To see how unhinged the offence-taking industry has become, look no further than the mad spat over an England rugby player’s use of the phrase “gypsy boy”.
Last Saturday, at Twickenham, England clashed with Wales. During the game, England prop Joe Marler was filmed shouting at Wales front-row Samson Lee: “Hey, gypsy boy.” Lee comes from a Traveller background, so it was an unpleasant thing for Marler to say. The video of Marler’s silly holler spread across the web and led to much Twittertalk about racist attitudes in rugby.
But here’s the thing, the really important thing: Marler apologised to Lee during the game itself – at half-time – and Lee accepted his apology. Lee also accepted that Marler wasn’t being racist in his use of the G-word. Great – fuss over!
Only it wasn’t over, and nearly a week on, it still isn’t. Marler and Lee may have done the grown-up, gentlemanly thing of talking through their run-in and moving on. But today’s fashion for taking offence, for turning every utterance of an un-PC word into an occasion for national handwringing, is anything but grown-up or gentlemanly. So the offencerati, the professionally wounded, are still obsessing over the short-lived Marler/Lee rift even though Marler/Lee themselves have cracked on with their lives.
Gatland, reflecting Samson Lee’s own feelings about the incident, said Marler’s comment was “just banter”. He also said society has become too obsessed with being PC, and 20 years ago a comment like Marler’s would have been sorted swiftly with “fists and stuff” rather than becoming an overblown storm about foul-speaking sportsmen having a baleful influence on people’s mushy minds.
What happened to Gatland? He too fell victim to PC fury. He was denounced, and then he had to issue an apology too: “I apologise for any offence my use of the word banter may have caused.”
So Marler says sorry for saying “gypsy” and Gatland says sorry for saying “banter”. One incident, two apologies. So far. There could be more, because, incredibly, this flimsy stink drags on.
Photo: GETTY IMAGES
Six Nations took the decision not to discipline Marler, on the basis that his remark was made in “the heat of the moment”. Sounds sensible. But sensibleness also counts for nothing in the face of the vast, Twitter-fuelled offence-seeking machine that now stares down every aspect of life in Britain. And so World Rugby has taken offence, or at least umbrage, at Six Nations’ decision not to punish Marler, and has demanded a “report” on why it took that decision.
So, two apologies, an uncountable number of tweets, and now a probably long, turgid report, all over the fleeting use of a word against a man who – and again, this is the most important thing – did not find it especially offensive.
What madness is this? It’s the madness of the modern cult of offence-policing, of the insatiable beast of PC, which is in constant need of feeding, requiring the scalps or souls of those who have given offence in order to keep itself fat and relevant.
The fallout from the Marler/Lee spat tells us two important things about today’s obsession with offensiveness.
First, that such incidents must always be turned into a media spectacle, regardless of whether the parties to the incident itself have ironed out their differences. Why? Primarily to educate us, the prejudiced plebs, about what words we may use and how not to be a hateful rotter. The offence-seeking lobby always has one eye, its main eye, on re-education, on paternalistically instructing the public about speech etiquette and what are the right moral values. So, quite against their will, Marler and Lee have been reduced to mere puppets in a morality play designed to send a message about offensiveness to everyone.
And secondly, the Marler/Lee controversy exposes the widespread racket of vicarious offence-taking. Many now take offence on behalf of other people, even if those people don’t feel that offended.
Whether it’s painfully white, middle-class students shutting down far-Right speakers to protect black students, or feminist campaigners taking offence at Page 3 on behalf of womankind, or World Rugby now feeling offended for Samson Lee, many arrogantly, and tyrannically, assume the right to feel things for us. Even if we, being adults, not babies, have brushed off the offensive remark in question. Professionals have made themselves in loco parentis on matters of offensiveness, seeking to save our dainty souls. And in the process they infantilise us, which is a genuinely offensive thing to do.
The bottom line is this: Lee accepted Marler’s apology, and that should 100 per cent be the end of the story. It’s no one else’s business. Speech police, find something better to do, seriously.