I try not to get offended about things. Most of the time, I don’t let things get to me. I don’t think I’ve ever been offended by something that a comedian has said on stage. They’re just jokes, and even the ones that are designed to offend are usually admirable in how well they’ve been crafted.
Even the likes of Frankie Boyle and Jimmy Carr – two comedians who have a no-nonsense, offensive streak to their act – are comedy heroes of mine. They might make a joke about paralympians or the holocaust, or any number of taboo topics, but it’ll still make me laugh. The joke itself is usually funnier than its subject.
It’s a dangerous game though. Where do you draw the line? And who decides on what subjects are off-limits? Only last night I made a joke about Phil Spector, the famous record producer, in a Facebook thread. I was told my joke was in very bad taste, and yet the individual defending him seemed to be completely unaware – or in disbelief – of the fact that Spector is a convicted murderer.
I recently heard a BBC Radio 4 special called Ellie Taylor’s Safe Space (synopsis: ‘Stand-up Ellie Taylor airs her controversial opinions in her Safe Space’). I like Ellie Taylor; she can regularly be seen with Nish Kumar on The Mash Report, and has appeared on the likes of Live At The Apollo and Mock The Week. She’s a great comedian and, like Boyle and Carr, specialises in making light of offensive subjects.
Interspersed with her stand-up routine in the show were segments where Taylor would interview audience members and ask them about any controversial opinions they might have. The amnesty mined generally inoffensive points of view; unpopular opinions rather than offensive ones. For example, the first audience member thought that ‘Game Of Thrones / Breaking Bad – i.e. the best shows in the last ten years – are really not as good as they’re said to be’. As I said: unpopular but not offensive.
But one audience-member’s opinion did get my attention. Remember, this is coming not only from a Radio 4 listener, but one so involved with the station that they will seek tickets to, and then attend, the filming of one if its shows.
Mr. Val Jennings’ opinion was that ‘For those who can afford it – particularly people who happily subscribe to Sky, Netflix, Amazon Prime, etc – the license fee should be increased.’ When Taylor asked Jennings if he subscribed to any of these services, he replied with ‘No. The license fee is perfectly adequate for everything you need.’ He then suggested that those people should pay an additional £20 per year for their BBC license fee. The audience grumbled; I would have shouted ‘Bullshit!’
Who made this guy the arbiter of what content is suitable and not suitable for people? It has to be mentioned that Breaking Bad – generally regarded, as above, as one of the best shows in the last ten years – was never originally broadcast on British television. You had to subscribe to Sky to watch it. One of the freeview channels, 5USA, broadcast the second season in 2011, but didn’t pick up any of the subsequent seasons. You either had to buy or rent the DVDs, or wait until the launch of Netflix in 2012 to see the rest of the show.
Val’s argument – that the content offered by BBC radio and television through its license fee is perfectly adequate – seems to dismiss all content that is not offered through these channels. It sounds like the sort of argument a similarly-minded person would have made when television was inaugurated in the 1930s: ‘The wireless is perfectly adequate for everything you need.’
I’ve never been so offended in my life.
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