Nowadays it seems anything and everything can be deemed offensive. You often hear the phrase in your local pub or cafe “it’s political correctness gone mad.” Over the weekend I went to see the recent contentious Sascha Baron Cohen Film “The Dictator.” It was full of jokes which used race, gender and sexuality as their punch-lines, yet along with the rest of the screening, I still laughed. There were no gasps of shock or “oo that’s funny but a bit naughty” kind of noises, everyone was in fits of laugher. So this got me thinking, surely offensiveness is just based on context? But then surely it is totally contradictory and almost wrong to say something is offensive in one context and not the other?
Outside that cinema screening, any of those jokes dropped into everyday conversation would shock and of course, offend. So when I came out of the film, I felt a small sense of shame at laughing at such material. I walked out the ultimate contradiction; I see myself as anything but racist, yet I laughed at the racist references, I see myself as a strong feminist, yet I laughed at the jokes mocking women, I do not see myself as homophobic, yet I laughed at camp characters… So what does this leave us with? I am a strong believer in making light of situations, laughter is the only remedy if you can make a joke out of something, you feel so much better about it. And in a time where race, gender and sexuality are still contentious and ever-present issues, most especially that of race, perhaps that is what we need? Jokes which highlight such issues and get people talking…
Or perhaps those who take everything to heart in this film and say “that’s offensive” are missing the point? Perhaps I came out of the film thinking about it too deeply. Thinking about it logically, in essence the film uses offensive jokes which are so ridiculous and outrageous that they actually in turn, mock people who are racist, homophobic and sexist. So when the “dictator” makes an outrageously stupid joke about say a gay person, you are actually in fact laughing at how stupid his homophobic view is. But some may say in a time of widespread political unrest in places such as Libya and Syria, this making a joke of Dictators and Dictatorship is rather insensitive? But perhaps in actual fact, the film points our attention to such issues and exposes the truly ridiculous nature of having dictators in power in this modern age…
So overall, Sascha’s intent for ‘The Dictator’ is not to offend but to use a highly over the top character to expose the truly ridiculous (and perhaps outmoded), nature of dictators and conservative views on gender, sexuality and race. Such use of high artifice and over the top representations and views rather reminds me of that genius Oscar Wilde, do you not think?
Thus, offensiveness is not only based on context but also intent? What is the true intent of this comedian, film or play? Are they really being offensive or is there a slight element of mockery there?
Evidently, there is a very thin line between mockery/joke and causing offence, and apologies must be given if someone is indeed offended, but perhaps we should not be so quick to judge?
Check out The Dictator Trailer and see what you think….