In 2018 you don’t have to look far to find someone who’ll take offence at the slightest things; like Piers Morgan over David Beckham kissing his own daughter, or Piers Morgan being offended by Little Mix, or my boss being offended at how many shot I take at Piers Morgan.
And while I’m sure the majority of people would agree that we don’t want to cause undue offence, there have been questions about whether this so called ‘culture of outrage’ has gone too far and is harming society.
The argument boils down to ‘the right to freedom of expression’ versus ‘freedom from offence’. Basically if people have the right to say what they want, do you have the right to stop them because what they’re saying upsets you?
Here in the UK, it’s widely agreed that the right to freedom of expression is crucial for a functional democracy, and you have a legal right to free expression and opinion under Article 10 of the Human Rights Act.
At the same time however there are recognised limits to how far ‘freedom of expression’ goes. For example hate speech is not protected, but the idea of criminalising offensive speech could be seen as an attack on democracy.
Over the last few years a number of comedians and free speech advocates have come forward and argued that that things have gone too far with free speech being stifled.
So earlier this month on a cold November morning UNILAD set off to a suitably spooky Sunny Bank Mill, to speak to David Firth, an animator who’s best known for his disturbing cartoon, Salad Fingers, to discuss his feelings on our culture of offence.
In case you missed out on it in 2004, Salad Fingers is a bizarre, frightening, and fantastically funny cartoon series which follows the eponymous Salad Fingers, a green ghoul with leaf like fingers and an odd predilection for rusty spoons.
Despite its popularity David has struggled with the cartoon being demonetised by YouTube because of people flagging episodes as offensive because they don’t like its pitch black humour and gory scenes.
As you’d expect from the twisted genius behind a cartoon like Salad Fingers, David doesn’t have much time for those offended by ‘his squiggly lines moving in a way they don’t like’.
David told UNILAD:
I feel like people are lining up to be offended just because they see other people being offended, and I don’t think anyone’s actually offended, they just want some attention.
It’ll expand to the point where you can’t make fun of anything anymore because someone will be offended.
You might not recognise him on the street, but his work is world famous. Meet the creator of the notorious Salad Fingers… 🙌🥄
Posted by UNILAD on Sunday, 2 December 2018
David’s opinion, that people take offence for attention might sound a controversial one but it’s one that there’s evidence to support.
M.J. Crockett, an expert on the neuroscience of human morality and an assistant professor of psychology at Yale University, wrote that, online at least, there’s a benefit to expressing outrage.
He wrote in The Globe and Mail:
Digital platforms amplify the personal rewards of expressing outrage. Naming and shaming wrongdoers benefits people by signalling their moral quality to others, and online networks multiply these benefits.
People are not necessarily conscious of their reputations when they express outrage, but anyone paying attention to their ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ is bound to learn, at least implicitly, what kinds of expressions are socially valued.
When people like and share ‘outraged opinions’ online the brain releases endorphins (hormones linked to happiness and satisfaction) which slowly conditions us to express more outrage in the hope of getting another ‘hit’ of the sweet nectar that is social validation.
Dr Terri Apter, meanwhile, wrote in Psychology Today that outrage can be addictive because it ‘assures us of our moral superiority’ and that it’s part of the human condition to distance ourselves from behaviour we deem inappropriate.
She adds that outrage cleans us from association and quickly infiltrates our identity. Humans are nothing if not tribal and we have a tendency to form groups, in this case groups of people who share our outrage.
This coupled with the feeling of superiority we get from being outraged means those that don’t share our opinions are instantly in another group, an inferior group.
Insidiously Dr Apter suggests that this tribal instinct combined with the pleasure we derive from judging people eventually leads to people deliberately looking for things to be upset about to trigger their feelings of outrage.
Of course that said the ability to call out people’s behaviour, as I suggested before, is part of a healthy democracy.
As such those who are outraged have just as much right to express their outrage as freedom of speech advocates have to express their views.
Furthermore outraged groups online have given those who are traditionally disenfranchised a voice, most notably the Black Lives Matter movement.
Perhaps the important thing to remember, to quote Ricky Gervais, is that just because you are offended doesn’t mean you’re right.
If you have a story you want to tell send it to UNILAD via [email protected]