Friday, 13 March 2015

I’m sorry if you think I offended you...

For those of you living without television there is a hoo-ha, or should that be a “fracas”, going on about Jeremy Clarkson, the main presenter of a television show about cars called “Top Gear”.  He allegedly had a “fracas” with a member of the staff and has been suspended by the BBC and the remaining shows cancelled. We wait to hear the outcome – if you want to know about his history put his name into google and you will get 42,500,000 results in 0.25 seconds.

At the time of writing over 750,000 people have signed a petition to have him reinstated. His show is hugely profitable for the BBC and is sold around the world. He is very talented, very funny and, at times, quite offensive. For me the offensiveness outweighed the rest a while back and I no longer watch the show.

It may be regrettable but we all find someone else’s discomfort funny at times. Otherwise we would not laugh at someone slipping on a banana skin – real or metaphorical - not play practical jokes or laugh at them.  As someone who was bullied at primary school I find these things less funny than most – but when does this “jokiness” cross over into bullying, racism, sexism, anti-Semitism etc.  When someone said to me that his family called a Jaguar car a “Jew’s canoe” is that funny or a racist slur?

Then there are apologies: when is an apology not an apology?  The title of this blog is an example. You may not have thought (!) what you said was offensive but I was offended. You either say, “I am sorry I offended you” or shut up. 

Last year John Bercow, Speaker of the House of Commons, criticised MPs for being “sexist, snobbish, yobbish” at Prime Minister’s Questions. This didn’t stop him from intervening when a female Government Minister was answering her 14th question on mental health saying, “I am reminded of the feeling when one thinks the washing machine will stop — but it does not!” In the scheme of things this is not the most offensive thing I have heard but would he have interjected in this way had a man been speaking? 

His apology was also somewhat hedged - “If I caused offence by what I said, I am very happy to apologise to that Member… It was an off the cuff remark, and may well have been a foolish one, and I apologise for it.”

Shall I rephrase for you Mr Bercow:  “If I caused offence by what I said I apologise to that member. It was a foolish off the cuff remark and I apologise.”

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