS
Sod that for a game of soldiers. Here’s a scenario for you: you’re walking down the road, minding your own business and suddenly in front of you a car mounts the kerb and ploughs into a crowd of schoolchildren killing most of them and maiming the rest. Are you never going to leave your house again in case the same thing happens? Life includes the unpleasant and the unexpected and they often arrive at the same time, hence the expression, “The shit has really hit the fan.” You can’t avoid life. You grow a thick skin and you get on with it.
What prompted this article was an e-mail I had from a friend. She had been contacted by a woman who had read one of her posts and come across something unexpectedly that upset her. The expression the woman used was “an assault” and the points she makes are perfectly valid up to a point. But only up to a point. The television stations have a watershed, a cut-off point, after which they can broadcast a broader range of topics. Ofcom has strict regulations set in place to protect the under eighteens. So maybe I need to add a warning that says:
WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS GROWNUP STUFF AND SHOULD ONLY BE READ BETWEEN 9PM AND 5:30AM
so that people don’t have to read about things like donkey shows over their cornflakes.
Or perhaps I should just write about nice things and never mention anything that could possible offend anyone. The problem with that is that there will always, always, always be someone who you’re going to offend, upset, irritate or generally cheese off. (And, yes, ‘cheese off’ is a vulgar expression.)
If you read this far then can I just say, “Thank you,” and point out that no one made you do it. If anything I said upset you then I’m sorry. But the blame is something we have to share. I’m to blame for writing this and you’re to blame for reading it.
As usual I don’t know what the answer is. The question up for discussion is: How far should a writer go to forewarn his or her readers? And I suppose the follow-on from that is: What right does a reader have to wag their finger at an author?