If you talk like a dick and act like a dick, don’t complain if you’re treated like a dick

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.

About Ben Catley-Richardson

Writer, reader, husband. Father!
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8 Responses to If you talk like a dick and act like a dick, don’t complain if you’re treated like a dick

  1. ajollynerd says:

    I sort-of get the “just a joke” defence, if someone who isn’t *usually* a dick posts something dickish as satire and is then tarred with “you’re a dick” comments. In that case, I think it is perfectly valid to point out that the dickishness was for effect. However, by the same token, they really need to own the fact that what they said *was* dickishness.

    It’s one thing to say “Yes, that was a dickish thing for me to say, but I said it in the spirit of satire”, and quite another to say “No, I wasn’t really being a dick just now. It was just a joke.”

    • Ben Catley-Richardson says:

      That’s exactly my point. It doesn’t matter why you’re being a dick, you have to admit you’re being a dick first.

      This is your pact with free speech – You are what you say.

  2. rantenstein says:

    This one of the several times I’ve been told I said things I didn’t. Luckily, if I said it, it will be online. Please reference me directly. Otherwise, I get the impression you’re another fella who skim read everything I put down in a haste to make their own blog about it. Which, of course, is your right.

    Also, I’ve published every comment I received, so yours must not have come through.


    • Ben Catley-Richardson says:

      I’m sad that you feel I’ve come to my opinion in a knee-jerk, uninformed reaction to your post. I actually read your blog and the Chortle articles several times, including reading others and contacting other bloggers, to make sure I understood how I felt about what you’d written, but I’m sorry that you believe I have still misrepresented you.

      The issue of free speech is a passion of mine, and I feel it’s necessary to prevent what I believe to be erroneous interpretations of this great human right to stand uncontested. But posting more than a week following an event on an insignificant and self-indulgent blog which barely achieves 400 views on its very best ever day doesn’t particularly fit your assumption of ‘haste’.

      Thank you for clearing up the comment issue, I’ll update my text as I have no wish to misrepresent your actions. I’ve echoed my comment in the blog, mainly attempting to point out that your attempt at satire in the end seemed to be too successful an impression of being a dick, and seemed to serve no purpose as a result.

      However, just to address what you’ve said – “I’ve been told I said things I didn’t”.

      On second thoughts, perhaps I have attributed something to you that I maybe saw in your writing and wanted to believe you meant. I’m sorry that this isn’t the case. But you did say:

      “Those of you who found it crossed the line … direct it at the appropriate targets”

      You are the appropriate target. You made a decision to attempt satire and I certainly felt you failed. However noble your goal (and I am not accusing you of misogyny here) I think you were a bit dickish to write what you did, and so found it difficult to accept your line that I misunderstood you. As you say in a comment:

      “thing is, a lot of women’s groups etc took the article to heart and got really upset thinking it was real and that is really not what i am about at all. I’ve no interest in that kind of wanton assault on good people, even if it is due to their misunderstanding me.”

      It wasn’t that people got upset “thinking it was real”, it WAS real. You actually wrote those things. Chortle actually published those things. To say that people got upset “due to their misunderstanding me” is an illustration of how you misunderstood why people were getting upset. You go on to say:

      “I understand there’s some people who saw it in the right context and still thought it was offensive, but there’s little I can do in regards to that other than explain myself, which I’ve now done. I don’t begrudge anyone for getting upset.”

      Apart from the fact that noone who was “upset” is asking for your permission or for you not to begrudge them this, by using the words “people who saw it in the right context” you are either suggesting that the article worked better on your blog (which isn’t true) or that there are people who got it ‘right’ and people who got it ‘wrong’.

      This is what I’m challenging you on. On the one hand you don’t begrudge the fact that I think you’re a dick to have written the article, but you do believe that I’m wrong to do so because I didn’t ‘understand’ the piece.

      Perhaps we’re both at fault here, Mike, but you certainly don’t seem to think so.

  3. rantenstein says:

    The “begrudge for being upset” line was for people (like yourself) who have been saying that I am angry with them for “not getting it”.

    “People who saw it in the right context” was those who saw it on Chortle or my blog, as opposed to randomly tweeted to them as a serious article (which happened a lot).

    “You are the appropriate target.” – If that’s how you feel, again that’s fine. “Target” is up for interpretation really. Thing is, you have to also appreciate that that makes you a dick in my eyes, and petty and a short-term thinker. But that’s the circular nature of these debates.

    One thing I think you’re missing is that I wrote the follow up knowing that the piece is not objectively bad. Regardless of what you or I think, many people did get a lot out of it. I’m just accounting for that. My follow up thing wasn’t written for them. It was addressed to the other people who were hurt, offended, and/or got the wrong end of the stick as far as who I am is concerned. And yes, they “misunderstood” me – I know because many of them I had lengthy discussions with and we are now internet friends. They were all surprised to find out I’m not a complete cunt.

    I was very careful to not make the follow up alienate the people who read it, laughed and moved on with their life, of which there were many. I did get a lot of positive feedback, it just wasn’t shouted from the Twitter rooftops like all the criticism.

    As far as me thinking there’s a “right” and “wrong” reaction: dude, you have to remember that I’m a comic. I’ve travelled the world performing my own stand up material for about 8 years. This is not the first time I’ve done a joke that people don’t like or immediately get and will certainly not be the last. It’s just this time it was on the Internet. I stopped caring when people don’t like me a loooong time ago, because it just stops being interesting. We train ourselves to only focus on the positive, and keep moving forward.

    The reason I engaged you is so that you know that I know that you made unfounded claims about my personality. There was a lot of that going around in the couple of days this was a hot topic, but you came in a week later which is why I felt I should point it out. All my opinions and responses are out there, easily accessible for those who want to know. I’m not going to say much more on the matter here, but I do have an interview and a piece about the reaction coming out soon which you can read if you somehow still care at that point.



    • Thanks again, Mike, for engaging. Though I disagree with you, not least on your feelings about the quality of the piece, I really value the fact that you were willing to enter a debate.

      Whether I like you or not isn’t really relevant (I don’t not like you). I certainly don’t think you’re a cunt. But I’m not asking you to care whether people like you, just to accept responsibility for the things you say.

      When you say context I think you mean the context of delivery, which I’ll accept could have an effect. Even so, though I read your article as a result of a Twitter link, I can’t imagine a set of circumstances under which I’d have thought it was anything other than a weak attempt at satire.

      Overall I don’t believe in objectivity outside of a mathematics seminar or science lab, since we’re all human and removing our subjectivity means removing our humanity, therefore your valuation of the piece can’t be objective. But this is my opinion.

      You have given me the opportunity to illustrate my whole point, though. You think I’m a dick because of what I wrote, which doesn’t bother me, though the fact you think I’m a short-term thinker really cuts. But I’m not going to tell you that’s your opinion, as if it is something which I can take or leave.

      Your opinion of me matters because I now have to question myself about what it means. Why do you think I’m a short-term thinker? I have to think about these things, and perhaps even change the way I act or write or talk in the future.

      It’s this process of self-questioning that, in my perception, isn’t happening enough and isn’t evident in your assertion that some people just didn’t get it. Whether you ‘got’ what I was trying to say or not, your reaction is still valuable to me.

      In case it wasn’t obvious, I do care and will continue to care, and I’ll look out with interest for your interview.

      Thanks again for coming along. We don’t agree and we never will, but I certainly know that I’ve learned something from this.

  4. gold account says:

    Usually it’s just shit jokes. Occasionally it’s some dickhead being racist. Neither is anything newly introduced by the internet. However, social media provides much wider potential audience for this sort of dinner party carry on.

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