As the father of two red headed children I applaud Tesco’s decision to withdraw a Christmas card which takes the rip our of ginger haired children. The BBC has the story here.
As the editor of our Theological College’s weekly irreverent publication ‘The Friday Flyer’, we repeatedly came up against a range of opinions of what was, and more usually what wasn’t, appropriate humour! One of the college lecturers felt it necessary to give me some advice. He said, ‘don’t take the mick out of something someone can’t change’. He was unusually tall. Not only for his age. He was just very long. The Flyer explored that for comedic effect. Understandably he didn’t appreciate being at the butt end of the gag; particularly because there was absolutely nothing he could do about his height. I thought that was pretty fair. And I changed our approach.
On the whole I try and stick by that principle. It’s not a bad rule of thumb. It needs to be nuanced in ways I’ve yet to nail down. But it does mean that gags about disability are inappropriate and gags about race are out. But it does mean that you can make fun of someone’s clothing style, religious convictions and their personal habits.
Red headedness is a genetic thing. My kids can’t change that. If they were obese I wouldn’t have an issue with someone laying into them. I could get them to eat less and exercise more! Humour often relies on making fun at someone else’s expense. That’s alright if someone has consciously chosen to do or say something. But humour that preys on something that they simply can’t do anything about is cruel, isn’t it?
I’m not persuaded that the card should be withdrawn because someone found it offensive. That’s a subjective line of argumentation that will end up completely stifling free speech. The card should be withdrawn because it’s objectively offensive. I don’t doubt Tesco’s intention to produce a humorous card. I don’t think that the artist who designed it intended to be offensive. But it is. And I just think they ended up being unnecessarily cruel.