THE BLOG

Why Safe Spaces Are Definitely No Laughing Matter!

26/11/2015 10:46 GMT | Updated 25/11/2016 10:12 GMT

I've had a terrific view of the free speech versus regulated speech on campuses controversy because I'm chronologically proximate enough to student culture to sprechen die student but I'm also far enough removed from it to avoid getting caught up in the gathering storm of righteous indignation. They say the spectator sees more of the game, but I'd like to add that his view depends on how close he is to the court; and my seat for this has been court side. It goes without saying that I've received value for money for my cost of admission - it's been a fight worth watching.

Whether it's people twisting themselves into tie-dyed knots on Twitter, trying to legitimately suggest that Germaine Greer should be banned from speaking on one subject because some people disagree with her views on another or hearing that two penis-owners cannot legitimately present the pro-life and pro-choice arguments; it's been time to grab the popcorn as of late. I've watched po-faced dullards genuinely argue that Milo Yiannopoulos and Julie Bindel are dangerous, even though one is the self-confessed "most flamboyant homosexual in journalism" and the other works for The Guardian - hardly Genghis and Mrs Khan, but they've been banned anyway.

There's been a lot written and said on this, and while it is hilarious to watch the blood drain from a strident face as its lips struggle to justify restrictions on speech (see Mick Hume's excellent Trigger Warning for a further details) or treating students like softheaded infants; I feel that one point hasn't been covered yet. The modern pro-censorship lobby has, in everything it has done, everything from Gamergate to Germaine Greer, retained one essential characteristic.

Complete and utter humourlessness.

Don't believe me? I'd suggest you haven't been paying attention. Log into Twitter or Tumblr (the repository for everything that takes itself far too bloody seriously), search for the appropriate tags and you will quickly find the evidence. You'll find enough stony-faced, boring, self-righteous claptrap ordering you to be very, very careful not to use your words to hurt anyone's feelings - either accidentally or to make a point - to keep you spluttering with rage into your chai latte, or, if you're sensible, black coffee. Remember; don't light a cigarette with it because that's a flogging offence for being so damned inconsiderate.

The internet is replete with lists, memes and other content attempting to police speech and autonomy based on the conceit held by some - although they won't admit it - that some groups are so dense, diminutive, delicate and damaged that they will be consigned to the feinting couch if they hear anything that makes them uncomfortable.

This culture is everywhere online and has also taken 'real life' form in the safe spaces, speech codes, bans of speakers and zero tolerance policies that blight the places people are supposed to go to be challenged. It's comparable to a group hallucination in which everyone is a unique unicorn with pre-hurt feelings and allergies to hearing anything insulting or reminiscent of something that happened to them or happened to someone else at some point.

Universities, from Oxford to Cardiff and even as far as Yale, are becoming inadvertently gentrified places of comfort instead of challenge and interrogation, it makes me doubt whether or not students are still taking the person, social, intellectual and cultural risks that we expect of them. I keep wondering what stories their friends will embarrass them with in the future, "Well, when I first knew him, he actually, like, took full-caff coffee, had two lovers in three years and went to bed after midnight twice a week. He was a rebel, but it's all changed days." The quality of the best man's speeches of the future are my main concern.

So, why is the whole anti-speech, pro-censorship movement incapable of being funny about it?

Especially when compared with the wit of the opposition, like the guys from Breitbart or Spiked.

The answer lies in the new definition of safety and its relationship with comedy. It's not that this censorious faction can't make jokes or doesn't know how to; it's that their ideology doesn't allow them. If you permit the campus censors and the friends their rules, under which you cannot offend, insult, provoke or hurt anyone then you cannot possible make a real joke about anything.

I believe that Christopher Hitchens was correct when he said, "a joke isn't a joke unless it's at someone's expense". If you sanitise the environment to the point where everyone must, under pain of excommunication, avoid making anyone else feel uncomfortable or disrespected then you cannot even tell a basic knock-knock joke without earning the ire of the Open Room Movement or whatever .

Ridicule, provocation and mocking what goes wrong in life is the essence of comedy and without it comedy dies. It's why the modern, right-on movement just doesn't do funny and when it tries it falls completely flat, like a Soviet apparatchik telling a joke to a crowd that has been told to laugh. If you've ever seen coverage of a student conference you'll know what I mean, you may as well be telling a joke in a mortuary.

If you'll indulge me, I'd like to issue a challenge to support my claim. I'm always willing to admit when I'm wrong, so, here's a way for anyone pissed off enough to demand I do so. If you can find me a right-on, inclusive, third-wave, safe-space compatible, trendy student comedy show to go to - I will, and if it's at all funny then I'll go online and do any embarrassing penance of your choice. To show I'm serious, I'll even pay and my challenger can witness - remember, I'm Scottish and therefore opposed to paying for anything on principle. Anyway, I'll bet you can't because, as we both know, you can't be funny in a safe space - it's like a comedic coma.