Helen Martin: You never hear the offend of it

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A poster of Picasso’s Nude Woman in Red Armchair advertising an exhibition in the Scottish 
 National Gallery of Modern Art was temporarily covered with a sheet by Edinburgh Airport staff after ten complaints from passengers that it was offensive.

Apparently, those in the arty know say it is one of his most beautiful and sensuous works. It’s certainly a wonderful painting, but offensive?

Suffice to say Picasso’s genius is that he saw things differently from the rest of us. Realistic detail was not his forte. Having looked at the painting carefully I can definitely see one boob-shaped globe, a belly button and a brush stroke that almost suggests a womanly crevice. Other than that she’s a rather vague, voluptuous study in blue and white, pretty devoid of anatomical detail, who seems to be part woman and part chair.

I would love to know who the complainants were and what they found offensive. Were they elderly “seniors” from Florida? Perhaps a band of Highland Wee Frees coming to campaign against the excesses of the Fringe? Could be they were from one of the many worldwide cultures who believe all women should be modest and covered – in which case welcome to August in Edinburgh, the land of the Ladyboys, bikini-clad girls on stilts in the High Street, burlesque performances and comedians who know no boundaries.

I would also like to know the role of the person in Edinburgh Airport who responded to this idiotic “passenger feedback” by covering up the poster until someone presumably more sensible and senior reversed their decision and put the display back on show.

Why is it these days that so many people seem to be offended by nothing and, not content with being offended themselves, have to make a federal case out of it?

And why does anyone listen to them? Surely the correct response in this case is to say “Sir/Madam, welcome to the great cultural city of Edinburgh and its famous arts festival. This is a Picasso. I’m sorry you find it offensive but if you think for one minute we are going to conceal it because you don’t happen to like it, you are mistaken. Have a nice day.”

Some people today are offended by folk wearing crosses round their necks. Schools sports days no longer have winners and losers in case the sportily-duff kids who come last, or their doting parents, are offended. Old people are offended by being called “pensioners”. Obese people are offended by being called “fat”. Some people are still offended by breast-feeding in public.

Three cheers for Stephen Gough, the naked rambler who insists on nakedly rambling on and on despite the objections of the easily offended. The last time he left Perth prison (after six years inside), the local constabulary finally found sense and did what they should have done before – let him go on his way in his birthday suit. The best quote of the day came from a local mother among the cheering crowd who said: “The kids thought it was hilarious.”

It’s 2012. No-one, including nuns, little old ladies and, least of all, children or teenagers, finds a harmless naked man offensive . . . funny perhaps, oddball certainly, but not 
offensive.

There are times, of course, when it is difficult not to be slightly offended, especially if your job puts you in the line of fire. The police have to put up with being called “pigs” and worse, columnists including moi soak up everything from insults to death threats on occasion, parking attendants are probably most familiar with offensive behaviour, and in the care sector try a Saturday night in casualty. A wonderful black carer in my mother’s nursing home for the bewildered even had to shrug off the “N” word recently from a resident who was brought up in different times and can’t be held responsible for what they say anyway.

The answer to all these situations is to avoid taking them personally and ignore them completely, which is what sensible people do.

“Offensive” is a much overused word and it seems being “offended” by trivia is just a modern strategy to give meaning to the lives of people who clearly don’t have enough troubles of their own to worry about.

Battle of twits

HIMSELF, who was never great on the IT front, has proved remarkably adept at social networking and a wee bit condescendingly tries to sympathise with my complete inability to get to grips with it.

There are now, as someone famously said, three of us in this marriage – me, him and his smartphone. He tweets interminably – during meal times, in bed, in the loo for all I know. He proudly announces an increase in his followers and gets excited when he’s been “re-tweeted”. There are times when I find it juvenile – that’s my excuse.

Imagine how pleased I was when he admitted he still had a thing or two to learn. Why? He somehow managed to invite himself to be his friend on Facebook . . . and declined.