Wednesday, January 23, 2008

The ongoing political saga of the three little pigs

Apparently the story of three little pigs is no longer acceptable. Having been slowly toned down over the years - the characters no longer eat each other - it has now fallen foul of some politically correct imperative to avoid any mention of pigs for fear of offending Muslims. A cartoon that attacks cowboy builders - The Three Little Cowboy Builders - was seen to "raise cultural issues", thanks to its portrayal of pigs, by Becta (the government's "educational technology agency" - whatever that is).

Bizarrely enough the story of the three little pigs has run into trouble with the PC-police before. The three little pigs were going to be recast as puppies for a school play in West Yorkshire before a councillor stepped in and restored sanity.

I'm pretty certain this is all utterly absurd. Muslims can't eat pork but there is no prohibition on pigs in the media. There is no suggestion that any Muslim has actually complained. Beyond that, Becta are clearly utter imbeciles as they assume the cartoon will offend builders - it won't. An attack on cowboy builders will be welcomed by the honest builders who lose business to the unscrupulous.

Despite the obvious silliness in this case it does illustrate a more serious issue. Attacks on free speech through the legal system, threats of violence (overt or implied) and hypersensitive protests at minor, perceived insults have a broad range of social effects. While we do need to be concerned that even the bravest - with something important to say - won't be able to speak their mind we should also be mindful of small concessions, some of them entirely irrational. Topics ruled out of bounds, self-censorship to be on the safe side. This isn't as dramatic and obviously important as the grand struggles over Salman Rushdie's book or the Danish Cartoons but it does matter.

We don't want a society where people are too cautious about what they say. A vibrant culture is built upon expression that is free in spirit. Where spontaneous creativity is not subjected to a political filter.

That kind of freedom of expression is worth defending. It makes the world a brighter, more interesting place.

1 comment:

Gracchi said...

Unsurprisingly I agree. Incidentally surely substituting puppies is equally offensive- I thought that in most cultures to call someone a dog of some kind was a stereotypical insult! Good points on free speech though.