146. Everything Is Offensive

Everything is offensive. No, I don’t even mean it figuratively – EVERYTHING you do can and will backfire spectacularly in the presence of a person looking to be offended.

Sit down on a bus? How dare you! Don’t you know that there are other people who needs the space more than you? What, the bus is empty? Oh, so you’re going to just assume that because it’s empty now, it means that it’s going to stay empty? Such an egocentric jerk!

Eat noodles? What, you racist? You’re not even Chinese! Go and eat your potatoes and steak or something. Hold on, you are Chinese? Then you’re only helping to further propagate racial stereotypes! Good job for setting us back a few years in racial equality!

Do nothing? Well, good on you. The rest of us are working hard, contributing to society, making the economy run, being productive, and you’ll just sit there and reap the benefits. Good going, parasite. I hope you enjoy doing nothing while the rest of us slave away to maintain order in society.

(you’re an accountant? Oh, you – um, well… You’re pretty alright actually. Run along, now)

At this point, there is no doubt that someone is already offended by this article.

A little while ago, I was with a group of designer friends talking about strange (read: incomprehensible) art all around, and we joked about starting our own touring art group by mashing random things together on a canvas, and then by the sheer power of language, assign meaning to the mess we’ve created. Hang them up in a nice gallery, charge an entry fee, profit!

(ah, you see, this one we call Pneumonics – the splatters were made to look like snot trails following a sneeze, figuratively pointing to the aftermath of a sneeze. The bright neon colors are meant to evoke a sense of disgust at the chemicals that pollute our air, and the act of sneezing represents the artist’s rejection of these pollutants)

Just as one can assign meaning to otherwise meaningless things, one can also find offense in otherwise offenseless things. A few weeks ago, there was an article floating around the internet about how one reporter’s praise of an award-winning author is, in fact, an unintentional insult, citing the reporter’s focus on the author’s physical features instead of her writing abilities, and the reporter’s remark that the author is a role model to girls all around the world as supporting points, leading up to a grand conclusion that the reporter’s praise for the author was in fact a sexist insult.

Reading the article, I couldn’t help but to stare at it for moments after with absolute incredulity. Really? Must even praise come in the form of political correctness, despite the fact that, you know, it’s heartfelt praise? The debate can go on and on about whether the reporter’s words were actually sexist or not – but does that change the fact that the reporter’s intent was to give praise to the author for her accomplishment?

There needs to be a new measure on what should be taken as offensive, and what I think is this: anything that was spoken or written with the intent of offense should be treated as such; and anything else should be given the benefit of a doubt. Perhaps it was poor taste, bad judgment, or woeful ignorance – but the actions of the latter group should simply be treated as a bad mistake, rather than a defining character moment. There are, after all, many racist things that were said as jokes in the spirit of good cheer; and many politically correct things that were said with an undeniable undercurrent of malice and ill intent.

(I think that the same principle should apply to what constitutes as a lie: anything that was spoken with the intention to mislead, misinform, or to obscure the truth. Anything else is an honest mistake)

What needs to be said is this: even writers make terrible choice of words from time to time, and even the best comedians inevitably tell few bad jokes over a period of time; but making (really bad) mistakes is just part of being human. Yes, people should remain responsible for their actions; but no, people should not have judgment passed upon them for a mistake.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a bowl of noodles to finish.

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