As we begin another edition of Comment, with a brand-new Comment Editorial team and a new set of student opinions to be heard, I’m asking: should we be scared of the controversial? Controversial is defined as “causing disagreement or discussion” by the Cambridge Dictionary. With that definition it can be seen as a key part in human development.
Without discussion and disagreement, no tools would be left to further societies or facilitate change. Key changes in civil rights all around the world can be attributed to key controversial figures. How controversial was it for Rosa Parks to sit at the front of the bus? Any instance where the human race has developed itself comes down to a paradigm being broken; the arguments and discussion which follow result in change.
There seems, however, to be a different, more stigmatized side to the controversial. Individuals can now, given the right platform, deliberately wield the “controversial” for the sheer purpose of self-gain. The well-known saying “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” is increasingly relevant; the line between being famous and being infamous is increasingly blurred as individuals hijack the idea of being controversial in their selfish endeavours.
Recently on National Health Day, Piers Morgan published a tweet controversially advocating that we start referring to mental health as “mental strength” in a bid to “teach our kids the power of resilience”. Piers wasn’t doing this as a genuine contribution to the mental health campaign, he was doing it to ruffle the feathers of society. Manipulating our desire to seek the controversial in society, he turned our attention away from the relevant and instead towards his smug face. Not only is this twisted, but it’s dangerous in the way it be-littles mental health. His form of the controversial wasn’t facilitating change or providing debate, it was simply damaging and disrespectful to the incredible mental health campaigns currently going on.
If, however, we can pride ourselves on having an ounce of regard for others and an ounce of integrity, we’re not going to be controversial in this sense. It is possible to be deliberately controversial, and not in a bad way.
I’m advocating that we embrace the controversial, it’s what the comment section is all about. Views on big political events with the controversial takes on them, make for good reading.
Let’s celebrate the controversial in the political institutions around us, but let’s celebrate the controversial in the mundane too. What’s your particular dialect’s way of describing a “bread roll”? In what way should you eat a KitKat? Does mayonnaise belong anywhere near chips?
Whether you’re writing or reading, let’s look for “the controversial” in the world, whether that’s within government policy, university policy, or whether it is just how people put ketchup on their chips.
Let’s debate, discuss, and most importantly re-claim the word from the typically ascribed “controversial character” who seeks to misuse the term “controversial”, not for the betterment of human-kind, or even for our general entertainment, but instead for their own self-gain.
We, as journalists, must be able to identify and classify what type of controversial we are seeing/reporting. Is it controversial because it’s being used as a force for positive change? Or also because it’s turning the mundane into a lively discussion and a jovial debate?