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.

Onwards...

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.


4 comments:

  1. Nice one Chris! Perspicuous! (Today's word of the day so I thought I'd try to use it in a sentence. A one word sentence)

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  2. I personally don't like the word gay for homosexuality. It feels euphemistic, a code word redolent of the times when _that_ love dared not speak it's name. It also feels like a perpetuation of the old myth that all male homosexuals are limp-wristed flower-arranging effetes . (I suspect that it's current currency as a derogatory term for anything lacking in vigour, robustness or focus stems from this, and in anyone clinging to the stereotype an unfortunate affirming resonance ensues that in any public address system would be a heard as a howl of feedback. A laboured pun, sorry, but it kinda works and I like it). I kinda liked the queercore movement and it's uncompromising attitudes (and music) and combined with discovering the word 'breeder' in Maupin for me I thought the word 'queer' might be salvageable. But your point about the difficulties of coming out are taken. A grown adult confident in their sexuality might use it as a gauntlet to throw; asking an uncertain adolescent to take their first steps to growing into their sexual identity armed only with the word 'queer' is a bit much. (Also breeder seems to claim a little too much biological territory!) Queer and gay are both forms of locution from a time we'd like to see behind us. Maybe we need new terms for the world we want where your sexual preferences and practices only matter when you're thinking about getting laid. This is why, even though I personally enact its edicts, I won't be supporting Stonewalls campaign. Hope I kept minimally to topic. I'm trying as part of a course of therapy to commit trains of thought to writing rather than leave them ballooning in my head, and whilst a public forum isn't mandatory it was your article that sparked it. (the term 'loony', btw, is perfectly acceptable to me but there may be other's struggling with worse mental health issues who find it distressing ;-) )

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  3. Clarksons arrogance is a free marketing tool for the BBC. How many outraged people will actually boycott Top Gear because of him? He is the reason I don't tune in anymore.

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  4. Clarksons arrogance is a free marketing tool for the BBC. How many outraged people will actually boycott Top Gear because of him? He is the reason I don't tune in anymore.

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