By Jason Offutt
It was the “safe space” movement on college campuses that tipped me off the world was coming to an end.
At least the world as we know it.
In 2015, protesters at various universities across the country (such as Yale, Princeton, Missouri and Johns Hopkins) claimed that certain areas on campus – such as a public quad – were now segregated. If a person didn’t look, act and think like the protestors, they could stay out. No, not only “could” stay out, but “would” stay out.
Intolerance in the name of tolerance in American universities. What?
This trend has bled into 2016. On Feb. 6, students angry with the casting for Northwestern University’s annual burlesque show claimed not being offered a part violated the students’ “safe space.” These actors felt persecuted because they didn’t land a part in a sex show? Maybe the director just didn’t find them attractive. Well, somebody had to say it.
A poll by Pew Research showed the percentage of people who say the government should be able to block offensive comments, especially about minorities, was shocking at best.
College educated people were less likely to agree (22 percent), whereas Millennials with a few years of college were more likely to agree (40 percent). When the poll throws in the opinions of countries that don’t have laws equivalent to the First Amendment, Millennials still rank above Spain when it comes to limiting freedom of speech.
Hmm. If someone wants to let their stupid show, I say let them. It gives me more to write about.
The press has dubbed people actively in favor of limiting freedom of expression “anti-free speech protesters.” Let that rattle around in your head for a while.
What’s happening here? This is America. We didn’t get our international reputation as loud, brash, uncultured cowboys by worrying if our words offended anyone (the United States is the World’s Texas). Saying what’s on our mind is as American as branding cattle and drinking bourbon.
The people of America were once united behind a mutual love of beef and loud cars, and our unwavering hatred of soccer and anything French (with the exception of French fries, French toast and French maid uniforms).
Now Americans love soccer (it’s the fifth most popular sport in the country between dwarf tossing and bear wrestling – actually, hockey and golf), we’re afraid to offend anyone – ever – and we award our youth with participation trophies, which serve to punish those who earn the award and reward those who do not.
If there’s logic in any of this it’s the kind politicians use when they promise voters something for free.
Limiting the freedom of speech in any capacity leads to a dangerous road, one Monty Python alumnus John Cleese is certain we’re already on.
In a recent interview with the Web site “Big Think,” Cleese said this war on words is killing comedy.
“All humor is critical,” Cleese said. “If you start to say, ‘We mustn’t. We mustn’t criticize or offend them,’ then humor is gone. With humor goes a sense of proportion and then, as far as I’m concerned, you’re living in ‘1984’.”
Oh, man. John’s right. Turn off the lights and pass the Advil.
And for you protestors out there, if you want a safe space in this world, you’ve got one. It’s called your house. Now stop making John Cleese angry.
Jason Offutt’s novel, “A Funeral Story,” is available at amazon.com and it is, frankly, offensive.