The Best Defence Is Taking Offence

Over the last couple of weeks there has been a storm in a teacup about some questionable tweets by John Stewart’s Daily Show replacement, Trevor Noah. Trawling through the comedian’s twitter history results in some rather tasteless, or at least ill-advised jokes about Jews and women. Twitter isn’t a great venue for nuance or subtlety, so it’s understandable that the jokes come off as blunt and none too clever, but it is a valuable resource for comics to test out bite sized chunks of new material to see if they stick. Some of the tweets being called to account (most loudly by Fox new, long term targets of The Daily Show, with headlines such as “Daily Show Disaster: How Trevor Noah Picks On the Powerless”) date back to 2009. On the surface, Noah’s story seems to be about people taking offence to what he has tweeted in the past, but in reality, at least to me, it seems to be a case of people going out and finding offence to use as a weapon.

Anyone can be offended by anything. That’s both the power and the ultimate weakness of the concept of being offended. Everyone is different and you can be sure that there will always be someone who will take offence at even the slightest thing. That’s what makes the whole concept of offending someone, especially when you’re a public figure, or even a magazine person like myself. There are groups who specialise in taking offence that make it their job to use the idea that a loose word or ill-timed joke could land you in hot water, essentially using the concept of offence and the repercussions thereof to police people’s actions. Years ago, when I was first editing Hyper, I ran afoul of B’nai B’rith for a joke article in which I had a freelancer write press releases for a number of games we generated using the online videogame name generator. THe game that got me in trouble was “Hitler Jetpack Combat”. The press release for the game was a parody of far right, white-supremacist ranting and the general reaction from readers was that it was pretty damn funny, though obviously there were some who weren’t too keen on the joke. The threat of repercussions to a joke that could only be found offensive if you ignore the context and the fact that it about white supremacists rather than Jews was used as the stick to prod me into printing an apology.
'' A number of people find the game offensive that’s their right ''
A print magazine and twitter are very different things the former allows nuance and subtlety and the latter really doesn’t, but the results of offence are the same. The very concept is used as a bludgeon against anyone even remotely “guilty”, even if they have to go digging to find said offence. Since the dawn of GamerGate, this has been a pretty popular tactic. Take for instance the case of Ian Miles Cheong, the editor of Gameranx and vocal opponent of GG. When he was a dumb kid he did some seriously dumb shit on forums, praising Hitler and a bunch of other crap he definitely regrets now. Because of this, any time he speaks up, his stupid mistakes are brought up to discredit him. I’m not excusing the stupidity of his remarks, but using something he said 13 years ago as a weapon, labelling the guy as a Nazi, and posting up his comments in order to reinforce the image is exactly the type of policing that the mining for offence that render the whole idea of “offence” such a ludicrous point. Everyone, no matter how pristine their internet history has said something that could be used as a weapon against them. I don’t have much of a twitter presence, mostly due to the fact that I am terrible at social media, and sociability at the best of times, but all anyone need do to discredit me is drag up this article from the past and use it as “evidence” that I am a vicious anti-semite. SOmeone is bound to be offended and the cycle will start again.

With the willingness of people to search out and willingly find something they can take offence to, the whole concept has, at least to me, lost all meaning. As I said before, everyone finds different things offensive. Some are obvious, such as gay jokes or racist and sexist remarks, and some definitely warrant attention, but deliberately finding offence to smear someone is a problematic thing not only for the individual involved, but also because it takes away the impact of real offence. It takes the concept of individual offence and transforms it into a blanket that can cover pretty much anything, often taking the focus of things that are truly worrying.

Take, for instance, the upcoming spree-killing game, Hatred. It’s a game designed to shock and is, at least according to the developers, an equal opportunity offender, with the race and sex of NPCs randomly generated so both men and women meet their violent deaths equally. It’s an easy game to take offence to, but ultimately it’s no worse than a number of other violent games on the market but doesn’t cover the core elements of the game with a veneer of narrative or taste. A number of people find the game offensive that’s their right but then came the reports that the developers were neo-Nazis thanks to a simple facebook like from Destructive Creations CEO and animator for Hatred, Jaroslaw Zielinski. Zielinski liked the facebook page of the Polska LIga Obrony the Polish Defence League an anti-Islamic nationalist group who fear the immigration of Chechynan refugees who they believe want to impose Sharia Law in Poland (much like our own home grown group of xenophobic idiots, Reclaim Australia), as well as a certain, lesser prejudice against the LGBT community and the favourite target of any nationalist group, the Jews. It seems like a pretty damning piece of evidence but Zielinski says that he only liked the page because they post news articles on the FB page relating to the Middle East and Europe and it was an easy way for him to have those articles brought to his attention.

It may not necessarily be the case, but it is conceivable that a man who spends the majority of his time in front of a monitor would want condensed news brought to his attention. Even if it isn’t the case, does it really matter. Being afraid of Islam isn’t a particularly rare thing at the moment. Governments and media organisations around the world are drumming up scare campaigns about Sharia Law, terrorism and Islam. He could be genuinely afraid of Sharia Law. That would make him gullible and an idiot, but not a neo-Nazi. Zielinski also says that he and other members of the development team lost relatives to the Nazis and things get more muddied. Finding something “offensive” and using it as a stick to beat Destructive Creations hid something a little more worrying that was happening at the same time. After Hatred was restored on Steam, fans of the game started running to the comments, blaming feminists and SJWs for the game having been removed from Greenlight, despite the fact that the removal had been an internal decision. They then started clamouring for a number of high profile feminists and SJWs, including Anita Sarkeesian, Leigh Alexander, Zoe Quinn and the like, so they can presumably murder them in effigy when the game comes out. I personally find that idea far more offensive than a facebook like, but ultimately what does it matter what I find offensive. As with many things, Stephen Fry summed everything up best in his article, I Saw Hate in a Graveyard, published in Guardian UK, june 5, 2015.

“It’s now very common to hear people say 'I'm rather offended by that.’ As if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually nothing more... than a whine. ' I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ' I am offended by that.’ Well, so fucking what.''

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