Monday, 23 September 2013


Joking around has been outlawed in a number of situations.  Firstly, you do not make jokes about blowing things up as Paul Chambers found out in the UK’s famous Twitter Trial.  When Mr. Chambers was unable to catch an important flight he made the big mistake of twitting “Crap! Robin Hood airport is closed. You've got a week and a bit to get your shit together, otherwise I'm blowing the airport sky high!”  This joking threat was made to a small group of friends that followed him on twitter but somehow or other the tweet came into the purview of the authorities.  Consequently Mr. Chambers was prosecuted and convicted pursuant to the Communication Act for "sending a public electronic message that was grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character".  He lost his job and his life was horribly upset even though the conviction was ultimately set aside on appeal.  The absurdity of the whole situation was that it was obviously a joke and that he never planned to blow up the airport, and nobody in authority thought that he planned to blow up the airport.  A joke of this type, however,  is not allowed anymore.

Two British tourists learnt the same lesson when they were barred from entering America after joking on Twitter that they were going to 'destroy America' and 'dig up Marilyn Monroe'. The Department of Homeland Security identified the young man as a potential threat when he posted an excited tweet to his pals about his forthcoming trip to Hollywood which read: 'Free this week, for quick gossip/prep before I go and destroy America?'  He told officials that the term 'destroy' was British slang for 'party', but nevertheless he and his girlfriend were held on suspicion of planning to 'commit crimes' and had their passports confiscated.  In fact, he was handcuffed and kept under armed guard in a cell with Mexican drug dealers for 12 hours after landing in Los Angeles.

The UK’s Equality Act of 2010 put jokes about religion into the no-no category.  A UK lawyer was asked whether a Catholic member of staff would be successful with a complaint he filed about a colleague telling offensive jokes in the office – a few of which referred to the Pope.  The lawyerly answer “While a jovial atmosphere in the workplace helps to create a fun and positive environment, it is important for colleagues taking part to understand that some jokes might be construed as harassment in the eyes of the law.  In the present example, offensive jokes about the Pope could easily amount to harassment under the Equality Act 2010, so you are right to be concerned.”

In France a woman and her brother were convicted for “justifying a crime” after her toddler son, named Jihad, went to preschool in a T-shirt bearing the words “I am a bomb” and “Jihad: Born on Sept. 11.  Bouchra Bagour received a 2,000-euro fine and a one-month suspended prison sentence and her brother, Zayed, received a 4,000-euro fine and two-month suspended sentence. The boy, whose real name is Jihad and whose birthday is Sept. 11, wore the shirt to preschool last year. The family are not Islamic militants - it apparently was intended as a joke.  Bad taste as a joke and in France also very illegal. 

In this age of extreme social correctness interpersonal relationships are fraught with peril.  This starts with anything that can be remotely labeled as sexual.  We can see the broad parameters of this in some excerpts from “Shockwaves: The Global Impact of Sexual Harassment by Susan L. Webb.  Firstly we start with the heading “Sexual Harassment is Conduct of a Sexual Nature that Occurs Because of the Person's Sex”.  She goes on to say “Conduct of a sexual nature includes a range of behaviors or actions, since there is a very wide range of activities which are expressions of sexuality or have sexual connotations in our society.  Therefore, behavior which may appear relatively innocent (such as joking, innuendoes, flirting and asking someone on a date) to behavior which is blatantly illegal (such as forced fondling, attempted or actual rape and sexual assault) can all constitute conduct of a sexual nature.”  

As suggested by the headline in Shockwaves “conduct of a sexual nature” equals sexual harassment.  This was illustrated by Julia Gray, founder of the London branch of US movement Hollaback, which is dedicated to getting rid of street harassment.  She said: "The way we see it is if you want to tackle it you tackle all of it – you say no to all forms of unwanted sexual harassment; that includes wolf-whistling, comments, everything."  Not surprising that a Toronto fireman got fired for this joking tweet "Reject a woman and she will never let it go. One of the many defects of their kind. Also weak arms."

In most cases it is largely the so-called victim who determines whether the conduct is sexual harassment. Per the above “Whether a particular behavior is defined as sexual harassment depends largely on whether the behavior is unwelcome to the target, along with the circumstances surrounding those evens.  Unwelcome behaviors, which are considered sexual harassment, can be of verbal, non-verbal, physical, or visual nature.” This means that a joke told to a room full of a hundred people can constitute sexual harassment to the one person who finds it offensive.

John Yardley, a Conservative councillor in Wolverhampton in the U.K. where he is the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods and Safer Communities found out that you no longer about sexual orientation. He was interviewed by police after supposedly making a transexual joke at a meeting. He was chairing a presentation when the police authority worker making the presentation said: ‘Let’s start with an easy question to get us going. Press Button A if you’re male or B if you’re female.’ A member of the audience asked: ‘What if you are transgender?  By answering this question the wrong way John Yardley committed his alleged ‘hate crime’  He responded jokingly: ”You could press A and B together”.   His answer supposedly “hurt” the person who asked the question and who was in fact transgendered.  In this bizarre age full of people quick to claim injury a quick witted, funny answer like that is no longer permitted.  

Totalitarian societies are typically homourless since humour has an invariable in your face, rebellious element.  Humor shows up human foibles.   It has to somewhat outrageous in order to be effective. The “joke police” are out there, however, ready with their dripping sanctimony to apply some pejorative label to humour poking fun at human characteristics.  It has been said very aptly “Without humour, civility cannot flourish. The tendency to label every joke or passing comment we consider to be in poor taste as something more, something sexist, misogynist, or racist is a sign of a New Puritanism taking hold.”  The New Puritanism is a driving force in our developing bureaucratic police state.

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