God Loves the Ginger People

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I’m not persuaded that the card should be withdrawn because someone found it offensive.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 The card should be withdrawn because it’s objectively offensive.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.

11 thoughts on “God Loves the Ginger People

  1. Phil C December 15, 2009 / 10:59 am

    But they could change the colour of their hair, couldn’t they? 🙂

    • theurbanpastor December 15, 2009 / 11:03 am

      Good point, now help me out and tell me how I refute it!

      • Phil C December 15, 2009 / 11:52 am

        Should the focus be on choice rather than what we can’t change? We can satirise people’s stupid choices and decisions. But some choices are totally justified, like deciding to be content with your circumstances – including your hair colour. I haven’t really thought that through though.

        I knew a guy at school with a monobrow. One day he came in and someone spotted that he’d dealt with it with a razor. As a tactic to avoid ridicule, it was not a sensible move.

    • Paul H December 15, 2009 / 11:22 am

      Not naturally or permanently though. A bit like grey hair 😉

  2. Hutch December 15, 2009 / 3:11 pm

    Isn’t there more to it than this? Even if it is taking the mick out of someone’s choice (e.g a poor hairstyle or dress sense), why do we do it – is it because it is guininely funny, is it because it will make me the author of banter look good and be boosting his/her ego or pride and how does the person who the mick take and banter is about feel and should take it? I’ve been thinking through this a little bit recently. How and what mick-take and banter is good and godly and what isn’t?

  3. Hutch December 15, 2009 / 3:13 pm

    guininely?! I’ll give you that one 🙂

    Let’s try genuinely!

  4. andy December 16, 2009 / 12:29 pm

    Most important thing is to know your audience. We all know there are those amoung our flock whose expanding waistline (or fashion choices) you wouldn’t point out for a giggle… and those you would. Principles of humour aside, it’s not godly to upset people, particularly if they’re fragile. Therefore we need to know the butt of our joke can take our banter.
    And btw tell Pete I can’t help being short!!! (Actually don’t – I’d feel sad if he stopped…)

    • Phil C December 16, 2009 / 12:43 pm

      I think that sometimes it’s ok to upset people – that’s why satire is powerful (just look at Jesus making fun of the Pharisees, I bet they were upset!).

  5. James S December 16, 2009 / 1:53 pm

    Instead of splitting between what can be changed (weight) and what can’t be changed (race), how about considering it in three areas – natural characteristics that cannot be changed, natural characteristics that can be changed and charateristics predominantly dictated by us.

    So an example of the first would be someone’s height (unless you go in for some extreme surgury) or race, the second would be hair colour which could be changed, but is entirely natural and then the third would be weight, but might have some genetic link, but is essentially controlled (or not!) by diet and exercise.

    Therefore I would suggest that the first two are out of bounds whereas the third might not be, though you should still consider people’s feelings above all.

    I think it’s also more relevant who the banter is aimed at (and what your relationship with them is like) rather than which characteristic it refers to. Someone sent me a pdf of that card, which was fair enough, I can see the funny side of that, but someone shouting ‘oi ginger’ out of a car window isn’t so funny especially as I don’t know them. (not that I’m ginger of course – perish the thought!)

    The card shouldn’t have been withdrawn, however it was pretty lame – not like it’s an original joke…

  6. Lauri December 16, 2009 / 5:47 pm

    It’s interesting that you mention religious conviction as being something its ok to make fun of. I agree with you of course but I think there is an element in which this is questionable, if you say that you cannot make fun of things people cannot change. If it is true that Martin Luther said “Here I stand, I can do no other.” And we really take his quote at face value…

    Taking this away from the joke level. It’s important to note that this is a debate going on at the parliamentary level in relation to the Equality bill and previous legislation. There are a number of specially protected strands including sexual orientation and religion and belief in our countries legal system. One line of argument goes that you cannot change SO, but that one can change ones R and B and therefore, it should be less protected under hate crimes legislation and the restriction on freedom of speech should be less vigilant for R and B than for SO. Watch this space.

  7. John Lumgair January 5, 2010 / 9:35 am

    Once a Chinese student asked me “Why do British people laugh at Ginger people?” He then went on to say how sad he was because “Ginger people are the most beautiful in the whole world” If your kids ever find the mockery too much, then may be China is the place for them!

    Mockery builds character – too much mockery may destroy someone.

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