OPINION — I am offended. Perhaps it was you who offended me. It is a safe bet that you did not intend to offend me. But that does not matter to me. Your intent is meaningless, because I like being offended. It makes me cool.
When I was young, cool people passing each other on the sidewalk, held up two fingers (the victory sign for the generation before) and said, “Peace.” There were protests. Most were peaceful. Four Kent State (Ohio) University students died when National Guard soldiers opened fire on a Vietnam War protest.
Riots and looting happened around the country after the assassination of Martin Luther King. Not here in South Dakota. My family moved to Denver in 1969. Riots happened at both my Denver junior high and high school. Those were spurred by a decision to try to equalize racial diversity in Denver schools by bussing black students in to schools that were mostly white, and bussing white students to mostly black neighborhood schools. The results were terrible.
After two years of racial unrest in Denver, my parents moved again, this time to Kansas, where black students and white students lived comfortably with one another. They participated in sports together, went to dances together, went to the lake together and dragged the main street together.
About the same time, the comedy duo, The Smothers Brothers, were fired by CBS and their television program, The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour was summarily cancelled because the duo had become extremely vocal about the Vietnam War. They were fired for the things they said. Years earlier, comedian Lenny Bruce was arrested for the things he said.
The Vietnam War and racial inequality of the 1960s and 1970s were important issues of the time. The Smothers Brothers were using their voices to address legitimate concerns of the American public. They were supported by a generation of left-leaning citizens and politicians. And they were supported by a generation of moderates and some conservatives as well.
Being for peace was cool. Being for censorship was not. Dissent was valued. Today, censoring or canceling someone or some group is fashionable, and shallow. The surprise of the ever-offended cancel culture is its origins.
In the Netflix documentary, “Can We Take A Joke?” the late comedian George Carlin lamented that society’s offended victimhood has originated from the political left. He said he could have expected a call for censorship from the political right. But that those who have made being offended an essential component of the current popular culture, have come from the political left, took him by surprise. He was disappointed in them. Me too.
Politicians, celebrities and particularly comedians have been apologizing for things they’ve said for some time now. It began with Michael Richards (Kramer from the “Seinfeld”) when he was recorded going off on a group of people who arrived late at one of his shows. It was a racist rant and was not part of his show. Dozens of others have been apologizing for their bad judgment, poor choices, insensitivity and racist remarks ever since.
Interestingly, it seems those most offended are those who are not among the groups the original offensive remarks were about. These are the folks who are fashionably offended on behalf of those who perhaps should be genuinely offended. Fashionable offence is a designer couture garment worn with “woke” pride.
The fear we should all have is that offended victimhood is more than a passing fad. It has been around long enough to be considered a genuine threat to free speech.
Michael Sanborn writes from Rapid City.
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