We and Our Big Mouth – on The Raging Book Shambles Fist Fights*

“Think before you speak”, they always said.
But who does?
Sometimes we think as we speak, often we only seem to have worked out what we have said as the words have reached halfway across the room.
By that time, your regret may have kicked in. Sometimes you are surprised your brain has manufactured that sentence.
It is very easy to place a grenade in a teacup now. There are so many arenas where you can publicly place your half-cocked opinions or fully formed dogmas. There are also an increasing number of immediate ways you can discover that the a word or a sentence can be translated in a very different way from your own intentions. It is getting easier and easier to type your own noose.
There is a Lord Chancellor homunculus in your head who tries to bowdlerise your sentences as it rushes through all the permutations of possible understandings.
As Jon Ronson’s You Have Been Publicly Shamed demonstrated, the diversity of our imagination would rather secure umbrage than use itself to imagine an anodyne meaning or misunderstanding.
When Josie Long and I are making Book Shambles, we have no preparation and no script. We sit in the studio, always with a guest who has pricked our curiosity or jabbed our fascination, and what happens then happens. We are excitable. Works tumble forth. Sometimes, as the neurons cool and we breath air from out of the sealed, soundproofed room.
Our first post recording debate was about the use of the word “whore”. It came up in a discussion with Sara Pascoe. It was some ridiculous scenario, a conversation set in Victorian times I think.
Afterwards, some felt we should either cut the conversation due to the possible of some finding the language incendiary or placing a brief note at the start of the podcast. I, as the middle class, middle aged, white male saw nothing wrong with it at all. I believed context was clear and probably made some speech about a fear of losing too much language from imagined umbrage or the offence of a very few, an offence I would have felt was misplaced. We discussed it, and hopefully reached an acceptable conclusion for all.
This week, we found ourselves discussing suicide with A L Kennedy. Again, this had not been pre-planned. As we arrived at the recording studio, I recalled that the first work of hers that I read was On Bullfighting. The introduction includes an enlightening story about what went through her mind as she seemed to be on the brink of suicide (I really recommend this book, and all her work).
It made a great impression on me and I think it is also a very practical piece about what might go through your mind when you may be on the brink.
As we talked, I remembered a conversation I had with a woman in Adelaide. She was one of those individuals who casually shares fascinating insights even when she is still a stranger to you. After my gig, a few of us were sitting in a bar, and she told me, with no sense of pity or melodrama, that her daughter had killed herself. The dominant reason for bringing this up was to tell me that it is a subject that more comedians should talk about on stage. It is a subject that needs to be aired in the hope that this taboo can be diluted. (I would recommend Al Alvarez’s The Savage God, a history and discussion of suicide).
After the recording, there was some talk of placing a warning at the start of this podcast, to state that suicide would be discussed. My argument against is that it might stop some of the people it would be most useful to from hearing it. We were not tabloid or Piers Morgan prying. We weren’t seeking tear duct action, after all, we are not television.
The decision has not yet been made, but I think we might put it out with out any pre show warning. (as Nick Hurley tweeted after reading this, “tendency towards sensitivity is honourable—but does prefixing the discussion with a warning defeat its normalisation?”)

Josie writes.

“I feel that I’m in a position where I am able to try and be sensitive. I don’t self censor but if something comes up that I know is a subject that’s triggering for people I think it’s a good idea for us to put a small mention at the top of the show. It feels simple and painless to give people the heads up like this.

I think Robin did have a point when we spoke about this, which was that putting on a warning might turn away some people who might identify with the discussion, and so lose people who would really appreciate it. It’s not shocking or deliberately challenging about the topic but understanding and humane.
I don’t know what we ought to be doing but it doesn’t feel like a hard thing to try and be sensitive.
But, either way I have sneakily got my own way because robin has written this blog post which at least has let people know a bit about the conversation and so make their own decisions. Haha, bad luck old man.”

  • title may be a lie. They are more conversations near a fruit bowl.

Book Shambles series 2 has begun, so far we’ve put out Dean Burnett and Charlotte Church, AL Kennedy next, and Reece Shearmsith and Eddie Izzard coming soon. Series One and Two can be found HERE (series one is Chris Hadfield, Mark Gatiss, Sara Pascoe, Stewart Lee, Laura Dockrill, Salena Godden and Owen Jones)

 

 

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4 Responses to We and Our Big Mouth – on The Raging Book Shambles Fist Fights*

  1. Robin says:

    Re: trigger warnings – it’s not so much that the people who might find it useful won’t listen, more that people can listen forewarned, rather than having potentially distressing material appear from nowhere.

    I find certain topics massively increase my anxiety, I’ll still read things covering those topics, but maybe not on a day when I’m already at the edge of coping levels. Trigger warnings mean I can save something for later, have a cup of tea, be prepared for emotional stuff.

    Just as phlebotomists say “sharp scratch” before taking blood, “content note: suicide” is simply considerate, lets people brace themselves.

    • robinince says:

      will take that on board. Sometimes it is hard to know what might distress someone. is it best always to err on the side of caution and try to make educated presumptions?

      • Robin says:

        I honestly don’t know. It’s not going to be possible to pre-empt every potential distressing area given how varied the human psyche is, but making some effort to be considerate will always be better than making none.

        I’d go with adding a content note if there are commonly emotive topics discussed – e.g. suicide, self harm, abuse. I’ve seen some people just use the format “topics covered: benefits, depression, food” type header, which is quite a nice way of giving a heads up. “Content note” is also quite a good neutral term.

  2. paulkrarup says:

    Tricky one. Had a conversation recently about this exact issue. Personally, I reckon that freedom of expression trumps all. Trying to decifer any potential trigger is a minefield. It’s lovely to be sensitive, and right to be so; but spending too much time contemplating the phrases, or specific words which may cause offence is counterproductive to your firing synapses!

    Over a long period, this kind of thinking will stunt free-thought, and free expression.

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