How to cope with being offended – a handy guide

Lionel Shriver

Lionel Shriver. Completely unrelated to this questionnaire. Especially Q10.

One of things that makes the Edinburgh Fringe so successful, especially the comedy, is the convention that anything goes. Television comedy often shies away from more cutting edge stuff, fearful of all the complaints they’ll get. At the fringe, you get the chance to see something bolder. However, one side-effect of this anything-goes mentality is that you might take exception to something somebody says. This happens on television too, but it’s more likely to happen in the fringe environment. Which begs the question – how can you possibly cope with someone offending you this way?

Painful though it is for some people to contemplate, the Fringe organisers are dominated by people who cannot, or will not, instruct people to not say anything that might upset someone’s delicate sensibilities. But fear not. Inspired by this wonderful flowchart by the legendary John Robertson of The Dark Room fame (and adapted with his kind permission), this extended list of questions should cover any situation that may arise in any kind of comedy, be it stand-up, sitcom, satire or any other form you can imagine.

(And, okay, this list doesn’t cover every situation and shouldn’t be taken 100% literally, but you get the idea. I suspect the people who’d benefit the most from this list are the people who are most likely to miss the point, but I can try.)

No prizes for spotting the references to real events. I may well add to this list as future incidents arise, but this will do for now. Are you ready, here we go …

(UPDATE: I’ve expanded the list in light of recent events. I suspect I may be doing this quite a lot.)

Q1: Are you offended?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes: Go to Q2.

Q2: Do you know why you’re offended?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes: Go to Q3.

Q3: Did you stop and think of a suitable reason in order to answer “yes” to the previous question?

Yes: Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q4.

Q4: Are you interpreting this in a different way to what they meant?

Yes: Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q5.

Q5: Were you only offended after someone else told you to be offended?

Yes: Get on with your life.
No:
Go to Q6.

Q6: Are you offended over swearing in a show advertised to contain swearing?

It’s filth!: Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q7.

Q7: Or is it because someone took the Lord’s name in vain?

It’s blasphemy!: Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q8.

Q8: Or are you outraged over a drawing of your favourite prophet?

You’ll be sorry you heathens!: Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q9.

Downton Abbey. Completely unrelated to Q9.

Q9: Or is it over outdated social attitudes in a period drama?

Yes: Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q10.

Q10: Are you furious that someone wrote a book with a character of a different race to the author?

Typical white arrogance: Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q11.

Q11: Are you furious that someone made a speech at a conference challenging exactly the sort of outrage covered by the previous question?

Typical white arrogance: Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q12.

Q12: Do you only know about this material because you went looking for stuff to be offended over?

Yes: Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q13.

Incubator Theatre: Completely related to Q13.

Q13: Are you taking exception to actors from a country you hate coming over here portraying themselves as something other than the unfeeling bloodthirsty warmongers you believe them all to be?

How dare they depict themselves as ordinary people you might get along with! Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q14.

Q14: Are you taking offence to objectification of women, but you don’t have a problem with exactly the same objectification of men?

Oh, that’s different: Get on with your life.
No (including “No, I’d still object if you did that to men”): Go to Q15.

Q15: Or, for that matter, are you doing that other way round?

Oh, that’s different: Get on with your life.
No (including “No, I’d still object if you did that to women”): Go to Q16.

Stephen Fry and Jenny Bevan

Stephen Fry and Jenny Bevan. Completely unrelated to Q16.

Q16: Are you offended over a joke made by one celebrity about another celebrity, both of saw the funny side and weren’t offended?

Yes, but that’s okay, I’ll be offended on their behalf: Get on with your life.
No: Go to Q17.

Q17: Did you only see reaction to the material you found offensive rather than the material itself?

Yes: Read/watch/listen to the full piece they were talking about, and not just the cherry-picked excerpts they want you to be outraged over. Once you know the full context, go back to Q1 and start again.
No: Go to Q18.

Q18: Did you go back to the beginning as per the previous question, realise the quotes were cherry-picked, but nonetheless find a new set out reasons to be offended in order to maintain your original outrage?

Yes: Get on with your life.
No: Fair enough, you might actually have a proper grievance. Go to Q19.

Q19: Was the material you found offensive necessary for the artistic integrity of the piece?

Yes: Get on with your life.
No, it was quite unnecessary: Go to Q20.

Q20: Mightn’t it just have been a bunch of students/amateurs/drama graduates mistakenly believing they were producing something ironic or subversive or whatever?

Yes: Laugh at their failure over drinks with friends. Then get on with your life.
No, they were just arseholes: Go to Q19.

Q21: Is it really that important? (This is a very important question most people forget to ask.)

No: Get on with your life.
Yes: Go to Q21.

Q22: Do you always say it’s really that important?

Yes: Get on with your life.
No, it’s just this: Go to Q23.

Q23: So this was a direct, cruel and senseless attack?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes: Go to Q24.

Q24: And a mean-spirited attack on something that matters to you?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes: Go to Q24.

Q25: And your outrage isn’t based on a moral double-standard?

No: Get on with your life.
Jesus, yes: Go to Q25.

Q26: And you’re certain that’s what they intended?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes, how many times?: Go to Q27.

Q27: And you’re not digging your heels in and moving the goalposts over something that you know perfectly well you misunderstood the first time round?

No: Get on with your life.
For fuck’s sake, yes! Go to Q28.

Q28: And this really is something that you personally consider objectionable, and not just you leaping on the latest outrage bandwagon?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes! Go to Q29.

Q29: So one last time: bearing in mind everything you’ve read here: are you really offended?

No: Get on with your life.
Yes: Complain. Then get on with your life.

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