Monday, 13 October 2014

On offence

Philip Matthews at the Christchurch Press asked me for comment on the offence caused by some of the decorated cars at Canterbury's ENSOC RoUndie 500, and by Otago students uploading intimate photos of other students; the comments appeared in Saturday's Press. I don't believe that article is yet online, but here's what I told him.

It's important to draw distinctions between things that are in poor taste and cause offence, and actions that cause more substantial harm. There is a world of difference between uploading intimate photographs of people without their consent, which I understand to have happened on an Otago Facebook page, and dressing up like the old World Wrestling Federation's Iron Sheik, carrying a cardboard guitar, and calling yourself the Tali-Band. The former case can create really long term damage for the person whose pictures were uploaded. But it's a bit of a long bow to say that the latter one was castigating Muslims in general: there's a terrorist organisation called the Taliban, and the idea of a "Tali-Band" is at least somewhat funny.
I haven't seen all of the cars, so maybe I'm missing something important, but one of the ways that people deal with scary and dreadful things like terrorist organisations or Ebola is through humour. The MH-370 car was almost certainly in the "too soon" category, but I worry that we are a bit too quick to take offence to things, and that too broad of measures to stop anything that might cause offence increases the range of things that are considered offensive. It's a shame more people have not watched The Aristocrats, or even South Park. Maybe next year ENSOC should encourage that their teams mock Canadians instead. With our beady little eyes and flapping heads, we don't take much offense at such things and are usually just happy to be noticed. It even didn't bother me when student evaluations complained of my Canadian accent; you can't please everybody."
Sometimes, Caplan's hypersensitivity training can be appropriate.

The recommendation that ENSOC mock the Canadians was less motivated by South Park and more by this:

The YouTube embed will inevitably deprecate; just Google "Sick of the Swiss".

1 comment:

  1. In my first semester teaching at McGill, the students did not like me at all. One comment was "Send him back to New Zealand where he can only harm the sheep". I didn't like that the students didn't like me, but it never occurred to me to take offence at the nationalistic slur. I never again taught a course where the students were not positive about the course, and never again had a comment about my nationality.