Does offensive material have a time limit?

With copies of Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead now gathering dust in various iTunes libraries, Margaret Thatcher returned to the news cycle last week to a comparably lesser degree, after it was announced that a series of posters of the Iron Lady would not be displayed in Westminster Tube Station.


CBS Outdoor deemed the satirical artwork, which depicted Thatcher as both Queen Victoria and the Virgin Mary, ‘insensitive’ considering the proximity to her funeral. Notwithstanding the fact that the posters were not in any way celebrating her death, there is something decidedly unsettling with the idea of an advertising company judging taste on behalf of the public. However, a Transport for London spokesman claimed that once her funeral was over, they would be ‘happy to consider them again’, which perhaps epitomises the handling of the entire Margaret Thatcher situation: is it timing, rather than content, which is considered so offensive?

For instance, candid jokes about Thatcher were met with resounding laughter on 10 O’Clock Live, which was broadcast just a week after her funeral. It is somewhat hypocritical that something considered so outrageously distasteful the week before someone’s funeral, suddenly becomes acceptable the following week and this notion of respecting the deceased during the period between their death and burial seems a little out of place in an increasingly secular age.

Lyrically, songs such as Elvis Costello’s Tramp The Dirt Down were significantly more vicious than any song from the Wizard of Oz and this highlights a glaring double standard: paradoxically, offensive material is not deemed so when the target is actually alive to witness the criticism.

This does beg the question of whether material should be considered offensive if it has such a brief period of potency. The family’s grief will undoubtedly not disappear after a mere fortnight so if corporations are to enforce standards on taste (which is, itself, highly problematic), they should at least have to be consistent. There are times to be offended and political satire in a tube station is not one.


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September 2021
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