BY JAMIE FOSTER
We have reached a point in time where being offended is a default reaction to anything said by a political opponent. Take the Gove example last week – on the Today programme Gove made a rather unremarkable joke about John Humphrys’ interview technique. “Sometimes I think coming into the studio with you John is a bit like going into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom, you just pray you emerge with your dignity intact.” Cue the hysterical reaction from the offenderati. Nicola Sturgeon, Jess Phillips, Stella Creasy and Jo Swinson were all quick to demand an apology. Gove duly apologised on Twitter for a clumsy attempt at humour. By this point the Twitter Left was up in arms. Gove was accused of making a rape joke and his resignation was demanded.
Surely we are mature enough in this country to decide for ourselves whether to laugh at Gove’s joke or not. The idea that we need humour to be policed by the puritanical Left is appalling. What has happened to our society when every glib remark causes a scandal? There is a particular effect to be seen here. Gove as a conservative is a natural target for those who wish to be offended by anything that he says. His light-hearted attempt at humour is a way of humanising himself and there is no forgiving an opponent’s humanity in the new politics. His remark was as far from a rape joke as it is possible to get. Nonetheless he is fair game for those who wish to leap on the bandwagon of offence.
Nicola Sturgeon said ‘women being abused and raped is not a laughing matter.’ This is hopefully self evident. Gove wasn’t joking about women being abused and raped, he was comparing John Humphrys to a contemporary monster in order to get a laugh. If it is not possible to laugh at newsworthy individuals a whole stream of comic possibility is lost to us. Humour is a healthy method by which unpleasant matters are processed. Have we really come to a point where anything less than hand wringing seriousness is considered a taboo when it comes to dealing with life’s darker moments?
It is perhaps more likely that this is simply part of our current politics. Every opportunity is used to attack an opponent despite the lack of legitimacy of any particular complaint. Chance remarks are leapt upon to stir up Twitter mobs to greater and greater outrage. What are politicians supposed to do as a reaction to this phenomena? Are we at a place where all attempts at humour are to be avoided at all costs to protect against attacks? Do we really want to only hear from anodyne politicians who say nothing capable of causing offence?
It seems that the time has come to stand up to the po-faced puritans who seek to edit our national discourse. The pendulum that started with alternative comedy must surely start to swing back. I am not calling for a return to racist and sexist humour as a mainstream but we have reached a point where offence is an alternative to humour and it is too much. It is a shame Gove felt it necessary to apologise to placate those who were making a mountain out of a molehill. It is a shame that people feel so concerned about faux offence that they feel it necessary to kowtow to it.
We need to let those who practice knee jerk offence know we have seen through their game. We need to call out the bandwagon jumpers and thought police rather than allow them to make the running. The adults need to take charge again and banish the childish offenderati. Gove and his ilk need to know they are safe to try to lighten the mood without us taking offence. The time for making political capital from throwing brick bats at anyone who resorts to humour must be over.
Britain is a country with a proud history of laughing in the face of adversity. We pride ourselves on our national sense of humour. This sense of humour is under attack and we must defend it. Humour is no laughing matter. It is too important to ignore. The time has come to laugh loud and laugh long at those who would tell us not to make jokes. It is the only reaction they deserve.