I Take Offense!

Recently, I attended an event which began with a choir performing several songs. Later on that same day, I learned that a number of attendees had been offended by the irreligious nature of several of the songs and where minded to complain to the organiser of the event.

The above incident caused me to consider to what extent (if any) I (as a poet) am under an obligation to avoid causing offense. Should I censor my writing and/or performances to avoid upsetting my readers and/or listeners?

I am, by instinct a liberal as regards such matters. If you don’t like a book, a television programme, or a poetry performance then you can stop reading the work in question, turn over to another channel or walk out of the performance.

Having said the above, where young children are present it is, of course wrong to expose them to adult material. I have never known of a poetry performance where it has not been made clear as regards those who will be attending. Of course where a performance is advertised as being suitable for all ages, young children etc, it would be wholly wrong to read poems touching on adult and/or erotic matters. Some of my poems do contain adult themes and I would never dream of performing them at an event at which children where present.

However, I am deeply concerned at the growth of the view that there exists a right not to be offended. Let me qualify the foregoing statement somewhat. Of course we all have a right to be offended. Indeed one can not help finding certain things offensive. What we do not have is the right to use our sense of offense (how ever genuine that may be) to censor artistic expression. Most of us are offended by something or other, whether that be swearing in public or the person standing next to us on the tube who has failed to clean their teeth! However we do, as adults have the capacity to either ignore the offending behaviour or to walk away. To argue that certain songs, literature etc should be prohibited and/or restricted simply because I (or you) don’t like it, is deeply iliberal and ends in a society where poets and other producers of art confine themselves to writing about flowers and sweet little lambs frolicking in the countryside. Whilst there are some wonderful poems and other artistic creations touching on these themes, no artist should be compelled (or feel so compelled) either by the state or the force of public opinion (whether majority or minority opinion) to self-censor. To do so leads to an anodine world in which little (if anything) of artistic value flourishes.

I well remember having a conversation with a person of deep faith in which they stated that no one should be allowed to criticise their religion and, in particular their god. I find this perspective deeply disturbing. We do, thankfully live in a liberal society wher you and I have a right to be offended. However we have no right to use that offense (however deeply felt) to call for the censoring of the opinions of others, whether in the field of art, politics or in any other sphere.

13 thoughts on “I Take Offense!

  1. Victoria Zigler (@VictoriaZigler)

    I personally think people should realize that people are going to have different views to them, and deal with it. If you don’t want to be part of something – for example, a concert, a poetry reading, the actual reading of a book yourself, etc – that has differing views to your own, you can just stop being part of it. I mean, I do think there should be something to indicate the type of content you should be able to expect, so you can make an informed choice to begin with. Such as trigger warnings, warnings of things that aren’t suitable for children, etc. But beyond that, artists – be they musicians, poets, or whatever – should be able to choose their opinions, and express them, and people who disagree with their opinions should either choose to avoid the artist’s work in future, or not be part of it to begin with.

    Unfortunately, I also believe that the chances of everyone accepting that way of thinking, and just all agreeing to disagree, are slimmer than my chances of winning the lottery. And I don’t even play the lottery.

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Thanks for your comments, Tori.

      I agree with you regarding trigger warnings etc. However this is not always straightforward. For example, a poetry anthology has many poems, the majority of which may well not contain mature content, whilst a few may have within them such material. By marking the book as “mature”, one may put off readers who might well enjoy the vast majority of the anthology (E.G as a lover of nature he/she may derive pleasure from the nature poems).

      I also don’t play the lottery so our chances of winning are equal, Tori!


  2. The Story Reading Ape

    Unfortunately, the sense of entitlement is on the increase in our society, Kevin, and there will always be someone who feels offended (even about lambs frolicking – how dare they, they’re much too young for that sort of thing lol)
    Personally, if I come across something not to my taste or sense of decorum, I remove myself from it, not expect it to go away from me.
    If I ever offend someone else, I’ll exclaim “Well, I’m offended by your offence” LOL

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Thanks for your commens, which made me smile, Chris!

      I agree with you, if you are offended, remove yourself from the situation.

      You are right, whatever one writes, someone or other out there is bound to take offense.

      There is an article in today’s Guardian regarding David Cameron’s memoirs and how some independent book shops are refusing to stock it on the grounds that some of their customers could be offended. One person quoted even says that they fear their shop could be fire bombed where they to have the book on their shelves.

      Whilst I accept the right of book stores to determine what goes on their shelves, its sad that some apparently feel unable to stock Cameron’s work on the grounds that it may offend some of their customers. No one is forced to buy Cameron’s memoirs and one would have thought that a normal well balanced adult would be perfectly capable of walking passed any book they didn’t like. But, according to the article this is, sadly not the case.

      On a wider point, we all learn from reading books with which we may disagree. One does not have to be a Conservative to take an interest in Cameron’s memoris any more than one has to be a supporter of Labour to read Tony Blair’s account of his time in office.


      1. K Morris Poet Post author

        That is indeed a coincidence, Chris! As you say, its a mad world in which we live.

        As an aside, I wonder how many of those weighty political tomes spend their time languishing unread on dusty shelves, or propping up that wonky bed leg!

  3. blindzanygirl

    I believe that sine truly enjoy taking t can be a kind of atrention seeking. Some enjoy the drama of it. But I believe that everyone should be able to exoress their views whatever they are. It is a free wirld – or shoukd be. But sadly, there are thise who want to put boundaries around us, and thys control ys. And whi us the arbiter antway if what us right and what us wrong? I do if coyrse agree about adult material and chikdren. But apart from that there shoukd not exust a priblem. Having said that, I myst admtt that on my blog I often feel constrained, and often fail to write what I want to write for fear of upsetting or offending someone. So there we go! Great post Kevin

    1. K Morris Poet Post author

      Many thanks for your comments, Lorraine. I agree with your perspective on freedom of expression. I, like you, do worry whether something I write could cause offense. However, so far as I can remember, that concern has never caused me to not express that which I wished to express. Best wishes, Kevin

  4. robbiesinspiration

    I agree with you 100%, Kevin. Actually, trying to censor what others say is infringing on their freedom of speech. We have fought very hard for our freedoms of speech, gender equality, right to vote, etc, and we need to defend these to the hilt.


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