Monday, 20 January 2014

Clarkson - what happened next.

On Saturday night I wrote a blog post (my first ever) explaining why I thought Jeremy Clarkson should be fired for tweeting a photo of a colleague holding up a sign with the words 'Gay Cunt' next to his head. A friend had posted a link to a news article and I was surprised that it wasn't getting more attention. I'd also recently read about a campaign from Stonewall to remove the use of the word 'gay' in reference to things that are negative, bad, broken or stupid because research had shown that a disturbingly high number of kids  were being affected by bullying involving this.

There was no sign of a statement from the BBC - who pay him at least £1m to present Top Gear - suggesting they were in any way distancing themselves from Jeremy posting the photo or his team writing the sign and taking the shot in the first place.

As I write this, 31,000 people have read the post - about 30,980 more than I thought would. It's been a bit overwhelming.

I've had reams of comments on Twitter and Facebook and am relieved that the majority of people agree with me - indeed, many people hadn't noticed the story when it first surfaced and were as surprised as I was about the whole thing. The overwhelming emotion is anger over the arrogance over the lack of accountability over the whole stunt.

There were still quite a few negative ones, and I've mostly resisted the urge to reply to defend myself or to simply send the particularly vitriolic or childish ones a short clip of Liza Minnelli saying 'Balls to You'.

Here are the most common responses:

1. You have no sense of humour! You're too PC! You don't get his humour! You're a pussy!

This was the most common one - I must have no sense of humour to see that the Top Gear team's behaviour was 'harmless' and 'just a joke' and that I must be very easily offended and awfully 'politically correct'.

I expected this and mentioned it in the post. I like people who are funny, I like off-beat and inappropriate humour. I've never suggested anyone does a 'mindmap' instead of a 'brainstorm'. I'm not some frumpy Mary Whitehouse character that fires off a letter to the Daily Mail every time someone swears. Causing generic offence to the world's gays wasn't my issue. I'm sorry if it came across that I was offended rather than angry.

Truth is, if Clarkson and company want to use jolly terms like Gay Cunt amongst themselves, then so be it. Go for your life. They've made it clear to the world such terms are ingrained in their vocabulary. But the whole point of my article was that these men are widely watched by school-age kids - he is, inexplicably, a role model for young people, young people who undoubtedly will mimic his behaviour, and who will continue to think 'gay' is a perfectly acceptable adjective to use to describe something negative or to use as an insult.

My point was that I think someone paid (a lot) by our public broadcaster should realise that they have a level of basic responsibility, particularly in the light of very visible, far-reaching recent campaigns to eradicate that language, and that even if he doesn't regret his actions (his arrogant apology only says sorry for our reaction, not what caused it) then his employers should at least attempt to show that they don't condone behaviour that encourages bullying and the proliferation of this sort of nasty, ingrained homophobia blended with the aura of superiority that nobody will call him out on it.

A nice lady called Katie said 'his views are only relevant because broadcasting perpetuates them, without it they'd die out in the modern wild'. I think this is exactly the point - but as long as people like Clarkson continue to propagate such views to millions of Twitter followers, what chance has progress?

2. God help us all! You can't fire Jeremy Clarkson! 

Some said that calling for him to be fired was a bit extreme. Maybe, and if this was a one-off I'd probably agree. But JC has consistently shown that his modus operandi is to target a group that's different to him, throw a neanderthal statement about them into the ether, make a perfunctory and self-important apology, and then continue as if nothing ever happened because he's never challenged.

3. Geographical concerns

It was suggested that if I lived outside London I would never have been so riled up in the first place. I spent the first twenty-three of my thirty years outside London, so perhaps the last seven years of unmitigated access to posh bakeries and expensive beer have made me a bit over-sensitive to millionaire TV presenters consistently offending minority groups and getting away with it.

4. Miscellaneous abuse / worse things in the world

I was called 'an old fanny', which I'm a bit stumped by. Someone else repeatedly told me to 'chillax' (I know, thanks Zack from Saved by the Bell!) because there are more important things happening in the world. That's true, but I decided to write about this thing. I look forward to reading Zack's blog on famine and genocide shortly.

No, it's true. There are worse things happening in the world. There is worse homophobia in the world. Clarkson is not some Putinesque dictator suppressing entire communities - I do understand that.

He's ignorant, he's arrogant, he's entrenched in his own privileged little world. But the very act of glibly going along with this nasty scene without remorse shines a light on institutional homophobia, even if he can't work that out himself.

5. Evolving language

A commenter on the blog suggested that language evolves and 'gay' has different meanings - much like 'bitch' or (bizarrely) 'polish' (as in 'from Poland'/'what you clean furniture with'). She rather weakened her argument when she went on to say that 'using the word "gay" (as a derogatory term) is wrong is just plain retarded' - so I think I'll leave that one there.

I know language evolves, and meanings change. I don't think anybody believes Jeremy's mates were using gay in the sense of 'merry and colourful' or anything else. I never suggested that 'gay' should be reserved for gay people to use as they want.

But if enough people report that a word used in a certain way is making them feel unworthy, degraded or hurt, then don't use it in that context. Simple as that. Especially if your influence extends across the population. What more is there to argue?

It's an argument with a lot of holes, but a lot of people questioned what the reaction would have been if he'd used 'black' instead of 'gay'. It would be interesting to hear what you think.

Someone proposed that we all start using 'Jeremy Clarkson' as an insult. Amazing. Prize for the best photo with a sign saying 'Massive Jeremy Clarkson' with an arrow pointing to a work colleague's head.

6. I'm a bully

A chap called Miguel asserted that 'you're so sure of yourself you bully him based on your hypothesis and math'. If he's questioning the statistics I quoted, I linked to the reports they were from in the blog post. Stonewall's site is packed with them.

And I apologise to Jeremy Clarkson and team if they think I've been bullying them. To avoid further confusion I've decided not to tweet that photo of me holding a wacky sign saying 'rich white heterosexual bigot' next to anybody's head.


I know that Jeremy won't be fired or even (sadly) disciplined. I doubt the BBC will distance themselves from their 'talent' using the words Gay Cunt, lest the nation suddenly stops purchasing souvenir The Stig mugs in vast quantities.

One commenter on the blog suggested this would be an ideal opportunity for someone with such a high profile to speak out against the derogatory use of the word, explaining that he now realises why this wasn't acceptable, adding support to the campaign that Stonewall is running, maybe even doing it without the sprinkling of smarm that his apologies usually come served with. I suggested he make a monetary donation. I don't think I'll hold my breath.

I'm not sure that my ideas for future blog posts will quite match up to reaction this one had - I mainly live-tweet Take Me Out and whinge about how late my train is - but I'm intrigued to see how this one pans out.

Let's see what this week brings.

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Shia LaBeouf - coming to New Cross; fighting in our pubs.

Imagine my surprise and delight when I discovered today that increasingly bonkers Hollywood plagiarist got into a scrap at the Hobgoblin pub in New Cross Gate - mere minutes from my humble home!

Imagine my further and expanded joy to find out this isn’t the first time this has happened - according to the ever-reliable Daily Mail, he got into a similar row when someone nicked his hat in the pub in 2012!
Some queries:
- why is Shia LaBeouf repeatedly visiting New Cross? I’d suggest it must be the convenient transport links to London Bridge and the well-stocked ‘veg bowl’ shop just up the road. It's the new Peckham, which is the new Brixton!
- why does he keep re-visiting this notoriously rough night spot if he knows he’ll end up in such spats?
- hasn’t he got enough on his plate?
I can only hope he’ll be commissioning a sky-writing company to fly the words I AM SORRY NEW CROSS GATE across the skies of South London in the near future.

Why the BBC should fire Jeremy Clarkson

‘Irreverent’ and ‘risque’ TV presenter and all-round smug arsehole Jeremy Clarkson has tweeted a photo of himself, asleep on a plane, while a colleague holds a sign with the deeply thoughtful witticism ‘Gay Cunt’ next to his head. 

Hold on to your funny bones, folks - here it is:

Let’s recap that - a BBC employee on a flight presumably paid for by the BBC en-route to filming a BBC TV show has taken a photo of a BBC presenter with the words ‘Gay Cunt’ next to his head. One of his mates – another BBC presenter – is gurning away in the background at the scene of extreme hilarity unfolding in front of him. 

Upon waking, said BBC presenter thought it would be absolutely hilarious to tweet the aforementioned photo to his 2.8m Twitter fans. 

But it’s OK – Clarkson has ‘profusely apologised’ for the whole sorry episode in a smug-laden banter-tastic statement that arrogantly excuses himself from any misbehaviour in the first place (‘I have deleted my last tweet and would like to apologise profusely to anyone who I upset while I was asleep’ – do fuck off). That’s OK then. Now he can go back to flying around the world, driving sexy cars, joking about the Nazi invasion of Poland or women in burkas, and wackily suggesting public sector workers be executed in front of their families

Sorry – not this time. Clarkson and whoever took the photo in the first place should be fired by the BBC. 

I’d assume the core audience of Top Gear, Clarkson’s main exposure on TV, in which he and the lads wank on about fast cars for an hour a week - would be young males; boys who look up to him, respect him, want to be like him and go to school or college, talk about the show and re-hash his jokes. 

In the crowd of 5m audience members will be a few bad people. Workplace bullies, school bullies, people who call things that are crap or worthless ‘gay’ because they’re too ignorant to think about what they’re saying. Let’s say 1000 of them are people like that. If 1000 bullies got up yesterday and went to 1000 schools, bandying about the phrase ‘Gay Cunt’ in front of 1000 young people struggling to come to terms with their sexuality and thinking they are somehow inferior to these hideous mini Jeremys, then Clarkson has probably successfully undone 1000 days of work by campaigners, teachers and decent parents who fight every day to stop this sort of behaviour in 12-year-olds, let alone people paid millions of pounds a year by our national broadcaster. 

I don’t have a job in the public eye like Clarkson does. I work in an office. I don’t have 2.8m Twitter followers or present a high-profile TV show. But I’m fairly sure if I tweeted a photo of one my colleagues holding up the words Gay Cunt next to my head, I would be pretty promptly fired, or severely disciplined. I imagine my £1m salary would be under question next time there were funding cuts. 

Oh sorry, that’s Jeremy’s salary, not mine. That’s excluding the £13m or so he’s been paid in dividends from the worldwide Top Gear brand. That salary’s paid for by the BBC, where nobody seems particularly bothered that one of their employees is consistently offending anyone who’s not one of his white, straight, middle-class millionaire lad-mates. Funny that – there was plenty of prompt action from the corporation last year when – shock, horror – Graham Norton dared to wear a World AIDS Day ribbon on his show. I haven’t seen one statement from the BBC condemning Clarkson’s cunt stunt. 

And sorry – even stripping away the blatant homophobia (and that’s what it is – I’m not going to entertain anyone saying anything else) - I’m not convinced a TV presenter paid by the state should be bandying about the word ‘cunt’ so freely either. 

Maybe I’ve lost my sense of humour. Banter! But I imagine the 41% of young gay people who have considered killing themselves because of homophobic bullying don’t find the whole sorry episode particularly hilarious either. 

Clarkson’s knobhead behaviour is timely. Stonewall has launched a campaign to try and end the use of gay as a derogatory term (that’s so gay/you’re so gay/gay cunt – that sort of thing). They’ve found that 99% of young gay people hear those phrases every day at school, and a third alter their future educational plans because of it. A big shout out to Jeremy’s mates for adding such a pithy and direct new insult to the classroom catalogue.

Maybe our National Treasure should consider a substantial donation (he could probably spare a tenner or two from those Top Gear license fee millions) to Stonewall’s work to ensure that his ‘profuse’ apology actually means something as he continues his well-paid quest to jet around the globe testing out how fast he can make a car move.

[UPDATE: here's what happened next]