The announcement that comedian Frankie Boyle is scheduled to appear as a main act at this years Belfast Feile has caused considerable controversy. This follows jokes made by Boyle five years ago about children with Downs syndrome. Whilst his sense of humour is not to my taste and quite outlandish, I question if attempts to ban him from the festival are really the answer?
If yes then could this action open 'offense' type flood gates leaving all events open to similar scrutiny? Boyle's Jokes are not to everyone's taste but then the same could be said for a lot of comedy. Two films in particular spring to mind; 'Me, Myself and Irene' and 'Something about Mary'. 'Me Myself and Irene' presents a distorted view of Schizophrenia and 'Something about Mary' contains distasteful references to adults with learning disabilities, yet both were big films.
Having taken time to look at the Feile schedule I have found that all of the events have the potential to cause offense to either individuals or groups within the community. Mark Almond, former lead singer of the eighties band Soft Cell and a self professed member of the Church of Satan is due to perform at the festival. Surely his appearance could send out the wrong message or it could just be a case of better the devil you know! Then we have the music of provocative Irish rebel band the Wolfetones. Is this really an appropriate choice in this a post-conflict and multi-cultural society? After all the Wolfetones chant what some consider offensive and what others can be arrested for saying. Whilst I have no wish to dismiss the depth of feeling over the Boyle issue the common sense side of me questions where this will end?
Surely an easier option for objectors would be to encourage people to avoid the show, as from experience I find this type of attention can often spark curiosity and lead to increased attendance as has happened. This also happened with the Reduced Shakespeare Company production ' The Bible' which had been banned after being branded 'blasphemous' by Newtownabbey Borough Council. When the decision was reversed the tickets sold better than had been initially expected, another event that sold out after people got their backs up was the Belfast appearance by George Galloway.
Two people who I regard as two of the biggest comedians in the North, the PSNI Chief Constable and the Deputy First Minister will be performing at the festival. I wouldn't go and see them because no doubt I would take offense at something they would say, but I do respect the right of others to waste their time and money going to see them, that's personal choice.
From the Life of Brian, to the Sex Pistols 'god save the queen' there will always be something that causes offense. The bottom line is that if I think something is going to offend me I won't go to it, why would I want to go to or draw attention to something that may cause me distress?
Essentially, exercise personal choice, and allow others to exercise theirs.
I will now leave you with the words of a friend...... “To all those who have got really hot under the collar about Frankie Boyle. Ask yourself this. If you were disabled who would make your blood boil? A comedian who tells a joke about your disability? Or the politician who claims to be defending your rights whilst making plans to cut the benefits you depend on that makes your life more bearable?”