On offending and being offended

Photo by Michael Dziedzic on Unsplash

You have the right to be offended by anything you want. If you are offended by something, that is your experience, and nobody can take that away from you. People can try to talk you out of those feelings, but those feelings are genuine. We all have feelings, and we all process information differently.

However, just because you have the right to be offended does not mean that your feelings are earth-shatteringly important. Just because you are offended by something does not make it wrong. People can hold different opinions and perspectives, and we should respect that.

Feeling offended is a far cry from declaring something offensive. You cannot attempt to control, censor, and manipulate the creative output of others and make determinations about what people can enjoy and consume; that is the road to fascism, and it has no place in a free society.

You are within your rights to determine what you do and do not consume, but you cannot make that judgment for anyone else. You have no right to force your world and your notion of what constitutes offense onto other people.

It is up to you how you react. You have a choice — either choose not to consume the information you find offensive and have your life not be any the worse for it or whine like a child and demand that everyone else panders to your delicate sensibilities.

Good art is not offensive by default, but neither does it self-censor in pursuit of being inoffensive. It pushes the boundaries and challenges people. There is no way to create art that everyone loves. Art can be enjoyed by people of all ages, races, and genders, but it will always have the potential to offend somebody.

If we want to create art that challenges people and explores the harsh realities of life, then we have to be prepared for people to get offended. We have to be ready for people to react negatively to our work. But we should not be in danger of having our careers and livelihoods destroyed by that adverse reaction because a vocal club has dedicated themselves to the single-minded pursuit of our destruction due to their outrage.

Humor, commentary, and comedy are ancient art forms, dating back to when our ancestors discovered that if they hit each other with sticks, they would get a laugh out of the tribe. Comedy is how people express themselves and talk about the day’s issues. Comedy has been around longer than any religion that people have died defending. Comedy is one of the most leveling activities on the planet.

It is a way that people of all classes, races, genders, and religions talk about the things that matter to them. Comedy has been around for so long because it is how people deal with their lives. Some of the oldest surviving pieces of literature in the world are the comedies of Aristophanes. These pieces are almost 2500 years old. That rich cultural history should not be sacrificed on the altar of homogeneity.

Freedom of expression is something that we should all be incredibly grateful for. People have the right to express their opinions, no matter how offensive. If we were to revoke the right to offend people, we would rescind the freedom of expression. This would be a terrible thing for humanity as a whole. Art and literature are enriched by the ability to push the boundaries and challenge people.

We live in a world of abundance where everything is available to everyone. There is nothing that is beyond your reach. If you want something, then it is easier than ever before to get it. The internet has made nearly everything available to everyone. If you are offended by something, then you can avoid it. You can ignore it or seek out other people offended by the same thing and talk about how offended you are. You can create a safe space for yourself where you are surrounded by people who are as bothered about everything as you are. You can share memes that express your feelings and connect with people worldwide who feel the same way about the same stupid things. You can build an entire religious order of people who share your silly outrage.

The best artists are loved and hated in equal measure. Nobody has the right to be loved by everyone. Nobody has the right to have their feelings protected and coddled by their community. Art is not a service that we owe anyone. It is a privilege our ancestors gave us, and it is up to us to keep that flame alive.

We should encourage people to create brave art, not cowering in the corner because we are afraid of offending someone. We should encourage people to speak their minds and tell their stories, even if they are offensive. We can only move forward as a society by challenging ourselves and our preconceived notions.



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Joan Westenberg

Chaotic good. Award winning creative director & writer, ft. in Wired, Inc, SF Chronicle, TNW. Founder thisisstudioself.com