Ceci n’est pas une rant

This is not a rant. Really, it isn’t. One can get rant-fatigue as well as one can any other kind of fatigue. And when, within just twenty-four hours, I find at least three things I would like to rant about, fatigue well and truly sets in. So I would like to make it clear that, despite the label I have attached to this post, this is not a rant.


“The Treachery of Images” by rene Magritte, cortesy of LA County Museum of Art

Yesterday morning, I woke to the news that the Digital Cinema Media has blocked the showing in cinemas of a 60 second advert for a Christian website, made by the Church of England and featuring various people reciting the Lord’s Prayer. The very idea of banning anything does, I admit, spark in me a sort of Pavlovian reaction, but actually, considered calmly once the initial outrage has passed, there are good reasons not to show this in cinemas. There are, after all, many religious groups, or, if you prefer, quasi-religious groups, who are extreme, and whose stance on various matters, to put it delicately, may well put a bit of a damper on a night out at the cinema. Would we really want to see a message from the Westboro Baptist Church when all we want is a pleasant evening out? I am not, of course, suggesting that the Westboro Baptist Church is in any way comparable to the Church of England, whose very inoffensiveness seems to border on the offensive. But allowing one religious message to pass while blocking others can, I can see, lead to so various legal issues, that it’s wise, if at all possible, to avoid. It’s the Pandora’s Box Argument: once you allow something out of the box – no matter how inoffensive, or even laudable – who knows what may follow. I can sympathise with this: if the Digital Cinema Media have a policy in place not to show any advert of a religious or political nature, then, not only are they within their rights to do so, it’s a policy that makes perfect sense, however unfair it may be to the eminently inoffensive advert that has fallen foul of it. But, from the reports I have read on this, this is not what the Digital Cinema Media is saying in its statement: its statement speaks of not “causing offence”. And this does trouble me. If a sixty second film of people reciting the Lord’s Prayer is pulled for fear of “causing offence”, we really are in a pretty bad state.

Let us, however, subscribe to the Christian virtue of charity, and assume that Digital Cinema Media’s statement was merely badly worded – that it is the phrasing rather than the intent that is at fault. I can live with that.

(My atheist friends, incidentally, tell me that the Christian faith, like all other faiths, is simply made-up fantasy anyway, so what does it matter? Indeed! After all, we wouldn’t want to see sixty second of some made-up fantasy while we’re waiting for the latest Star Wars film to start, would we?)

Well, that was the first point that made me want to have a bit of a rant. The second is this tweet by eminent author Joyce Carol Oates, in which she muses whether a group that systematically rapes women and children, chops people’s heads off, burns people alive, pushes gay people from tops of high buildings, and the like, could have anything about them that is “celebratory & joyous”. Maybe, Ms Oates, maybe. Who knows?

The third thing that made me want to rant is this news story that appeared in the Washington Post, about the University of Ottowa banning yoga classes because … well, because oppression, cultural genocide, or something. Heaven only knows. It’s our old friend “cultural appropriation”, I believe. I know that in a democratic society one should engage in argument and debate with those with whom one disagrees, but much of the time I can’t really feel arsed. And in any case, I’ve had a good rant about cultural appropriation only quite recently, and I really wouldn’t want to bore my readers.

So there it is. Three things that make me feel there’s a good rant coming on, but in each case, I find I can’t really be arsed.

16 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by kaggsysbookishramblings on November 23, 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Sometimes I really *hate* political correctness. Part of the human condition is that we change and grow, and often that’s because of the influences of other cultures. If this is going to be branded as cultural appropriation, we’ll be stuck in stasis forever. I certainly agree that *no* religious messages should be broadcast in cinemas – as an atheist, that’s not what I’ve paid to see. As for Oates – how silly……… 😦


    • Well, when we go to the cinema, we don’t pay to see anything but the film, ut we’re stuck with the adverts, like it or not. But I think I agree with you that, whether one is atheist or agnostic or believer, it’s best for cinema adverts to steer clear of all politics and religion. I’m more than happy with the Lord’s Prayer film, but it’s the thought of the Pandora’s Box Effect that worries me.


  2. I’ve ranted about Joyce Carol Oates so much over the years that I’m all ranted out, but I feel your pain.


  3. I was very offended at the movies last week when I went to see SPECTRE and there was an ad for razorblades on before it, complete with a quote from Ian Fleming on how much you can tell about a man by the way he shaves.

    And then I remembered that I had a brain and didn’t need to rush out to buy those razor blades just because some bean counter has told me to.

    I doubt that seeing a harmless ad for the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ is going to make me rush out to the nearest chapel and start reciting like a mad thing; but who knows?

    I’m offended by people who get offended. And I’m even more offended by people who get offended by people who get offended.

    Wait a minute — that’s me. Well, I find myself offended. By myself.

    Who the hell do I complain to again?

    And I ALWAYS find myself offended by Joyce Carol Oates. Or I did until she did that piece on Lovecraft that I enjoyed. Now she only offends me when she says things I don’t like.

    Where was I again? I know there was a point to this when I started…


    • Ceci n’est pas une comment? 🙂

      As I said, I can understand why they may not want adverts of a religious or political nature, of any kind. But their explanation is pretty damn weird!

      Also, speaking personally, I find adverts for razor blades most offensive. This is discrimination against beardies. Pognophobia.


  4. Posted by Mark on November 23, 2015 at 5:43 pm

    Of these three things, it is the yoga incident that really concerns me. The cinema advert is just a risk-averse company making a strictly commercial decision, in my view; the Joyce Carol Oates tweet is just one individual being spectacularly dim; the yoga issue is, however, from what I can tell, yet another example of the apparent madness sweeping U.S. and U.K. campuses: “trigger warnings”, “safe spaces”, “non-platforming”, “cultural appropriation”, the young man who has the word “rapist” shouted at him on a daily basis because he went public with his refusal to attend a class on sexual consent. I keep reading about this phenomenon of “Stepford students”, defined by Brendan O’Neill as students whose “brains have been replaced by brains bereft of critical faculties and programmed to conform … more interested in shutting down debate than opening it up.”

    What I would love to know is how typical these “Stepford students” are? The media is groaning with stories about non-platforming on campus, free speech being curtailed, utterly inflexible regimes of political correctness. Are there any readers of this blog qualified to say how widespread all this is? It’s so far removed from my own university experiences that I am beset by incredulity whenever I read about it – that said, many of the reported cases seem real enough. Has anyone seen the video on YouTube of the students at Yale howling, swearing and crying at a professor because they didn’t like a guidance email sent out about Halloween costumes and cultural sensitivities? How common is this? Anyone?


    • Yes, I did see those clips from Yale. I have seen also the hysterical tweets defending this sort of thing. But like yourself, I do not really have any idea of how widespread it is. A part of me says that even one instance is one instance too many, but I do sometimes wonder whether I am over-reacting to a few isolated instances.

      I must confess that I try not to take Brendan O’Neill too seriously: he was, after all, on the senior staff of “Living Marxism”, a very glossy and well-produced journal (where did they get the money from?) that folded after they claimed that footage of atrocities in Bosnia had been faked, and lost the subsequent libel case. But leaving aside how I feel about him as a person, that “Stepford students” comment does hit the mark: I have seen far too many tweets and blog posts that are steeped in a poisonous sort of identity politics, and in which concepts of freedom of speech and of thought appear irrelevant. This mode of thought certainly exists: I am not sure how widespread it is, nor, indeed, how one may measure its prevalence. I am happy to acceptthat this is not representative of students as a whole, but there are, I think, too many examples for us to laugh it off.

      But identity politics certainly has been on the rise: its poisonous effects are everywhere. The business about “appropriating culture” especially puzzles me, as I honestly cannot see why it should be objectionable, despite having read several posts explaining its allegedly offensive nature. I generally tend to agree with the Biblical advice “ye shall know them by their fruits” – and if the fruits of the campaign against “cultural appropriation” is to ban utterly harmless and innocent yoga classes, then the tree itself appears to me extremely silly. I think it’s even worse than that: policing cultural boundaries is, essentially, cultural apartheid. The benefit of multi-culturalism is that cutures have teh opportunity to interact with one another: people living in the same geographical space, but separated from each other by self-created and impermeable cultural boundaries, surely cannot be healthy – either for individuals, or for society as a whole.

      In short, I share your concerns. Even if it’s a minority who are involved, I do get the impression 9and not just from media reports) that the minority is a sizeable one. I’d be happy to consider evdence to the contrary, though, and delighted to have it explained to me that i am making a mountain out of a mole-hill.


      • It’s the question of how widespread this behavior is that’s so difficult to answer. The USA is a huge country with countless higher education establishments. The number of colleges that make it into the headlines with stories of political correctness apparently running amok can only account for a tiny fraction of all those establishments. Then you’ve got to bear in mind that the stories that appear in the media may not give a true picture of the events being reported. There’s always the fine grain of context, the complexities of local knowledge, which are extremely difficult to convey in a news report to a wider readership or audience who are unfamiliar with the background. Media outfits are, in any case, seldom interested in even trying to investigate the context or present any complexities, the norm being to try to simplify or sensationalize. Then you have the grim legions of opinion-peddlers seizing on these stories for their own purposes, roughly yoking them together to form a movement or trend they can celebrate or denounce, nuance and detail thrown to the wind. It’s so easy for dyspeptic columnists to toss out a few paragraphs about a few high-profile cases, and conclude, without seriously looking into any of these cases, that it’s yet another sign of How the World is Going to the Dogs – which is the message they most enjoy giving and the message their readers most enjoy receiving. There is particular cause for scepticism when it comes to Political Correctness Gone Mad broadsides, because the anti-PC warriors have form when it comes to misrepresentation. This isn’t an argument, of course, for shrugging one’s shoulders and assuming that there’s nothing to see here. Some of the stories of super-delicate sensitivities being offended are indeed bizarre; some of the stories of student intimidation are indeed troubling. I don’t see any justification, for example, for calling a student newspaper to be de-funded for publishing an unpopular opinion piece (an opinion piece I happen to regard as deplorable and stupid, but which I wouldn’t want to see silenced). I don’t see any good reason for rough-handling and threatening a photo-journalist for doing his job in a public space. But these are eye-catching individual examples; more thorough research and analysis is needed before it is safe to condemn an entire generation of American students.

      • Hello, and thank you for this.

        I agree with you fully that the media is apt to distort and to sensationalise, and are not always to be trusted. I agree with you also on the dangers of knee-jerk reactions to media stories that are, by their very nature, selective, and written to serve a particular agenda. We simply cannot tell, I think, how widespread this identity politics is that appears to have so little time for such traditional liberal values as freedom of speech or of thought.

        I would never dream of condemning an entire generation: quite apart from anything else, these ideas based on identity politics are by no means restricted to the young. What I have been fulminating about is not, I think, the emerging generation, but rather, against these emerging ideas. I am certainly happy to accept that these ideas are not universally held, and that the majority, possibly the vast majority, are innocent of them. But, even if held by a minority, these ideas do seem to me damaging, and worth arguing against.

        This minority, if it is indeed such, that subscribes to these ideas does seem, however, a very vocal minority. One does not need to judge from media reports: people are often condemned from their own mouths. I do see many articles and blog posts around the net – written by students, representatives of student bodies, academics, journalists, etc. – that are steeped in what seems to me unthinking and a dangerous ideologies based on identity politics. I suppose identity politics have always been with us, but I’m fairly sure they are more prominent now than they used to be in my younger days (i.e. the last century). I do not, admittedly, have any data to support this.

        (I have tried to define and to argue against the concept of of identity politics in this post.)

        In short, I hope that my fulminations on this matter are not against any group of people, as such, but against the ideas themselves. But please do pull me up if ever I stray into making unwonted generalisations: I’d be most happy to retract!

        All the best, Himadri

      • Oh, I don’t think there’s any anger of me asking you to retract anything you write; your reluctance to make big, bold, sweeping statements that revel in their sense of certainty and awareness that you can’t possibly know everything worth knowing about a subject mark you out as very different from the type of National Review/Fox News blowhard I had in mind.

      • Akk … any danger, not anger.

  5. Love the title and the non-rant.

    Ceci n’est pas un commentaire. 🙂


  6. Posted by alan on November 28, 2015 at 8:11 pm

    For some time now I have been meaning to return to Tai Chi or take up Yoga instead.
    Looks like I’ll be forced to sit in front of the TV and have another beer.
    I hope that no one sees my emulation of Homer Simpson as a form of cultural appropriation.


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