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

Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

£17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

£30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

Day In a Page

Read Next
Mary Christmas: the Bethlehem story is Mary's moment, when a poor peasant girl gives birth to the Son of God in a stable  

The appeal of the Virgin Mary: A supernatural hope at a time of scepticism

Peter Stanford
 

Letters: Why Cameron is wrong about EU child benefits

Independent Voices
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there