The head of the BBC described outrage as: “A dangerous form of censorship which works by causing artists and writers not to take risks.”
He described it as a decision to: “attack whatever does not underwrite a set of prior assumptions.”
Also as: “A sign of an unattractive degree of madness in this country.”
That’s pretty bad, that’s stifling free speech.
Even worse as far as we’re concerned, outrage is stifling creativity: “censorship which causes artists and writers not to take risks.”
So, was the head of the BBC talking about today’s climate of political correctness?
No, Sir Hugh Greene was head of the BBC in 1965, he was talking about Mary Whitehouse.
Mary Whitehouse was the 1960’s version of politically correct outrage.
It was similar to what we see today: the thought police
She decided she was the moral conscience of the nation and everyone should be restricted to what she thought should be allowed.
Starting in 1964, she spent thirty years deciding what ought to be broadcast, and getting people fired who disagreed.
The Guardian recently wrote about her: “The spirit of this patron saint of orchestrated outrage lives on in drummed-up internet campaigns and twitterstorms and every righteous complaint ever left in an online comment box.”
Mary Whitehouse said she represented millions of people in this country.
Through a constant stream of: petitions, letter-writing campaigns, interviews, publicity, and harassment she became impossible to ignore.
She saw sex and violence and filth everywhere.
From Clockwork Orange to Dr Who, from Dennis Potter to Tom & Jerry, from The Man From UNCLE to Pinky & Perky.
She was outraged by everything, programmes were banned or edited to suit her taste, the careers of those who offended her were cut short.
Her technique was very similar to what we see from today’s internet warriors.
Ben Thompson, who edited her letters, said: “One of her favourite tricks was to refer neutrally to ‘controversies’ she herself had actually generated as if they were simply historical facts of which all must take cognisance.”
He also said: “From feminist anti-porn campaigns, to UK Uncut, and the Taliban and Mumsnet, Mary Whitehouse’s monuments are all around us.”
But, like those fuelled by outrage today, she had no sense of proportion.
Even a sympathiser said: “She was so narrow and obsessional that it has been virtually impossible for any average, respectable liberal to condemn the same things as she has done.”
Her son, an art school student, felt the same: “As a creative person I loved going against traditional forms, pushing boundaries and moving forward. How could I support my mother working so hard to stifle so many writers and film-makers who were doing the same?”
So that’s where outrage gets us: censorship, the thought police,
Stifling creativity, stifling the freedom to push boundaries, to explore new limits.
Instead we have people for whom even the possibility of offending them causes outrage and must be gagged.
The mere fact that they disagree with it means it must be wrong.
So they will decide whether or not we are to be allowed any creativity.
And if so how much, and in whatever form they approve of.