Of Fences: Just Ignore Them

Question: Someone tells a joke. What percentage of the audience needs to laugh at it in order to make it socially acceptable to repeat?

Answer: It doesn’t matter. If even one person is offended, the joke should not have been told in the first place. Even if they weren’t in the room. Even if their interpretation is incorrect, or based off faulty context.

I, of course, don’t agree with this politically correct policy, this fueled-by-the-rage-machine nonsense of the vocal minjority. I have a better question: Why can’t we just ignore it? Jeremy Renner calls a fictional character a slut, revealing, at worst, a prudish sensibility when it comes to sex. The “shaming” aspect is something listeners add in later, already denying the actual words spoken by the tired interviewee; later, when he uses “slut” in a gender-free context (applicable in definition to both men and women), he’ll continue to be labeled a misogynist, even though this has nothing to do with a hatred of women. (At worst, it’d be a hatred of a specific–and again, fictional–character.) Suddenly, it’s a Thing. He must Apologize for this Thing, even though it’s pretty obvious to everybody that even if he did, he wouldn’t mean it, which means that it’s not about apologizing so much as it is submitting to a petty power struggle.

In the meantime, Renner hasn’t hurt anybody. He hasn’t shown a consistent pattern of abuse. Most importantly, he hasn’t done anything to you. Few people saw his original interview; chances are, you saw it only because someone was using it to make a point, though heaven knows what it was. There are plenty of prudes out there, and while the opinion that someone in, say, Congress, holds regarding women and their reproductive rights might actually matter, Renner’s just an actor. His big mouth really shouldn’t be a surprise. His ability to actually affect you is extremely limited, beyond that which you allow. The mute button, after all, is right there. So’s the channel changer. You should probably be working in the office right now, anyway, and not clicking through to a video Guaranteed To Enrage You, about which an opinion has been proffered, several times, before you even see it for yourself.

The point is, reacting to being offended is a choice, and one that should be easier and easier to manage the further and further you are removed from the actual event. There’s a huge difference between someone calling the Black Widow a slut and saying it to your face; why do so many people react as if it’s even worse? I suspect this has to do with the echo effect of the Internet–it’s like the old game of Telephone, except that with each new outlet it passes through, a bit of outrage is added, so that by the time it reaches you, it’s full of extra-salty injury, which would explain why those most removed are most insulted, and why everyone feels as if they were there themselves.

But wouldn’t it be better to simply filter all of that out, take a deep breath, and check to see if you’re *actually* offended? If you’re not just transferring your anger onto the nearest celebrity (as we do with so many of our emotions) so as to avoid having to confront your own life? If you’re not automatically assuming the worst so that you don’t have to actually think about this thing that you Don’t Want to Actually Think About? That’s why I suggest that we simply ignore things like this. That doesn’t mean we don’t care about your feelings, that doesn’t mean we condone slut-shaming; it means that hey, perhaps we’d rather focus on actual slut-shaming so that it’s taken as the serious issue it is, and not a celebrity circus freakshow topic.

This is the part where I’m supposed to write that if I’ve offended you, I’m sorry. Well, I’m sorry: I’m not. Your reaction to these words is as much your fault (if not more) as it is mine, since it’s really your interpretation of this that you’re taking issue with. (I can’t even really take credit if you agree with any of this, as it’s probably just vocalizing whatever was already inside of you, struggling to get out.) What I would love to do it talk about it, and if that’s all that I’ve succeeded in doing–provoking a response–then so be it. You can thank me for that later.


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