A couple of months ago a man was jailed for 8 months for wearing a t-shirt bearing an offensive slogan. IMPRISONED, AWAY FROM HIS FAMILY FOR 240 DAYS, BECAUSE HE WROTE A SLOGAN ON A T SHIRT IN FELT TIP PEN. The law the man was charged with is over 25 years old and comes from the Public Order Act 1986, stating that ‘a person is guilty of an offence if he/she displays any writing, sign or other visible representation which is threatening, abusive or insulting, thereby causing that or another person harassment, alarm or distress’. The wording of this particular law means that someone just needs to be offended enough to report you and then the police are obliged to investigate and pursue a disposal .i.e. a caution or court charge/prison. So all it takes is for one or more people to be sufficiently offended enough to report you and the police are involved. Just watch points of view to see what people CHOOSE to get offended by nowadays and you’ll realise what a frightening thought that is.
The fulcrum around which this debate lies is the concept of a joke and the notion of freedom of speech. The concept of most jokes is pretty basic… when someone says something to you as a JOKE most commonly they don’t mean what they say, or they are exaggerating what they say for comic effect. If you mean what you say then it’s not a joke. If the subject, observer, or listener of any joke understands this then they surely shouldn’t take offence. Having a sense of humour is essential in this world we currently live in to shield yourself from the injustice and reality of the mess that surrounds us. If an evolved 21st century human being doesn’t understand this and the concept of a joke then they will simply join the ranks of those with no sense of humour who spend their lives getting offended. It’s a vicious cycle full of offence, which last time I checked wasn’t a particularly positive feeling to CHOOSE to experience.
The worry is when people accept that something was a joke and then still then see it as a punishable offence. It happened with CHILDREN getting jailed for posting about the riots on facebook, and with CHILDREN getting jailed for JOKING about missing schoolgirls on facebook. A policeman interviewed in the aftermath of the t shirt case said that ‘to joke about the events of that morning (when the policewomen were shot) is morally reprehensible’. That may be but even if the individual in question actually held such abhorrent opinions society should never ever be allowed to imprison someone for having an opinion. The fact that it was acknowledged as a joke and yet still interpreted with maximum authoritarianism is without doubt proof that we’re currently living under the most oppressive rule in my lifetime and edging ever closer to an Orwellian existence. The government clearly frown upon and want to disallow citizens from having opinions, rather than encouraging a society based on notions of critical thought and questioning everything, as Frank Noon argues for continually in ‘2082’.
It also needs noting that the CHILDREN in both of the above cases were out of work, due to the failures of various governments over the last couple of hundred years. Judging by the misguided nature of their behaviour they were also under-educated, due to the failures of various governments over the last couple of hundred years. They attempted jokes no more offensive than many comedians do, just without the required nous to pull them off in the same polished manner. In spite of this in both cases the parents stood by the authorities decision to ‘teach their children a lesson’. In both cases vengeful mobs cheered the decision, seemingly unaware that the same powerful, rich and successful people who jail CHILDREN for having an OPINION do nothing to stop prominent entertainers raping children.
In 2082, the first book in The Chronicles of Hope trilogy, Frank Noon acknowledges that ‘this may well be as ‘intelligent’ as we’re going to get as a species, that evolutionary speaking our generation has the perfect balance between high intelligence and a balanced personality’. If these ideas ring true then I think Frank’s simple conclusion that ‘we’re doing a really bad job with that’ is more than fair. We don’t question things and turn a blind eye far too often. We’re turning into robots afraid to accept that others are allowed to have opinions different to our own. The hope is that people will question more and uncover more situations of such hypocrisy and injustice. The hope is that people will challenge situations where freedom of speech injustices occur. Frankie Boyle did exactly this not so long ago and thankfully won his case. The hope is that the wider public will take on board that it doesn’t matter if the majority consider an opinion to vile, misguided, or ignorant; that they are all just OPINIONS. Everyone has the freedom of choice to disagree with an opinion rather than get offended by it. And if the subject isn’t wise enough to do this then let’s all make JOKES about and laugh at these morons who CHOOSE to get OFFENDED, just to make ourselves feel a little more sane.
A quick word to finish on The Chronicles of Hope. If you visit the homepage you can now read the first chapter for free and see why his speech on why religion is a bigger threat to the Earth than global warming caused such a stir and led to him being offered the lucrative assignment on Muta. There’s also an interview with Frank where you can get to know him a little better. ‘2082’ is out on March 11th, and will be just 96p to buy in ebook format for the first few weeks.