I’ve made it a goal in my life to do my best to try and follow the following dictum. Only be offended when someone is trying to offend you.
Here’s a scene in Say Anything that doesn’t get talked about a lot. Diane asks Lloyd to come and visit her father’s old age home. Lloyd honestly tells Diane that old people creep him out. Diane rationally tells Lloyd why his view is ignorant and possibly offensive. Lloyd stammeringly apologizes and promises to give meeting old people a try. Diane forgives him!
Sadly, in real life, the scene often plays out like this. Lloyd honestly tells Diane that old people creep him out. Diane becomes offended, pouts for about two weeks never telling Lloyd why she is upset and eventually breaks up with him mysteriously, leading Lloyd to wonder endlessly what happened and spend a lifetime in psychotherapy.
This interests me because as someone who loves conversation, having opinions, and artists that have opinions it constantly comes up. A lot of the artists that I really love have had a history of being censored by easily offended folks, mostly for admirable views that people were too easily offended by to spend some time thinking about the intent of the artist. It also happens a lot to me in real life because as someone, who tries to see all sides of an issue, I often seem to offend people from time to time. I’m often told that if people understood more about me that they wouldn’t have been offended, but that never usually happens. People just get offended and write you off, and personally, I do my best to never write off anyone until they’ve proven to be a consistant ass rather than an occasional one.
Face it everyone is an occasional ass. Everybody has a ton of beliefs that they wouldn’t have if they were more educated, but it’s actually pretty hard to be well informed about everything. There have been tons of people that I didn’t like at first that I grew to really like after getting to know them better. Offended people, though, never want to make that effort.
A lot of times it comes down to people not having any real ability to have an intelligent conversation without taking the other person’s views so seriously that the whole future of the friendship depends on it.
Here’s how you risk offending people. Talk honestly about something that isn’t completely innocuous.
A lot of people, not wanting to risk offending anyone, actually hate these conversations and avoid them at all costs. They are also usually the people who get offended and hold secret grudges against you forever.
Which is actually sort of fine with me, because those people are really boring. C’mon you’ve been to those terrible parties.
There are three types of conversations that go on at parties.
1. Innocuous and boring: These conversations are usually made up of talk of work. What do you do? How is your boss treating you? Oh so you’re looking for a new job? Followed by hours of awkward pauses.
These conversations break my heart. It’s bad enough that most of us have to trade away five or more days of the week to support ourselves, do we really have to waste the other two talking about the previous five?
2. The hours long “Dude, I’m so wasted conversation.” Dave Chappelle recently said that he decided to stop smoking weed with Black people, because the conversations had gotten too depressing. White people on the other hand, according to Chappelle, only talk about other times they got wasted.
In fact, that’s a huge reason why people drink at parties. The conversation of type 1 is so boring that they all get hammered until the awkward pauses disappear. The rest of the party usually consists of a lot of laughing over things that aren’t even remotely funny. I know this for a fact because for the most part I never really considered drinking or doing drugs until I was 29. I used to sit around at college with friends who were getting stoned or drunk and be utterly bewildered by what it was they were laughing at how they could possibly be having a good time. (It’s also possible I was just no fun.)
3. Good intelligently honest conversation.
These are so rare and the truth is that you can often only have them if you risk being offended. Sometimes these conversations can be about a subject that people agree about. You like Clint Eastwood movies too? Have you seen Tightrope? Oh, you have to see Tightrope. Do you know the history of the Spaghetti Westerns? Those are fun and educational conversations.
But a lot of times these conversations have to veer off into riskier subjects that even good friends can disagree about.
The following conversation goes on a lot.
“I hate George Bush”
“Wow, I hate George Bush too.”
“I hate the war in Iraq.”
“Wow I hate the war in Iraq, too:
The rest of the conversation will be congratulating the other for their obvious intelligence and deriding the people that don’t agree with them. I’ve had those conversations, but if you think about it, they are really sort of a silly form of self congratulations.
My friend Grant and I have these conversations a lot, but usually they are more insightful. We usually try to figure out why the other side believes what they do, whether they may have a point and what type of movie we can make to better illuminate our views and the subject matter as a whole (Sadly, no one has of yet begged us to start making these movies).
So face it a lot of times good conversation is about things that you and the people you are talking to either disagree on or concerns a subject that a lot of people are scared to even discuss. It’s the type of things that Bill Hicks was censored from David Letterman’s show for even broaching.
Here’s where it becomes a problem for me. I’m offended by almost nothing, so almost by definition I have to offend more people that I’m offended by, and it’s largely my contention that some people are offended by almost any level of meaningful conversation.
People constantly say that All in the Family could never be aired on network television anymore. They all lament it, but no one ever does anything about it.
Here’s some interesting things that I think a lot of people don’t really understand or don’t remember about All in the Family.
1. The show wasn’t just people making fun of a bigot. In most of the episodes, Rob Reiner’s politically radical and unbending Michael is being made fun of just as much as Carol O’Connors’ Archie.
2. Even though Archie was a loudmouthed bigot, who consistantly verbally abused his wife, there was a lot to like about Archie Bunker.
My grandfather was fairly racist and I hate racism. He wasn’t even particularly easy to like, but I treasure the time I spent with him and really grew to respect him for the rest of his personality and being.
Personally, I think Doug Stanhope as a stand up comedian is 100 times funnier than Jerry Seinfeld, but sadly how ever many Porsche’s Jerry has Doug has that many less. Face it Jerry Seinfeld, funny though he may be, never tells a joke that could be remotely controversial or offensive. Eddie Murphy used to be wildly offensive and controversial, now he makes kids movies because that’s where the huge money is. Look how offended people got recently when Bill Cosby decided to drop his act and have some real opinions. Even nutty Tom Cruise has taken a huge popularity hit for having opinions that weird as they might be are nowhere near as offensive as a drunken night of Mel Gibson.
Jay Leno still somehow has better ratings than David Letterman these days, despite the fact that Dave now has writers and Jay doesn’t! Bill Hicks was actually pretty good friends with Jay Leno, in fact, Leno often helped his career, and yet Hicks was so appalled by how lamely innocuous the once edgy comedian became doing on the Tonight Show that he completely eviscerated Leno in “Artistic Role Call” from his album Rant in E minor.
Now I’m not nearly as abrasive as Hicks was, but sometimes it’s shocking how easily people get offended these days. I’ve written things on certain subjects where I found myself completely torn on an issue, and I do my best to wrestle with almost every thought I have on it, a lot of times not even coming to a conclusion, and yet somehow people still find something to be offended by, because the issue is so clear cut to them personally that they don’t even want to hear you wrestle with it.
Say someone loses their job for saying something that came out unitentially racist. To a lot of people, just defending that person or having the opinion that they shouldn’t have lost their job will lead them to brand you a racist, when in reality you are just trying to evealuate certain situations with an open mind.
I’m still of the opinion that Isaiah Washington shouldn’t have been fired from Grey’s Anatomy and that his going to sensitivity rehab was a silly farce. That’s enough for a lot of people to say that I’m not sympathetic to Gay causes and don’t understand the plight of Gays. When in reality, having lived in San Francisco for years and having read a lot about these issues, I’m probably more sympathetic and understanding than probably 99% of the heterosexual world.
There was a guy, who I used to work with who I disagreed with politically on basically everything, but eventually we got along really well and enjoyed each others company. Maybe it’s just me, but I’d much rather hang around with an entertaining right winger fanatic than I would with some boring dude that agreed with everything I said, or worse someone who never has an opinion on anything and hasn’t even given most issues a second thought.
Here’s a time that I offended someone that still makes me laugh and wonder. I was out with some people for dinner, some that I knew and some that I was meeting for the first time. I started to make fun of myself, because I watch a lot of movies and television shows that mainly appeal to women, and I think that romantically I have a lot of traits that are usually seen as being feminine. I said,”Basically, I’m a girl.”
I found out later that I offended a woman that night, because she felt I was insulting women. Hell, I was making fun of myself for not fitting the stereotype of a man’s man! In fact, if anything, I was talking about how much I respected women, otherwise why would I have so often chosen to act like one?
So anyway, please, do your best to get along with others. Try to only be offended when someone is trying to offend you, and give someone who offended you more of a chance, because chances are it’s probably me.