UPDATE: Mike Sheer has very kindly commented on this blog, and you can read our discussion below. I’ve edited the post to reflect his assertion that he has published all of the comments submitted to his own blog.
Forbidden doesn’t mean you can’t do something, only that you shouldn’t. Of course you can murder, be racist, steal or be a dick. We’d just rather that you didn’t.
And to persuade you not to murder, be racist, steal or be a dick, we all get together and agree on the consequences for murderers, racists, thieves or dicks.
Or we didn’t, but some other dudes did back in that magical world of History. After all, what is Law except an accepted definition of the boundaries of society?
If you murder, or if you’re racist, or if you steal (or you’re being a dick) then you’re going to face the consequences of the path of action you choose to take. Because it was your choice.
So if you think like a dick, act like a dick, talk like a dick and generally write articles about how you prefer being able to be a dick and everyone should just live with it, then go ahead.
But don’t expect anyone to agree if you start complaining how unjust it is that you’re being treated like a dick. Because, listen: You are a dick.
Chortle have published two articles by comics defending being a dick. Good. Talking about what Free Speech is or isn’t proves that we don’t live in the Daily Mail fantasy land of the liberal PC conspiracy.
In @mullone‘s case, I thought it was a great article, an honest, personal and genuine article written to express a wholehearted belief. This I can respect, even if I think he’s missed a crucial fact – if you have the right to offend, I have the right to tell you I’m offended.
The real conversation I think he’s trying to have is how much weight should then be given to my right to tell you I’m offended, and how that influences any consequences.
Because there must be consequences for being a dick, though that doesn’t necessarily mean legal ones. I respect Mullone’s right to say soldiers should die as I respect anyone’s right to say anything they want. But that respect ends if the speaker refuses responsibility.
Responsibility and accountability are kind of A Thing for me. Mullone is clearly happy to accept the responsibility for what he’s said, regardless of whether he respects the consequences which he may face. That deserves respect.
But that’s not true with Mike Sheer, who wrote ‘Women or rape: Which is the less funny’ in an attempt to be a dick in order to parody people who are dicks. I attempted to leave a comment on his blog, though Mike informs me it didn’t get through (below).
Sheer’s response to people telling him he was a dick for writing an article that made him look like a dick was to Gaslight – ie, “You’re wrong to think I’m a dick because you missed the underlying message that I’m only pretending to be a dick”.
Had Sheer said: “Yes, on second thought, in my attempt to parody people who are dicks I all-too-successfully emulated being a dick. The article was a dick thing to write. But I maintain my right to be a dick, and for people to pay to watch me do so.”
Then I would have respected him. Instead, asking us to understand that because he was only pretending to be a dick means that you’re wrong if you think he is a dick spectacularly misses the point of what being a dick actually means.
Accept the consequences of your actions and I will respect you, even if your actions make you a despicable human being. I don’t agree with fox hunting, but if you tell me that you love it because of the thrill of hunting down and killing something, then I have to respect you’re at least being honest with both yourself and me. Because, face it, it’s the truth.
I saw Stewart Lee talking about the responsibility of comedians last week, and I asked him about the ‘just a joke’ defence that always crops up when those who act like (and are) dicks don’t want to be treated like dicks.
Saying ‘just a joke’ suggests jokes are worthless, powerless, he said(ish), which is nonsense: “A joke can make 12 thousand people laugh at the same time. Jokes are powerful”.
He also talked about clowns and how they existed to turn over everyday conventions in history and in other cultures (such as the Native American Hopi), something he explores in his book in fascinating detail.
The crucial thing about these clowns or fools, I find, is that they are outcasts. They exist outside of society. This division gives them a freedom to expose the otherwise hidden or unspeakable aspects of our lives. To point out the Emperor is cold-arse naked.
They’re on the outside looking in. But if they rejected the outcast status, if they wanted to be inside society, if they wanted to be on the inside looking out, they would have to sacrifice this division, this great power.
It’s a complete dick thing to do, but you can throw shit at the windows of a house party all you want, and be glad of it. But don’t be surprised if noone asks you inside to dance.
Perhaps being a comedian means you can’t be cool, you can’t be allowed inside the party all the time, because you’re too busy making people laugh at oneanother. Because you make too many people uncomfortable.
Perhaps being able to joke (however capably) about anything you want to demands that you accept you’ll be treated like a dick, or a hero, depending on who’s listening.
Perhaps freedom of speech doesn’t mean you’re free to say whatever you want to but that you can say whatever you believe in because you accept the consequences.
Perhaps you don’t deserve to question the beliefs of other people unless you’re prepared to question your own.