Should comedians self-censor?
|May 18, 2012||Posted by Ed Smith under entertainment|
Comedy has always been a catalyst for controversy, with political and social norms played out and often subverted through the power of laughter. From Bernard Manning’s casual racism to Bill Bailey’s gentle observations, comedians act as mirrors for the public’s varied tastes and boundaries in what actually makes “funny.” It seems that in recent years the increasing capital of “shock value” has been the quickest way for a comedian to sell tickets, and the more this abounds in the media, the more the debate rages on. So, how much is too much when it comes to comedy?
The social debate around censorship can be illustrated by a case in point: that of the notoriously provocative Frankie Boyle. The acerbic Scot has created a cataclysmic outpouring of outrage in the last two years with his comments about Katie Price’s disabled son Harvey, his ribald statements about cancer and AIDS, and his gasp-inducing sell-out tours. Boyle is not the only comedian to incur the wrath of moralists, with Russell Brand and Jonathan Ross’s “Sachsgate” scandal emblazoned across Daily Mail headlines in 2008.
But should these comedians have thought twice? The tabloids baying for apologies, dismissals and a return to “decency” appear to show a public desperation to “regain” a moral absolute, whereby causing offence can be quantified and punished accordingly. This throws up all kinds of questions and obstacles, not least in regards to a comedian’s role within the social, cultural and historical arena, the extent of their personal responsibilities in the context of a media industry, and their autonomy in creating and distributing the material that they produce. Regulating the public sphere and allowing for accountability as well as forgiveness seems a more balanced approach than suggesting that comedians “stick to the rules.” Just whose rules exactly?
Comedians have not just suddenly become controversial. From Irish atheist Dave Allen in the 1960’s, to Bill Hicks’ damning social commentary, the subjects of drugs, sex, war, religion and race to name but a few are encapsulated within the shifting dynamic of cultural acceptability. What shocks today may cease to do so tomorrow with the birth of new generations, and the position of tabloid outrage has as much to do with calculated sensationalism as it does genuine regard for a consensus of opinion about what constitutes offence.
With the chief executive of Channel 4 personally approving Boyle’s controversial Harvey joke, and the careers of Brand and Ross going from strength to strength since Sachsgate, the complex structures around provocative public humour create accountability at all levels of society, not simply with the individual themselves. And while there will always be those who are offended, there will be in kind those who find “tasteless” and “outrageous” comedy simply “ground-breaking.”
This article was provided by Ed Smith on behalf of 8Ball.co.uk.