(Note: [remove before publishing] Should be safe enough Ed: they must have run out of vegetable puns after yesterday….)
Hurling abuse is a time honoured occupation. The earliest reference I can find is to an early Tunisian uprising, (AD63 or thereabouts) when the hoi polloi hurled turnips at Vespasian Caesar in disgust. We have been chucking fruit and veg at those who displeased us ever since. The most recent is the ‘spaghetti harvest’ left, chucked at the Russian consulate in Odessa by recalcitrant Ukrainians. Apparently, ‘noodles between the ears’ is the best translation of Ukrainian views of Russian politicians. Whether Vespasian’s turnips had a similarly obtuse meaning or was merely the only fodder to hand is debatable.
Eggs as missiles put in an appearance when an 18th century Liverpudlian Missionary took a boat to the Isle of Manx and tried to convince the population that they would never walk alone if they just took the hand of Jesus – and found himself pelted with a few precious eggs in amongst the stones and mud….eggs put in another appearance in the Ukraine when one thrown at Victor Yanukovych put him in hospital; hard boiling them first is really not in the spirit of the tradition.
Soft fruit, preferably rotten, is the modern weapon of choice – the object is not to put your victim in hospital or do any lasting harm, merely to make your feelings known. The era of the ‘rotten tomato’ started in the theatre, but has emerged as one of the more unlikely annual festivals. I give you ‘La Tomatina‘, held every year in Buñol, Spain. It used to be such a popular way of letting off steam that every year between 40 and 50,000 people would cram into the streets to hurl rotten tomatoes at each other – now it is restricted to the first 20,000 applicants who get to pay €10 each for the privilege of chucking a hundred metric tons of rotten tomatoes at each other. Go enjoy!
I’m telling you this because it is becoming harder and harder to vent your feelings. One could understand if sticks, stones and rotten tomatoes were being banned as a method of expressing yourself – but words?
‘Words can never hurt you’ so it is said.
Angie Bray, Conservative MP for Ealing Central and Acton, has put forward an amendment to the forthcoming Criminal Justice bill, which would see you in jail for two years for ‘offences’ such as that which saw Jake Newsome jailed for a ‘mere’ six weeks. The justice secretary, Chris Grayling, is backing the amendment.
Jake’s offence was to tweet something deemed offensive by some of the 2,000 people who ‘retweeted’ his comment in respect of the teacher Ann Maguire, recently murdered.
“Personally im glad that teacher got stabbed up, feel sorry for the kid… he shoulda pissed on her too”.
Hardly the most sensitive of sentiments – but it wasn’t addressed to Ann Maguire – who was sadly deceased. Nor her family. It was on his Facebook page, shared amongst his school friends. A few days later, after his post had been shared more than 2,000 times, West Yorkshire police arrested and charged Jake under the 2003 Communications Act with having sent “by means of a public electronic communications network a message or other matter that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing nature”.
Robert Riley said he would have killed ‘not only Maguire but all her school colleagues’ on Twitter; that got him eight weeks in jail. The chairwoman of the bench, Georgina Scannell, said the court had ‘no choice’ but to send the defendant to jail – his Tweet ‘outraged the public’ (Robert had all of 500 followers).
Isabella Sorley, 23, used Twitter to tell feminist Criado-Perez to ‘f*** off and die you worthless piece of crap’ and ‘go kill yourself’. John Nimmo, 25, told Criado-Perez to ‘shut up bitch’ and ‘Ya not that gd looking to rape u be fine’, followed by: ‘I will find you [smiley face]’ and then the message ‘rape her nice ass’. Sorley was jailed for 12 weeks, and Nimmo for 8.
I’m not particularly defending the opinions of those jailed – but I’ve certainly been on the receiving end of similar and worse, and it’s never crossed my mind that the speaker should be jailed for what they’ve said.
For the best part of 2,000 years, we’ve been able to express our opinion of people and events by lobbing rotten eggs and fruit at them – surely more harmful than words? Leila Deen only got a caution for lobbing green custard at Peter Mandelson; can anyone explain to me why we have started jailing people for their words?