Giving Offence

Martin Rowson

Manifestos for the 21st Century


4.25 x 7 inches, 70 pp. 2009

ISBN : 9781906497019

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In the Babel of conflicting human opinions, the right to be offended is just another tactic to win an argument by compelling your opponent to shut up because what they say is offensive. The totalitarian imperative to be freed from the threat of being offended has operated throughout human history. Gods, kings and dictators, in addition to all their followers, have all demanded that they be allowed to control other people’s thoughts and behaviour to save them from the terrible pain of their feelings being hurt by the satirist. The penalty for transgressing the taboos and giving offence has been death or the threat of it. Today, the giving of offence has taken on a new lease of life, with those who claim to be offended frequently exacting a savage revenge on the supposed offenders. And religion is at the heart of it: you may not with impunity offend my god, my religion, my prophet, my creed, my country. If you do, watch out. But what of those whose business it is to offend? The cartoonist, for instance? For centuries, the satirist and cartoonist have exercised their pens in ridicule of the mighty and powerful. They make us laugh as they do it and we become wiser and stronger in the process. Should we bind their fingers, break their pens and condemn them to silence? Should we not, rather, learn to both take and give offence without fearing the ultimate penalty? 

Martin Rowson is a writer and cartoonist. His work appears frequently in the Guardian and the Independent. His most recent books include The Dog Allusion, Fuck: The Human Odyssey, and Giving Offence.


Manifestos of the 21st Century
Offence Series