25 January 2010

Oh, yeah? Well, I'm offended that you're offended!

People in general, and Americans in particular, love to get offended by things other people do or say. Some recent examples include:
Of course this is only the tip of the iceberg. I pulled these examples not because I necessarily think the offense is justified (some I do, some I don't), but because they were recent and top of mind. Other possible events are readily available.

Probably the only thing people like more than getting offended is insisting that everyone else NOT get offended. Which leads me to this article: Russian ice dance tribute to Aborigines offensive to Aborgines. In summary, the article is about a Russian ice dancing couple who chose Aboriginal imagery for their performance. Problem? None of the music, costumes or movements actually reflected Aboriginal culture, and some of it was offensive. As a former Australian resident, the article caught my eye.

However, it is the comments to the article that have drawn my ire. One questioned the author, Maggie Hendricks, for taking the word of Stephen Page, the artistic director of an indigenous group, that the dance was offensive. A few take pot shots at ice skating/dancing. But most expressed their opinion that people are too sensitive and that political correctness is ruining the fun for everyone.

In my experience, when people complain about the PC Police, what they are really doing is complaining about being reprimanded for their self-centered, offensive and boorish behavior. Take Brian, for example, who says "aboriginals are offended, big deal." Or Tim S, who wants to know "where's the bone in their nose?"

Josh D says "we are talking about Australian Bushmen here, right? I'm fairly certain they don't have televisions and are not at all concerned about how 2 Russians portray their extremely niche and secluded culture." First of all, Josh, activities and products are niche, cultures are not. And allow me to correct your misconception: yes, they do have televisions, and no, they do not all live in the bush. Walk around Sydney, Melbourne, or any major Australian city and you will see Aborigines. But even if you had been right about Aboriginal ignorance of television and Russian ice dancing, would that have made it OK? I was always taught that character was doing what was right even if no one was looking--wouldn't that apply here?

vgbaron: "Who the heck cares? These overly sensitive bozos should take the dance in the SPIRIT in which it was done. I am SO sick and tired of someone getting their panties in a bunch everytime [sic] yhey [sic] percieve [sic] a slight. I am an Italian and I don't get up in arms everytime [sic] there's an Italian mobster in a tv show or someone mentions dago red wine, etc." Well, vgbaron, I'm glad that as an Italian, you are not offended by these things. But I think you would agree there is a difference. I don't think mobster movies imply that all Italians are mobsters, and anyway, they are usually portrayed as a sort of anti-hero. As for dago red wine, A quick Google search finds some mention of it being offensive, but most references are neutral at worst. Personally, I've never heard the term. Maybe it's your friends. Either way, the fact that it does not offend you has zero relevance when it comes to what is or is not offensive to someone else.

Richard: "I am offended by all the people who are so easily offended. Just stop it and worry about something that actually might affect your life." But that's just the point, Richard: It is their life, not yours. And when we are talking about a severely marginalized community, it does affect their lives. We have a right to determine what offends us and how we deal with it. We have no right to make these determinations for others, particularly minorities.

Arni A: "Whats [sic] all the hupla. [sic] The russian [sic] thought it was a good idea and considered it an honor. And thus it did so. [sic] Maybe more research should have been done. but [sic] the thought is alright with me." True, the Russian pair intended it as a tribute. But that doesn't make it OK, because you were also correct that more research should have been done. Would it have been appropriate if they had chosen to "honor" Nigerians by skating in blackface while carrying spears? Or the ancient Chinese by painting themselves yellow and drawing slant eyes on their faces? Intent is important, but execution matters, too. I am sure they did not mean to offend. They probably started with an Aboriginal theme and modified it along the way to make it conform to the requirements of movement, music and costume for an ice dancing routine. But what they ended up with was no longer a respectful tribute to the proud Aboriginal heritage.

Perhaps the wisest commenter was lazurline_09, who said "I can't say anything because I know nothing about Aborigines." Who knows, this might encourage him/her to read up a bit. If only the others had shown similar restraint.