So some teenager from Lancashire has just been incarcerated for 12 weeks for telling a bad taste joke on Twitter about the recent disappearance of April Jones. This was following several Twitter users' tipping off the Police about it. I think it was the one (the BBC won't tell me in case I'm terminally corrupted by such vile humour) about her challenging Madeleine McCann for the World Hide & Seek Championship. You can probably go onto Sickipedia and I bet it'll be there, if you must. Which joke it was is not important.
What is important are the following two things this reveals about our world, both of which have got me extremely borsant:
1. That the victimless crime of saying something that anyone, anywhere might find offensive, is worth 12 weeks' porridge.
2. That there are people whose idea of a good time is to trawl Twitter and Facebook and other salted-earth segments of the web looking for things to get bent out of shape by.
(The second of these I can't even write off as "people who clearly need to get laid" because several of them brag about their grassing up of so-called Twitter Trolls and refer to having children, which, as we all know, is contrary evidence. Also, my lack of ashes being hauled in recent times renders it a bit disingenuous.)
Thing is, this culture of being easily offended is, irrespective of how nerve-wreckingly, toe-curlingly offensive it is, something that has a deleterious effect on public discourse. Now it is possible to silence critics or ruin an opponent or rival because you got offended by something they wrote on the internets. Especially if there's an element of race or religion involved. It is no coincidence that the veteran gay rights campaigner Peter Tatchell, when he protested about the appearance in the East End of London stickers proclaiming it as a "gay free zone" and referring to a quote from the Qur'an about how "Allah is swift in Punishment" he was ratted out by certain folks connected with the East London Mosque for fomenting religious hatred. Which was clearly because the ELM had a similar view of the gayers (they're not all that big on them and keep accidentally hosting guest imams and preachers who really ought to rename themselves Sheikh Abu al-Fredphelps and are clearly so far in the closet they're having adventures in Narnia). Similarly, there have been local councillors whose opponents, rather than engaging them on the issues, have trawled their Facebook and Twitter accounts for anything that anyone, anywhere, out of context, might find offensive.
Further, life does not come with a guarantee that people will always be nice to you. I've had some pretty offensive things said to me. When I was a student who criticised Saint Bob Geldofs attempt to cash in on his mid-80s charitable ego trip one person told me to "fuck off back to Auschwitz where I belonged." I've also been accused by a client of mine, in between fits of teeth-sucking and self pity, of being a "corrupt little cunt" who is "in the pocket of the London Borough" who was trying to evict him when I told him that what he wanted me to argue was really not likely to wash with a Judge. However I never saw fit to adopt a stance of hand tragically nailed to the forehead and insist to my friendly local Police officer that I wanted them done under Section 5 of the Public Order Act. Because there was no point. You have to ignore this sort of thing rather than make a song and dance about it. However, as a nation, we seem to be unable to do this any more. Our first line of defence to any challenge to our orthodoxies is to caterwaul about how the critic is being offensive and thus close down the debate. And on a strategic level, public discourse devolves into squalid mud-slinging at peoples' characters and nothing gets done. Just look at the current US presidential election if you don't believe me.
In short, the sentence of the Lancashire teenager to have his chips and gravy in the big house for the next 12 weeks only serves to further legitimise the idea that everyone's feelings, real or hypothetical, must be protected at all costs. And I say hypothetical for a very good reason. Because in both this case, the case where another teenager was nicked for posting how Olympic diver Tom Daley had let down his dead dad by failing to win a medal, the persons at whom these allegedly offensive posts were targeted had made no complaint whatsoever. So one cannot say that these people were even offended! A victimless crime it surely was, methinks, as a result.
No, it was curtain-twitching busybodies who saw fit to spend their valuable beer and sex and curry and Skyrim time on reading months old Twitter feeds looking for something to get aeriated by. Who are then fortified in their wowserdom by the might of the State which sees fit to throw resources at prosecuting people for saying something unpleasant on the Internets, which nobody was actually upset by, but might have been.
Meanwhile, where I live, some guy's beating folks up on trains for shiggles.
As for me, I'm going to go and listen to The Macc Lads really, really, loud. And sing along too. Because it seems that nobody cares about what a mess we're in due to the above, so I might as well exercise my right to butthurt people while I still can.