asaIf I ever saw an advertisement in which libertarians were portrayed as ugly numb-skulls with small penises (including the women) would I be offended? No, not even a little bit. I respect the rights of all people to express themselves and speak their mind, and I’m not going to get all emotionally upset about it. That’s just part of the cut-and-thrust of free speech in a liberal democracy. However, a handful of my fellow citizens don’t see it that way.

Advertisements for ghd IV hair styling equipment run something like this: a beautiful woman in lingerie sits on the edge of her bed with a set of rosary beads. She looks up prayerfully and text appears on the screen showing her inmost thoughts: “May my new curls make her feel choked with jealousy.” The words are then replaced by “ghd IV thy will be done” and the catchphrase: “ghd. A new religion for hair,” with the letter t of ‘thy’ shaped like a cross. Now, like many men the first thought that would have entered my head is: “nice legs, great tits; who gives a damn about the hair?” But for others the first thought is “this advert is offensive and should not be shown on television,” followed by, “I must call the Advertising Standards Authority.”

I would love a job in the call centre of the ASA.

CONCERNED CALLER: “I’m phoning up about this advert I saw on TV for a hair product and, well, as a religious person I’m offended. I didn’t like it at all.

ME: “You didn’t like it? A beautiful lady in her underwear? What’s not to like?

CONCERNED CALLER: “Well, I found the use of rosary beads offensive for a start!”

ME: “You were focusing on the rosary beads? Didn’t you notice the pert breasts?”

CONCERNED CALLER: “And the sacred symbol of the cross was tarnished in this filthy way! I’m deeply offended!”

ME: “Yeah, but those breasts!”

Those two little words have become the bane of my life over the past few years and frankly I‘m sick to death of hearing them: “I’m offended.” They make me want to cut my ears off just so I have something to throw at the whiner in question. Has there ever been two English words more abused, misused and overused in the history of our language? Of course the correct response should be: “So fucking what?” It should have absolutely no relevance whatsoever that someone gets offended by the thoughts and expressions of another person. As I’ve often said, taking offence is an emotional reaction to something rather than a rational one, and the concept of offence is deeply subjective.

Regrettably when people cry “I’m offended” they too often get taken seriously. For the past week or so I’ve been living in a quasi-orgasmic state as so many stories have panned out they way I argued that they should: from blasphemy laws to libel cases. Free speech has done remarkably well recently. But, all good things come to an end. The above series of adverts has been banned because it was deemed offensive “particularly to Christians.” I guess the ASA received unprecedented levels of complaint then? Well, actually they didn’t. The total number of complaints they received was:


No, I didn’t miss out any digits: 2 & 3: twenty three. 23 thin-skinned whiners was all it took to get an entire series of adverts banned by our moral custodians. Now, at a conservative estimate I’d say there are about 5 million idiots in the country, and it took only 23 of them to complain before action was taken. Madness. So while we might cheer the end of the ridiculous blasphemy laws we are quickly reminded that the fight has yet to be won against this kind of censorship and control of ideas (and by extension control of the people who express them).

Seemingly the blasphemy laws are being replaced by a new, much more insidious, policy trumpeted by the politically correct hoards: protecting the feelings of everyone – religious and non-religious – who cries “I’m offended.” It’s fast becoming a societal creed that we have a right not to be offended. And the small number of complainants required for officialdom to take action should worry any right thinking freedom loving person. Is it not shocking that small groups of people can get something censored on the grounds that their feelings have been hurt? I wonder what kind of world these people wish to live in – a nice little toy world full of cotton wool and cushions where everyone is always safe and protected, regardless of the damage to our freedoms, and where the Offensiveness Radar of groups like the ASA never stops working. Such people don’t even belong in a lunatic asylum: they belong in a kindergarten.

At least with the old blasphemy laws there was a degree of objectivity: it was illegal to blaspheme against God and express any “contemptuous, reviling, scurrilous or ludicrous matter relating to God, Jesus Christ, or the Bible”. Moreover, the laws were aimed only at those who knowingly and purposefully blasphemed. Contrast this with these new forms of censorship in which there is nothing objective at all. Taking offence, as I said above, is an entirely subjective matter. Everyone and anyone can claim anything is offensive, and subsequently demand the corrective of censorship be applied to ease their pain, regardless of whether or not any offence was actually intentional. Laws and policies are at their most dangerous when they are defined in subjective terms as opposed to objective because no one really knows where they stand, and the only boundaries are the ever changing whims of peoples feelings. When censorship policies are defined in subjective terms they are much more far-reaching and potentially destructive than the ridiculous blasphemy laws ever were. The ASA apparently takes every hurt feeling and claim to having been offended with the utmost seriousness. One advert ended up banned after 3 – three – people complained at the use of the word “faggot.” In the words of commentator Brendan O’Neill: “The new censorship makes everything into a potential blasphemy – a blasphemy against the sacred self-esteem of fragile individuals…[And has] given rise to an entire nation of little Jesus Christs, all of whom can stake a claim to protection from contumely comments, or scoffing and ridicule against their being and personal providence. They have made tyrannical gods of us all.”

There is a second feature of this new censorship that makes it worse than the blasphemy laws. The blasphemy laws were such that if you wanted to make a charge of blasphemy against someone you had to go through the legal process: which meant a trial before a judge and a jury. As history testifies few cases were successful, because too few could convince a jury that they had a case for blasphemy in any given instance. However, groups such as the ASA are “a bunch of unelected, self-appointed dimwits,” as one business director charmingly put it. And these unelected, self-appointed dimwits ride around like the High Sheriffs of the airwaves lecturing us about what can and cannot be said and shown in a public broadcast with no regard to wider public opinion or debate on the matter. They issue their decrees and all the advertiser can do in response is to feebly whimper “thy will be done.” No appeal, no comeback, no debate.

Special interest groups seems to want to use these policies to protect themselves from criticism. The irony is that it is only the abandonment of such policies that provide genuine protection, first and foremost to the free speech of everyone. Take one example: homosexual groups made an advertisement linking homophobic attacks to the Bible; and some Christian groups have produced advertisements linking homosexuality to the breakdown of family life in Britain. Both sides want the adverts of the other lot banned, and what inevitably happens is that both are banned and no one wins; free speech is denied to everyone. This tit-for-tat scenario means that by calling for the other side to be silenced you are, in effect, silencing yourself. A much better scenario is to allow individuals and groups to argue and market their case and allow people to use their own rational powers to decide whose case they support. In other words the only rational and moral solution is to allow everyone to take their chances in the arena of ideas in which force becomes persuasion, bans are replaced by arguments, and personal rationality triumphs over moral authoritarianism.

With the free speech that is left to us we must shout, scream, rage (and blaspheme!) against the growing culture of inoffensiveness. We don’t need protecting from “offensive” advertisements. We refuse to be patronised by unelected dimwits too. And we will not pander to the subjective feelings of thin-skinned, controlling loud-mouthed minority groups either.

So, whether secular or sacred: long live blasphemy!