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Don’t Hate Me Because I’m Offensive

Sarah Barnett



Taking umbrage, raised ire, in a fit of pique, going into a rage, seething, wrathful, getting angry, getting (if you work at Salient) sandy – it’s interesting what offends people, and what doesn’t. I got letters to the Editor this week that I was expecting last week, and didn’t get letters that I’ve been expecting for a couple of weeks, and it looks like I have some ‘splaining to do. And then a point to make which makes the explanation redundant, so you can skip to the last paragraph now, if you like.
Two letter writers this week took issue with the ‘Man’ comic in issue three, depicting, as you probably won’t have noticed, a poster on a bulletin board mocking the Rape Crisis “this is not an invitation to rape me” advertising campaign. Same slogan, but the woman on the poster is wearing a t-shirt that says, “Rape Me.” Now, various complaints and adjurations were made by the letter-writers. The first, and most interesting to me, was Karen Price’s statement, “quite frankly, I expected more from your publication.” My first question is, why? There is very little in Salient’s history to suggest that that particular comic wouldn’t be published – in fact, quite the contrary. Student media as a whole pushes boundaries and buttons all the time – often provoking people just for provocation’s sake. Why would someone expect “better” (or, for argument’s sake, “different”), from this publication then? Is it because there’s a female at the helm this year? I’d like to hope not; even if you accept that one’s personal politics and taste are determined by one’s gender (which is really dubious), one’s personal politics and taste still shouldn’t determine the content of the magazine. Unless you’re Rupert Murdoch. Or Donald Trump.
The question now is, what damage, if any, did this particular cartoon inflict? The essential arguments in the letters are thus: the cartoon undermined an integral Rape Crisis campaign and reinforced the stereotype that a woman can be “asking for it” by dressing or acting in a particular way. I quite agree with the writers – nothing that a woman says or does is an invitation to rape – in fact, that’s kind of the definition of rape. Semantic problems that I have with the campaign aside, a few points: the obvious first, that even wearing a t-shirt that says “Rape Me” is not an invitation to rape. The point that the Rape Crisis campaign makes is that, on a worrying level, there are people who think that dressing in a miniskirt and fishnets and being out-of-control off your face is tantamount to doing exactly that.
I’m not going to try and argue that ‘Man’ was somehow supporting the campaign, though, instead I’m more curious as to why this is a sacred cow that we shouldn’t be allowed to touch. We are, after all, the critic and conscience, blah, blah, and shouldn’t be limited, by anyone, in any (legal) way, to only critiquing stuff that won’t offend anyone. In fact, it’s even more important to bring a critical eye to bear on issues of such import, if only to avoid the kind of moral trumpery that goes on in these sorts of letters. By all means, complain, express your outrage and suggest that I’m a bad person (I’d already done it myself, after all, as alert readers may have noticed), but remember that the moral hierarchy is entirely objective. (Case in point: why were naked breasts in ‘Ascii’ worth mentioning, but not the panel to the immediate right depicting Hitler having trouble with showers? Isn’t that more offensive?) After all, if I was feeling particularly specious, I could argue that the rights to freedom of speech and the freedom of the press trump pretty much anything in a democratic society and haha, I’d win!
Here is the thing that makes all of that irrelevant, though: ‘Man’ didn’t condone rape. It didn’t depict it, even. That, I agree, would be irresponsible and unacceptable. I don’t agree that pillorying the Rape Crisis campaign is the same thing. The readership is, by and large, over 18 and assumed to be of above-average intelligence, grasp of grammar notwithstanding, so I give them credit for being able to understand that. The humour may have missed the mark for some and I was under no illusion that it’d be offensive to some but there was no good reason not to print it without raising serious questions over the integrity of this publication. I have no doubt that, were the readership to discover that I was not publishing material for fear of offence; there would be a far larger outcry than that over these comics.