Julie Burchill should be free to offend

Her piece had been written. It's been approved. It's been published. It has rolled off the printing presses several hundred thousand times over. Why 'withdraw' it?

Share
Related Topics

You’d think the trannies could take it really, their shoulders are broad enough.

There. I’ve written it. It’s a joke, of course. It’s one of those ones that are designed to get a reaction. There’s a few of them about. Jimmy Carr, Frankie Boyle, Suzanne Moore, Julie Burchill, have all largely made a living out of them. Distasteful it may be, but what with living in a free society, sadly, I’m allowed.

Whatever one says, in a post-Twitter world, someone will always be on hand to complain. Plato and Thomas Hobbes worked out some centuries ago that a joke, by nature, must have a butt. As an overly sensitive hyperopic fourteen year old, condemned to life staring out from behind “jam jars” specs, I came very close to writing to the BBC, after Gary spent an entire episode of Men Behaving Badly calling a newly bespectacled Tony ‘four eyes’ – the thermonuclear insult that my bastard brother knew could be guaranteed to bring on the waterworks.

Mercifully, I never sent it, and since then I’ve grown up a bit. It is both staggering and depressing that so many other people haven’t.

Twitter can be guaranteed to whip up a shitstorm, no matter what the issue.  It was around a year ago that a few bored idiots went incandescent with rage at the inclusion of a panda in the BBC’s list of women who made the news . The pandas at Edinburgh zoo were a big story, but that didn’t matter. “A panda is not a woman!” they shrieked. Nor was the giant carp who had been featured the year before in the man’s list, a man, but never mind, never mind.

The only shocking element of the whole daft imbroglio is the Observer editor John Mulholland’s subsequent apology and “withdrawal” of the article, in light of the “hurt and offence” caused. Quite what “withdrawing” it means is mystifying. It’s been written. It’s been approved. It’s been published.  It has rolled off the printing presses several hundred thousand times over.

That the Observer should then capitulate in the face of instantly manufactured online outrage possibly marks a depressing sea change. A mainstream media outlet, with clear decision making processes, and decades of accumulated editorial judgement, has turned and run when faced with an angry twitter mob is a direct body blow to free speech, something one would imagine the Observer holds dear.

It is far too wearisome to trot out the old Voltaire line, especially as Stephen Fry put it rather more succinctly in conversation at the Hay Festival a few years ago. “It’s now very common to hear people say ‘I’m rather offended by that’, as if that gives them certain rights. It’s actually no more than a whine. ‘I find that offensive.’ It has no meaning, it has no purpose, it has no reason to be respected as a phrase. ‘I am offended by that’. Well so fucking what?” Quite.

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Tradewind Recruitment: English Teacher

Negotiable: Tradewind Recruitment: My client is an excellent, large partially ...

Tradewind Recruitment: Science Teacher

£90 - £140 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: I am currently working in partnersh...

Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Primary Teacher

£100 - £150 per day: Tradewind Recruitment: Year 3 Teacher Birmingham Jan 2015...

Ashdown Group: Lead Web Developer (ASP.NET, C#) - City of London

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Excellent benefits: Ashdown Group: Lead Web Develo...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Kylie has helped to boost viewing figures for the talent show  

When an Aussie calls you a ‘bastard’, you know you’ve arrived

Howard Jacobson
The number of schools converting to academies in the primary sector has now overtaken those in the secondary sector – 2,299 to 1,884 (Getty)  

In its headlong rush to make a profit, our education system is in danger of ignoring its main purpose

Janet Street-Porter
Isis hostage crisis: The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power

Isis hostage crisis

The prisoner swap has only one purpose for the militants - recognition its Islamic State exists and that foreign nations acknowledge its power, says Robert Fisk
Missing salvage expert who found $50m of sunken treasure before disappearing, tracked down at last

The runaway buccaneers and the ship full of gold

Salvage expert Tommy Thompson found sunken treasure worth millions. Then he vanished... until now
Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Homeless Veterans appeal: ‘If you’re hard on the world you are hard on yourself’

Maverick artist Grayson Perry backs our campaign
Assisted Dying Bill: I want to be able to decide about my own death - I want to have control of my life

Assisted Dying Bill: 'I want control of my life'

This week the Assisted Dying Bill is debated in the Lords. Virginia Ironside, who has already made plans for her own self-deliverance, argues that it's time we allowed people a humane, compassionate death
Move over, kale - cabbage is the new rising star

Cabbage is king again

Sophie Morris banishes thoughts of soggy school dinners and turns over a new leaf
11 best winter skin treats

Give your moisturiser a helping hand: 11 best winter skin treats

Get an extra boost of nourishment from one of these hard-working products
Paul Scholes column: The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him

Paul Scholes column

The more Jose Mourinho attempts to influence match officials, the more they are likely to ignore him
Frank Warren column: No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans

Frank Warren's Ringside

No cigar, but pots of money: here come the Cubans
Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

Homeless Veterans appeal

MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

Comedians share stories of depression

The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

Has The Archers lost the plot?

A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

14 office buildings added to protected lists

Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee