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No Laughing Matter
Did you know that seven out of ten people don t believe in surveys? Very sensible of them, too.
Eamonn McCann, 19 Feb 1997
Did you know that seven out of ten people don t believe in surveys? Very sensible of them, too. The last survey I studied suggested that just over 80% of US academics are either strongly or very strongly of the opinion that Political Correctness is too influential in US academic institutions.
Bears thinking about, that.
Worth thinking, too, on the fact the 80% minimum of the articles you read about the oppressive power of Political Correctness are against it. It s the new tyranny , they say. People everywhere are cowering from it in corners, afraid to speak freely.
Heartening to know that a huge majority of the people who write about this tyranny aren t tyrannised by it. I see many of them regularly on television with their faces composed into profiles of courage as they begin every second sentence with: I am well aware that I risk the wrath of the PC brigade when I say . . .
You hardly ever see anybody on television standing up for this tyranny. It s so intimidating nobody has the nerve to say they re for it. Weird, or what?
My own first encounter with Political Correctness came a few years back when I heard people giving out about thought police in Hackney (or it might have been Islington or Stoke Newington) who had banned children in a nursery school from reciting Baa Baa Black Sheep on the grounds that it was racist. The story had been splashed in the Daily Mail, which is where I began my enquiries.
The Mail couldn t tell me the name of the nursery school and suggested I try the Evening Standard, which I gathered was where they d picked the yarn up from. The Standard in turn referred me to a local newspaper in north London which point-blank denied that it had been the original source: they d run the story only after it had appeared in the nationals.
It eventually became clear that not only could nobody identify the nursery school concerned, neither could anyone tell me in which London borough the tiny tots were being tyrannised. Some said Hackney, some Islington, some Stoke Newington.
The story, which enjoyed wide currency at the time, turned out to have no basis whatever in fact. But I suspect that even today it s occasionally paraded as an example of the ludicrous oppressive lengths the PC crowd will go to if they re let.
I suspect I have no way of knowing that the lie was promoted in an effort to discredit by ridicule, people who would no longer allow racist and sexist bigotry to go unchallenged.
I was reminded of all this by a badly-made series currently running on Channel 4 called Seriously Funny. It s presented by Howard Jacobson, a man who occasionally appears and it s the place for him on BBC2 s arts review programme, The Late Show.
Jacobson s series purports to examine humour, and he has taken the opportunity to lambaste oppressive Political Correctness. The racist and sexist humour which a new wave of PC comedians challenged a decade ago wasn t racist or sexist at all, he declares. It was, in fact, zinging with zest for life, blithely imbued with a free spirit which couldn t be contained within the narrow confines of what was ideologically approved.
The hero of the first hour-long programme in the series was Bernard Manning, the fat lout who makes a living insulting black people, women and gays. This was the second stage in Manning s rehabilitation by the progressive media. Last month the Guardian gave over two pages to a paean of praise for Manning by a Jonathan Margolis, who has apparently written a whole book about the ugly oaf.
A number of other strange things has been happening in comedy. Last year Ben Elton revealed that he has always been a passionate admirer of the self-basting smarm-meister Bob Monkhouse. I don t believe it. I think that if Ben Elton had been a Bob Monkhouse fan throughout his career we d have heard about it. It would have been mentioned, and not just in passing, in some of the many extensive interviews Ben Elton has given over the years.
The question is: why would Ben Elton lie about being a long-time admirer of the unfunny Bob Monkhouse?
The most incisive and inventive of the current crop of British comedians, Mark Steel, ruminated recently that comedy had become a major ideological battleground for some who had made it into the middle-class and who now felt vaguely embarrassed by their (slightly) radical past.
So they suddenly discover, and announce, that the comics they scorned in their youth were actually, now that they come to think about it and can see it in a different perspective, really rather splendid.
Elton reveals his reverence for Monkhouse, Rik Mayall allows that he likes Jim Bowen big-time, Guardian/Channel 4 intellectuals like Jacobson and Margolis tell us that they believe Bernard Manning is a genius . . .
They proclaim they have made their peace with the capitalist world they once railed against by publicly embracing its grubbiest icons.
When Howard Jacobson says that Bernard Manning isn t really racist what he means is that he himself has opted out of opposition to racism. Naturally, he now joins in the jeering against oppressive PC.
I like Mark Steel s joke about the West Indian, the Irishman and the Pakistani who are walking along the street one day when they meet Howard Jacobson, Jonathan Margolis and Bernard Manning and give them a right fucking kicking.
Military action is urged to aid refugees in Zaire, ran the Irish Times headline (February 11th) over the latest call from John O Shea-of-Goal for western forces to go in and sort Africans out.
Mr. O Shea called on Foreign Minister Dick Spring to reactivate European Union plans for a military force to invade Zaire. Between 200,000 and 500,000 Hutus were in dire straits in the east of the country surrounded by head-banger armies , as Mr. O Shea sensitively put it. It was time, he went on, to call a spade a spade.
It will be recalled that the last country where John O Shea-of-Goal noticed black Africans behaving so badly white boys were needed to impose order, was Somalia. He got his way there, with the launch of Operation Restore Hope(!).
The operation ended in the killing of thousands of local people, many mown down by gales of fire from US helicopter gun-ships.
The savagery of Canadian troops in Somalia sickened public opinion at home to such an extent that Canada s parachute regiment was disbanded in shame.
Troops from EU armies committed a series of atrocities in the countryside which went largely unreported in the west but which figured prominently in African publications.
In the end, nothing at all was achieved. Somali clan chiefs war-lords to the western media were still in place when the western troops pulled out, defeated by local forces which had been dismissed by visiting journalists as technicals and armed gangs .
The problems of delivering food to the countryside (there was no famine ) were addressed (which is not to say solved) only after the western invaders had been kicked out.
Against that background, it is appropriate to ask again how Goal formulates policy in these matters. Does the organisation have a structure which gives its supporters, employees and volunteers a voice? Is there, for example, provision for a conference at which important controversial issues of this sort are thrashed out? Are votes taken, decisions made in democratic style?
There are very delicate issues here. The position is by no means as straightforward as is made out by the Tutsis good, Hutus bad mantra which much of the media offers as a substitute for exposition and analysis. But anyone setting out to challenge the consensus particularly when doing so in the name of an organisation which proclaims its own moral rectitude with some stridency should surely strive for rather more sensitivity and sense of history than seems to underpin Goals latest call to arms. n