What’s the taboo?

At 18:00 GMT (19:00 CET/20:00 EET) on Wednesday the 27th January, Index on Censorship launched the new taboo-busting winter edition of their magazine in an evening of debate and music, looking at political sensibilities, menstruation, religion, nudity, porn, mental health and racism.

On this page, those who were unable to attend the debate in person can now enjoy a full length recording of the evening. Meanwhile, more information on the speakers is provided in the biographies and related articles, interviews and more detailed information about the latest edition of Index on Censorship can all be found further down this page.

Theme / Speakers / Full length recording / Magazine / Related articles


About the debate:

We all have taboos, but the whole point of taboos is that they’re not talked about. This debate took that accepted theory and turned it on its head, looking at, debating and voting on the topics covered in the new winter edition of the Index on Censorship magazine (read more about the new edition below!).

Our colleagues at Index summed up the evening’s proceedings as follows:

When I went to the Loaded offices with hairy legs they told me to get out and that I could never be on the cover of the magazine because apparently I’d made an effort with my nails but not my legs,” said comedian Shazia Mirza, at the launch of the latest taboo-themed issue of the Index on Censorship magazine.

Do taboos still exist in society today? Are taboo subjects still brushed under the carpet instead of being faced head on? Is comedy a perfect platform to tackle these issues? These were just some of the questions discussed during an evening of discussion and debate.

Chaired by Index on Censorship’s chief executive Jodie Ginsberg, panellists included Kunle Olulode, the director of the campaigning charity Voice4Change England, the writer and political consultant Max Wind-Cowie and the comediennes Grainne Maguire and Shazia Mirza.

The night kicked off with a fast and furious comedy performance from Michelle Moran, filled with tales of taboos and secrets.

Early on in the debate, Wind-Cowie told the audience at the Royal Vauxhall Tavern of his surprise when people reacted to Rupert Murdoch and Jerry Hall’s marriage with jokes and disgust at the thought of older people having sex.

He said: “I think it’s a bit sad because I hope to be an older person one day and I hope that the older person that I will become will be allowed to have sex with someone. And, I hope that when we are having sex they won’t be looking at me and thinking ‘my God you’ve got disgusting’. So, I think it’s wrong that it’s something we all laugh at so much.”

Later, Maguire jokingly suggest that mental illness was a requirement as a comedian, but agreed there was still a lot of stigma around mental health.

In certain careers you’re supposed to be macho and mental illness is still seen as a sign of weakness. I just think that’s really depressing and sad. I think you should be allowed to be vulnerable, but I don’t think we’re there yet,” she said.

The panel soon moved on to discussing whether suicide and grief were taboo in different societies. Before further addressing the subject, Mirza took aim at current stereotypes and provocatively suggested that “some Muslims believe that suicide is wonderful. You blow yourself up and go into the afterlife where there are virgins and wine. So, it may be terrible in the West, but to Muslims suicide is great and we talk about it all the time.”

Olulode then weighed in, as he told the audience how for him the last taboo was racism. “In terms of race, there’s a lot of discussion about the discrimination and the attitudes towards black people, but we rarely discuss the construction of what it is to be white”.

He said: “There’s an old left-wing saying: ‘Nothing is alien to me.’ And, that idea of investigating every aspect of humanity seems to have become lost along the way. The contestation of ideas in society today is more about protecting people from being exposed to difficult subjects or ideas than actually tackling them head on”.

And, once the discussion was over, the evening was rounded off with a lively taboo disco set from DJ Bamboo.

Full length recording of the evening, starting with a comedy sketch by Michelle Moran:



Rachael Jolley introduced this debate, which was then moderated by Jodie Ginsberg.

Participating in the debate were…

Shazia Mirza – an award-winning comedienne and columnist.

Grainne Maguire – a stand up comedienne and comedy writer. 

Kunle Olulode – the director of Voice4Change England as well as a film historian and exhibitor


Max Wind-Cowie – writer and political consultant 


The Royal Vauxhall Tavern, 372 Kennington Lane, London

About the 2015/16 winter edition of Index on Censorship:

What’s taboo today? It might depend on where you live, your culture, your religion, or who you’re talking to. The latest issue of the Index on Censorship magazine explores worldwide taboos in all their guises and why they matter. Comedians Shazia Mirza and David Baddiel look at tackling tricky subjects for laughs; Alastair Campbell explains why we can’t be silent on mental health; and Saudi Arabia’s first female feature-film director, Haifaa Al Mansour, speaks out on breaking boundaries with conservative audiences. Plus, a crackdown on porn and showing your cleavage in China; growing up in Germany with the ghosts of WW2; what you can and can’t say in Israel and Palestine; and the argument for not editing racism out of old films. As the anniversary of the Charlie Hebdo murders approaches, we also have a special section of cartoonists from around the world who have drawn taboos from their homelands – featuring themes from nudity, atheism and death to domestic violence and necrophilia.

Also in this issue, Mark Frary explores the secret algorithms controlling the news we see, Natasha Joseph interviews the Swaziland editor who took on the king and ended up in prison and Duncan Tucker speaks to radio journalists who lost their jobs after investigating presidential property deals in Mexico.

Meanwhile, in the culture section, Chilean author Ariel Dorfman looks at the power of music as resistance in an exclusive short story, which is finally seeing the light after 50 years in the pipeline. We have fiction from young writers in Burma tackling changing rules in times of transition, and there’s newly translated poetry written from behind bars in Egypt, amidst the continuing crackdown on peaceful protest.

To see a detailed contents list or to subscribe to the magazine, visit Index’s own website at https://www.indexoncensorship.org/2015/12/winter-magazine-201516-whats-the-taboo/

Related articles:

1) Talk does not cost lives, silence does. Index on Censorship winter edition editorial by Rachael Jolley

2) The reel world. An interview with female film directors from Denmark and Saudia Arabia by Nikki Baughan

3) Airbrushing racism. Why racist words shouldn’t be edited from history by Kunle Olulode 

4) Why I decided to live tweet my menstrual cycle to Enda Kenny by Grainne Maguire 

5) Shazia Mirsa: Look at me – ISIS would stone me to death. An interview with Shazia Mirsa by Homa Khaleeli 

6) Thoughts policed. An article on free speech in politics by Max Wind-Cowie