Causing offence and making apologies.

Top of the British news yesterday morning, was another person with a slight claim to fame, saying that their words had been ‘taken out of context.’  The particular words she’d used were a series of racist remarks that she had messaged to a friend.

Setting aside the questions I have about this woman’s judgement on several levels, what struck me is how often that phrase, ‘taken out of context’ is turning up lately.  Isn’t it about time we went back to the idea of challenging users of this defence to put their words into a context?

I know some would counter this by saying that to do so provides the user with a wider platform: it is.  Call me naïve, but I can’t help thinking that making offensive behaviours a mainstream media topic is a positive action.

Sidestepping arguments in the legitimate media pages is no longer a solution to offensive behaviour.  Most of us can access a whole range of public platforms with ease, and, as the majority of these ‘taken out of context’ stories prove, there seem to be few boundaries to that access.  Maybe it’s time we re-thought the strategies for dealing with offence.

What seems to be happening in this case is somewhat typical of other situations I’ve noticed: everyone connected to the woman in question has condemned her, but practically in the same breath they’re now arguing over her higher profile partner’s political future.  In this way, the focus has shifted from what she said, to will he or won’t he go?

cartoon under the carpet

Are you okay with that?


15 thoughts on “Causing offence and making apologies.

  1. It shows the signs of becoming a witch hunt, Cath, though of course, I’m of the wrong gender to comfortable voice opinion.

    Some truly shocking things have been revealed and some outright trivia.

    The test will be what the world looks like when the initial business of accusation and proof and punishment dies down.

    Have to hope for something a bit more evolved to be there in that place.


  2. I hadn’t heard of this instance so I looked on the net.
    But I often wonder what context permits racial remarks. Repeating them? None of the sites I scanned quoted any, so that’s a positive. When an American president appears to use racial language, deny it, and survive, then maybe it isn’t surprising.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Prefab sprout’s 1997 song, Electric Guitars, comes to mind:
    I’d a dream that we were rock stars
    And that flash bulbs popped the air
    And girls fainted, every time we shook our hair.
    We were songbirds, we were Greek Gods
    We were singled out by fate
    We were quoted out of context – it was great.

    Quoted out of context used to be quite funny and usually obvious. Trying to hide extreme opinions behind that phrase these days does not work. But, as you say, some observers seem to forget about the person who has said it and what it says about that individual. Instead they concentrate on its effect on their partner’s career.
    It is all too easy to publish the most vile stuff – trying to pretend that you didn’t really mean it or that if put in context it is ok, is not enough to redress the harm.

    It used to be said that if you gave an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters they would produce Shakespeare. One of the things the Internet has taught us is that that is not true.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks, Mike. I’d forgotten that theory about the monkeys, what a nice point. And I hadn’t remembered the Prefab Sprout song…how complacent that sounds now.
      Free speech is wonderful, but we forget there’s always a down-side.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What intrigued me, if I’m right about the story you mean, was how quickly the high profile partner dumped her once the racist comments were leaked. Even allowing for the fact that their relationship may already have been on the rocks, it seemed an extreme reaction, but maybe I’m taking it out of context.

    You highlight my issue with so-called news Cath, namely that much of it isn’t. Are we really so addicted to drama and faux-catastrophe that we prefer it over real news? I absolutely agree that words should be chosen carefully, especially when the speaker is in the public eye, but today’s words fill the pages of tomorrow’s chip paper. Particularly in these times when, as you say, there is very little restriction on what we can access. We are bombarded with random sentences, soundbites -as a previous responder said- and then that moment passes and we’re on to the next one. It can be impossible to digest anything and form a considered opinion.

    As a society, we seem to be poised, waiting for the next thing to be outraged about. And behind all the hype and self-righteous ‘not in my name’ clamour, real stories and issues to are overlooked. Many of the people in positions of power or celebrity seem phoney to me. They spout well-worn cliches assuring us how concerned they are about, for example, the NHS, poverty, homelessness, the state of the nation’s mental health, but few of them present as genuine, caring people.

    The sad result, I fear, is a large section of society who care less about a person’s life, personal qualities, hardships and triumphs and more about the shade of their tan or the distribution of their cellulite. As Lynda said, when eminent ( and I use that term advisedly) world leaders behave in this way and are tolerated and even revered, it’s sadly not surprising.

    Liked by 1 person

    • The word ‘sadly’, I think, perfectly sums up my feelings about this. The recent story, that you seem to have accurately identified, was top of the news when I sat down to write this week’s post. As you say, I wasn’t really surprised, just sad, and I thought maybe it was time I said so, not just by shouting at the radio, but by setting a few words out on the internet.

      I’m so glad I posted this. It’s been reassuring to find so many well thought-out responses. Thank you for extending the conversation, Ruth. I think you just have put some context into this issue.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. As always, a thoughtful and thought-provoking post Cath. Thank you. I do a lot of shouting at the radio and television too. It’s why I love programmes like Strictly; my creme brulee in a world of bony fish.

    Liked by 1 person

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