To all those offended by Lady Gaga’s dancing, Jennifer Lopez’s leotard and Archbishop Atkinson: Get a grip!

We trip over ourselves to apologise to these people at our peril


Rejoice! One of my favourite times of the festive season is upon us. Ofcom’s “Most complained about TV moments” of 2013 has been released. Oh, come all ye whiners, weepers and bedwetters. Non-joyful and not hugely triumphant. I am gleefully fixated with the modern phenomenon of taking offence and – the great prize of modern times – “being granted an apology”. 

At one point, civilised beings roamed the earth steeped in religious guilt, hoping at all junctures for godly forgiveness for the daily stains on their souls. In secular times, human beings want to live offence-free lives filled with daily apologies, sincere backtracks, evidence that others have acknowledged this disgruntlement and want to make amends.

My Twitter feed is daily littered with mewling, jelly-elbowed clots demanding an apology over my – comparatively pedestrian – views on breastfeeding, fox-hunting, feminism, the little baby Jesus, Beyoncé and bumming. If Twitter wants to please me in 2014, it should give me a button which plays an ear-splitting version of Piaf’s “Je ne regrette rien”. The few professional apologies I have issued over the years have been with a gun at my head (or a P45) and my mouth as taut as a cat’s bum.

Some things in life I do feel require an apology: driving a combine harvester into the teddy-bears’ picnic, embarrassing David Cameron by invading France, turning up drunk to a Nativity service and drop-kicking a Tiny Tears wrapped in tea-towels into a Christmas tree. All very bad things. Please accept my heartfelt “soz”. Meanwhile, if you’re one of those poor, fresh-air deprived souls who want recompense because “Gina was bullying Hazel” on Big Brother (244 individual complaints to Ofcom), or are one of the 492 who were deeply wounded by Rowan Atkinson being a comedy archbishop, or are still carrying the emotional scars of Jennifer Lopez’s choice of leather leotards on Britain’s Got Talent (422 complaints), please, I beg you, get a bloody grip.

One of the greatest causes for televisual offence this year was Lady Gaga’s performance on X Factor where she swirled around in those flesh coloured support pants one buys from M&S to counteract chow-mein and cream-bun intake. The public were fuming. Livid. At what, it can’t be clarified. This wasn’t a terribly sexual performance. There was a lot of stage to fill and she’s only one little woman, so it rather relied on big bold gestures. I remember a lot of “walking against the wind”, “falling on the floor and rolling about, like when you remove a stolen biscuit from a toddler”, and, during the second song, “recreating the slow-motion death from Platoon on top of a baby grand piano while shouting DO WHAT YOU WANT TO MY BODY”. Oh, it was a tremendous visual fuss. It hoped to be great art and quite wonderfully wound up resembling the Bridlington Swingle Singers do the Marriage of Figaro. But it was bloody funny and not remotely sexual or offensive.

If people were offended and demanded that ITV apologise, it was because they had seen something that they didn’t understand. Something edgy, something avant-garde, something bewildering, and something that provoked them to think. We trip over ourselves to apologise to these people at our peril. We chip away at our freedoms with every grovelling “no offence meant”.

The list goes on. Lots of viewers were offended after tuning in to the bleak, bloody, upsetting coverage on ITV News after the killing of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich only to find that it was bleak and bloody and upsetting. Downton Abbey was reported to Ofcom 252 times for screening a storyline – central to the plot – where a well-loved character was raped, despite the fact the scene was flagged up loudly at the start of the show, despite the fact that Anna is not a real person and in fact an actress, and despite rape being a very real peril to women in the serving classes during this era. (There seemed to be a rape about every three chapters in the Barbara Taylor Bradford novels I loved as a teen.)

On the day after the Downton scene in question, I was woken up at 6am by breakfast radio researchers hoping to find someone who would stoke the offence bonfire. “People are calling Ofcom, it has caused a lot of offence! It’s sick and sensationalist”, they said. I turned my phone off and got an extra hour’s kip. Real-life rape conviction rates are really bloody offensive, I invite you to complain to your MP, be wounded, be vengeful all day long. The actress Joanne Froggatt being wrestled by the actor Nigel Harman in a scene viewers were warned was upsetting? We’re back in the “get a grip” zone.

One small ray of hope in this story is that Ofcom rejected – refused to uphold, that is – every single one of this year’s top 10 most-complained-about TV moments. No apologies, no inquests, no further evidence invited. The people from Ofcom, they don’t give a damn. And they are invited for Christmas dinner at my house. They rather sound like fun.

Perhaps the errant peer just wanted to listen to Lady Garden

It’s the season for lords-a-leaping and festive goodwill, so one’s heart slightly goes out to Lord Hanningfield who – after being covertly monitored – has been accused of travelling regularly to Westminster from his home in Essex, “clocking in” for less than 40 minutes in the House of Lords, in return for £300 in expenses, and then skiving off home.

Lord Hanningfield would possibly disagree with the term skiving. And I’m sure 40 minutes feels like a long time when one is watching people covered in cobwebs chuntering about the badger cull, say, with no real impact on modern life apart from their upholding the establishment and looking quite pretty in pictures.

I’d be bored too. The greatest thing that happens in the House of Lords is when Lady Garden stands up to speak and the Internet melts.

Lord Hanningfield has smoothed over his troubles by essentially saying “it’s not just me, they’re all at it”, suggesting as many as 50 others do the same. This story has legs. Once the turkey and tinsel is cleared away it will run and run.

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