Living with the Truth Stranger than Fiction This Is Not About What You Think Milligan and Murphy Making Sense

Thursday, 14 October 2010

How would you rate this post?


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?


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 Swearing 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:


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

The I Heart Revolution


Contains references to sexual abuse and child prostitution

Space Chimps 2


Contains infrequent mild innuendo



Contains moderate violence and one scene of sexual violence


Contains strong language, once very strong, strong sex, violence & drug use

Just For The Record


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 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.

aBig Brother Is WATCHING, Lg Poster 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:

[clip_image001, clip_image002, N(clip_image002[1])].

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?




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:


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 Cheese---Smelly 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?


John said...

Fucking ace.

Cheryl Anne Gardner said...

I just talked about this recently as well.

As for what an author can do, well, on my website I have disclaimers that indicate mature content as needed and that reader discretion is advised, not to mention most of my books are adults only. On Smashwords, I have the adult content set to yes. As for my other sale sites, I have tags that are appropriate to the content, and the books are categorized as such. Adult romance, erotica, whatever ... However, you can go into a bookstore and buy American Psycho by Ellis and that has no indication "other than the title" of what it might contain, which are graphic pornographic scenes of sexualized violence, rape, and murder. At least I give my readers a heads-up. I thought it only polite for those who are sensitive to such things. I haven't received a complaint yet.

Anonymous said...

John's searching and cogent critique says it for me too, Jim.

I would add only that, having spooked the sensitive reader with that first sudden 'Shit!' and then guided him/her more tactfully past the next two, promising no reprises, you then spring a fourth 'shit' in 'The shit has really hit the fan'. Shameless and gratuitous scatology!

Gwil W said...

I was browsing in a banana box bookshop the other day when I discovered a new swear word, at least it was new to me.


The new word was FUGGIN. Yes it really was. It's Irish. And I think it's a fuggin good word. James Joyce may have used, I don't know.

Doug said...

Long time reader, first time commenter.

I think the internet as a whole has massively increased most people's ability to find (and potential to be offended by) explicit content.

In certain forums I read, which were mostly read by teenagers, the posters would go out of their way to find disturbing or disgusting pictures to shock one another (and anyone who might be reading). This happened so often I consider myself immune to being shocked by the things I find online.

I think if bloggers/forum posters actively mislead people into finding unsavoury pictures, websites etc. then the readers have a case to feel assaulted. But the majority of the time freedom of speech leaves people to write and link to what they like and I don't think many people have the right to complain about things they find offensive.

Gerry Snape said...

Poet in us Irish to have a suitable new word for the occasion!

martine said...

How can you mention My Little Pony and Jurassic Park in the same sentence as suitable child viewing, Jurassic park is fucking scary.
great post

Art Durkee said...

The short attention span warning is one I probably ought to post on my own blog. I've certainly accused often enough of writing things too long and sophisticated to be absorbed by those with short attention spans. Which usually just makes me laugh, as I view that as a good thing.

I also have another blog on Blogspot where I use their designated warning that this blog might contain mature contents. Not because I put porn or political opinions on the blog, but because I talk about some topics on that blog, like being an artist who happens to be gay, that some people are automatically offended by in their tiny pinheaded little worlds. That they're offended is not my problem. I do find the warning routine useful because it does mean that if they did choose to go ahead and read the blog anyway, it's their own frakking fault. And they can go frak themselves if they don't like it. :)

Of course "frak" is an invented swearword, originated on the Battlestar: Galactica TV series so they could swear all they wanted to and get it past the FCC censors. I've adopted the word because it's fun and it stands in for "fuck" without anyone being able to frakking complain about it.

"Fuggin" I knew about. But then, I am ancestrally Irish, even though born in the fuggin USA. Guess what fuggin stands in for. You got it.

Jim Murdoch said...

John, short and to the point. Thank you.

Cheryl, the point you make about American Psycho is a good one. Some DVDs provide an added layer of guidance by saying whether or not there is any sex, violence or unsuitable language in the film. My TV paper does the same. Blue Velvet which is on tonight gets a 5-star rating but 3 warnings out of a possible three for sex, violence and language but then Austin Powers 2 gets 2 no-nos for sex, 1 for violence and 2 for language so I’m not sure that really puts it in perspective. How bad is 2?

Very funny, Dick. I actually got the idea for that bit from a Monty Python LP where someone comes on apologises for the swear words: “…but as they only appear in this opening apology you’re over them now.” Talking about swearing, I wonder if gay Christians find the expression, “Sod it,” offensive or what?

Gwilym, if Joyce didn’t use ‘fuggin’ I bet he’s kicking himself just now, that’s all I can say.

Doug, glad you decided to make yourself known. Now we’ve been introduced don’t be a stranger, eh? I think what you’re getting at all boils down to intent. The effect our writing has is one thing – there will always be someone willing to take offense over something – but when an author sets out deliberately to offend that’s another thing completely. Then again how can you shock someone if you’ve warned them you’re going to shock them? The effect will be lost.

Gerry, I think the English language owes the Irish a huge debt of gratitude.

The reason I cited those two examples, Martine, was because they were two films I remember taking her to. My Little Pony came out in 1986 and Jurassic Park in 1990 so she would have been 6 when she saw the first one and 10 when she saw the second. She wasn’t frightened. She loved it.

And, Art, yeah, I loved shows like that. When I wrote my last post about swearing, Expletive ʄ#@%ing deleted I did run into was a wonderful list of fictional cuss words at Dragon Writing Prompts including "smeg" (Red Dwarf), "frak" (Battlestar Gallactica), "gorram" (Firefly) and "dren" (Farscape) – I'm surprised that more of these haven't been incorporated into the language. Or maybe they have. What the farg would I know?

Gwil W said...

I didn't known about your Irish word fuggin when I wrote 'Waiting for Beckett'. The poem describes Beckett's reaction on learning that he'd won the Nobel prize. It was the same year Armstrong walked on the moon. Anyway here's the new fuggin ending!

. . .
The whisky sours are with us.

Say it again Sam I say to Sam
raising my glass
trying tomake light
of the conversation.

But Sam doesn't say say it again again.

Sam's no Bogart.
What Sam says now sounds like fug.

We clunk the tumblers
and settle back
to the rattan chairs.

Sam dredges the sour spirit's depths
for the words
to frame the thought

for the words for Sam's one-liner.

And I wait.

It's a fuggin catastrophe
says Sam at last.

Now see that they print it he growls

with a grunt.

Gwil W said...

Jim, Now I'll have to remove the line immediately after Sam's no Bogart. It's a fuggin hard game is this poetry writing business. It's all never ending revisions. Sometimes I've revised and revised until there's nowt left.

The Germans have a couple of good words. There's fahrt (means go/travel/drive etc) and then there's kunst (that's art).

Jim Murdoch said...

As I recall, Gwilym, it was actually Suzanne who said, "Quelle catastrophe!" not Beckett himself although I have no doubt that he was thinking it.

Gwil W said...

It might well be both, the old she said that he said scenario.

My source the Irish Independent of 24th October 1969 reports: His reaction on hearing the news was to grunt "catastrophe".

That's also why the poem finishes with a grunt.

ps- your book is with me.

Jim Murdoch said...

You're probably right, Gwilym. I tend to trust James Knowlson's biography, Damned to Fame but all he says is that Suzanne thought it was a 'catastrophe' and Beckett did likewise. The Faber Companion to Samuel Beckett is clearer. It's a trivial point.

Glad the book's found its way to you. I look forward to hearing what you thought of it.

Sangu Mandanna said...

Excellent, excellent post about such an important topic!

Heidrun Khokhar, KleinsteMotte said...

How to capture attention and make a reader want read it all! Just add "WARNING". Seems the mind is attracted to doing the "Don't head the warning" by a curiosity that is driven by a motivation to follow up the desire to proceed. Signs tend to be ignore more than headed.
They're just to create legal matters for lawyers and for making more capital. The blame game grows. It's a nice venture.
Wikipedia. How safe is it?

Jim Murdoch said...

Thank you, Sangu. Glad you thought so.

And, KleinsteMotte, you’re right. I even have a poem entitled ‘Do Not Read This Poem’ and so far I’ve only seen one person resist: a eight-year-old girl who was flicking through my big red folder came to the poem, said, “Okay then,” and turned the page. Wonderful!

I have mixed feelings about Wikipedia. My only involvement with it has been to write articles on Beckett’s plays – I did all of them apart from Endgame (I ran out of steam) – and I can assure you they were thoroughly researched; the Waiting for Godot entry took me six weeks to write. Now how much they’ve been fiddled around with since I posted them I don’t know. On the whole I approve of the venture.

Dave King said...

Well, there was nothing that could have offended anyone in that post! Nah, I'm sure of it. I do think books and films should carry a warning when they might be thought interminably boring, though. Comprehensive, digestible and common-sensicle.

Jim Murdoch said...

To be totally honest, Dave, I expect to be bored most of time these days. It's a delight when I'm not. Although I find reading harder I'm rarely bored reading although there's nothing worse than having to read a boring book. I'm quite good though, I've only not read two of the books I've been sent to review.

Ken Armstrong said...

We're almost on the same subject this time. I like that, it makes me feel smart. :)

I used IMDB to check 15 movies for my fourteen year old before we watch them. There's a good parental advisory section on each film which pretty-much documents every twitch. It's a bugger for spoilers though. I'm not prudish, I just tend to squirm of a big juicy (CENSORED) pops up on the screen without notice... when I'm in company...

... I've said too much.

Great Post!

who said...

Coulda Shoulda Woulda

are things I would have posted or said many times over tomorrow and the next days.

instead of crap I will just say Thank You Jim

so much easier that way and much less embarrassing. In fact I even held back in calling you names and being all upset at you accusing you of all kinds of craziness trying to claim you were going to post last year but intentionally waited just so I could be embarrassed.

and yes, I have had temporary moments where I was that paranoid due to circumstance.
seriously though, glad I read this

Jim Murdoch said...

Well, all credit to you, Ken, for taking an interest. I’ve often been surprised by just what gets by in a 15. It’s been a while since I took my daughter to the pictures. The last one was a 15, Closer, which, according to the BFFC contained “very strong language and sex references.” It made me kinda wish there’d been a My Little Pony revival on.

And, Dirt Clustit, thanks for dropping by. Not quite sure why you thought the post might have embarrassed you but I’m glad you liked it anyway.

Elisabeth said...

Wow, Jim, I'm glad to have read this. Needless to say it's a topic dear to my heart.

I doubt that I say dreadful things on my blog, as you'd know but I have been known to offend, the surprise element, the fiction rather than nonfiction, the multiple aspects of myself represented in different ways that's been known to upset.

I read an excerpt from a friend's book today. It will be published soon enough, I'm sure, her second novel.

In the piece she describes the scene in some detail of a nurse dealing with an old man's faecal impaction. As I said to my friend later, my stomach roiled as I read but the writer soon moved on to make other valid points.

Even as this section disturbed me i enjoyed it for its great writing and it was honest, although allegedly fiction. It reminded me of being alive with all its awfulness.

I'm sick of the extremes of censorship that seem to float around so much these days. It's not the kids who need protecting it seems, it's the delicate adults who don't like to have their boats rocked with new ideas.

I find I am sensitive though when I check out a new blog site and there's this warning about adult material ahead.

It makes me wonder every time, what am I going to find. I hesitate as though I am about to be assaulted. Sometimes I go no further.

I could probably manage the blog fine. The warning I suspect is worse than the content I'm being warmed against. Such is the power of censorship. It can turn a pimple into a boil.

Thanks, Jim.

Jim Murdoch said...

I’m not sure I’m unshockable, Lis. I left this comment on Ken Armstrong’s blog a few days ago though:

“I have mixed feelings about censorship. In principle I’m opposed to it but when I see what some people want to put on the screen I’m not too sure we haven’t gone too far in allowing freedom of expression. I read a review in SFX of a film called The Human Centipede in which a ‘mad’ scientist constructs a ‘centipede’ out of three human beings by sewing them all together via their digestive tracts. There was a small photo to illustrate. Why? Why would anyone want to make a film in which this happens and why would anyone want to watch it? Just because we can doesn’t mean we should. I’ve not watched a horror film in years and even then I didn’t watch many. I do read reviews when I see them and that’s usually enough for me. When the world read about what the Nazis were doing, experimenting on people, they were rightly aghast. Now people pay good money to watch it. I don’t get it.”

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