Part One of a Possibly Endless Blog that Was Meant to be about comedy and offensiveness…

This was meant to be a post about offensive comedy, where do you draw the line? do you draw the line? and so on. then I got caught up talking about something else with Tony Law. then I got confused. Then people started telling me my posts were too long and they really didn’t have that sort of time available in their lives. So this one stops with a “to be continued” cliffhanger. As usual, in writing this I am working out my own ideas and they may change at the pressing of “publish post”. Progress is looking back at the person you were a year before and realising they were more of a dick than you thought.

If I was Freud (Sigmund not Emma), would I think some of the material about women  performed by “edgy” comedians suggested they had issues with their mother as suggested by a comedian’s wife the other day?

I had been talking with a comedian about the misogyny that seemed both increasingly apparent and contentedly cool on the comedy circuit (formerly the alternative comedy circuit).  He told me of the clammy male attention his wife had received as she walked down the street pushing their children in a pram during the Edinburgh festival and how the men’s attitudes had reminded her of certain “edgy” comedians’ attitudes on stage.

Of course, it can’t really be misogyny can it because everyone is equal nowadays as long as you avoid some statistics (but these statistics may be worse than damned lies obviously).

After our conversation I was going up the escalator of  Euston Station pondering how I might start a post on this subject – “Some of us by wealth, luck or judgment may now believe we live in a world devoid of misogyny, homophobia and racism, and so consider that everything is up for grabs because we’re all equal so fuck them if they can’t take a joke”. Something like that, I thought, but with better punctuation.

Then I walked out of the ticket gates and was confronted by something that made me reconsider the starting point – in front of me was a teenage girl in her bra and pants, looking at me as if she was looking at herself in a full length mirror. She was a video advert for Marks and Spencer prominently looking into the ticket hall, an inescapable image for anyone using the tube station. I felt disconcerted. Let’s make this clear, I am a red-blooded male, but it turns out all females are red-blooded too, it’s an evolutionary requirement, a by-product of delivering oxygen around our body, if I wasn’t red-blooded I would be long dead, it’s nothing to do with heterosexuality or virility. Red blooded women are not more manly, they are just more alive.

Though this advert was meant to excite, as all adverts are, I felt disappointed by this retrograde step in culture. Isn’t this just another image, like page 3 but not seedy because it’s that nice shop that does those guilt free lentil crisp snacks and lambs wool sweaters. It is prominently there to remind us all, “you know women, they wear bras. Oh and in certain satin pants you can see more of their bottoms, look, here’s hers” Was this another woman as object illustration that makes my dislike of it seem like some po-faced “new man” of the 1980s who is weak because he does not wish to conquer? Did I spend too many of my formative years with feminists who made me read Andrea Dworkin?

This was a reminder that all is not quite as equal as things first appear, perhaps the Spice Girls may not have delivered the promised freedoms much as Al Jolson might not have brought racial equality in the 1930s.

Traditionalists have been very good at creating an image of the left as humourless, even though they themselves are not so keen at jokes at their expense. Next time you see something left wing and humourless, read some Peter Hitchens and you will see that it is, at the very least, a characteristic present on all sides. I can recommend Peter Hitchens’ The Abolition of Britain, for a critique of it, why not buy my book (contains Ann Coulter too)

The propaganda about the left’s humourlessness and dogmatic rigidity was brilliantly examined in Culture Wars which charted the history of those myths that black bin liners were going to be banned for being racist by “loony left” councils and that all children were reading Jessica Lives with Eric and Martin, a picture book that suggested homosexuality was so normal children could live and eat cereal with gays. This was one of the weapons used to persuade people that section 28 was a good thing as it would prevent teachers from persuading pupils to be gay by telling them to read Oscar Wilde or Walt Whitman.

Though most of that is balderdash, like Winterval, repeat the myth enough times and it is true. Sadly, there are still those moments of humourlessness that pop up and we all hang our heads. I was talking to a left wing journalist who said that the demand for manholes to become personholes came up in a meeting recently. Let’s sort this out now, manhole? Womanhole? Personholes? Let’s just call them holes and be done with it.

Dealing with any of these things on stage can get you in trouble form both sides. I am still conflicted about the use of the word cunt. Partly I think this is because it’s seen as far more sexually charged in the US, and that reading is returning to some of the analysts of language in the UK. I just see it as a swearword, effective not because of what it originally meant but because it has such a hard sound. I called the actions of someone on twitter “cuntish” a month ago and was upbraided by someone that I deserved all I got for using a “gender specific abuse”. I attempted to explain that at no point in typing the word “cuntish” were my thoughts that this man’s actions were so nasty that the only thing I could think of was that they resembled female genitalia. I think that would be a compliment and I wouldn’t want him to think that. Intention is important. I know some will disagree as I am sure I will find out.

On another occasion I tried out some material about the thong being England’s burka, though one was insisted on in certain cultures, in other cultures there is unwritten insistence that you must wear certain things. But then that got into some sort about the near impossibility of being a true individual and the whole thing became too messy an idea and lost in my usual “sociologists has a nervous breakdown” demeanour. I realised the idea may be better served as a book published by Routledge with excessive footnotes and little worth

To show concern, to be serious at anytime, is to be weak, it is all a joke, this is brave new world, go to your feelie take you soma and shut up.

End of part one of a rambling thing that was meant to be a concise 400 words on comedy and offence but seems to be rapidly going out of control

My happiness through science tour continues, Exeter next, then Lincoln, Oxford, Leicester and many more, plus two angry shows with Michael Legge coming to Liverpool and Norwich – dates here 

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19 Responses to Part One of a Possibly Endless Blog that Was Meant to be about comedy and offensiveness…

  1. ds says:

    I think your Euston Station moment was not so much about the state of undress of the young lady in question, but its context. Those of us who have actually had sex with a real live bare lady, or man, or other (take your pick, depending upon preference) will have seen our chosen partners in similar states of dishabillié (and they us, of course), but I think we can safely say that your were not standing on the escalator in the middle of a busy railway station when you did, unless either partner was a fairly spectacular exhibitionist. Context and intent, as you said is all.

    There are things in this world that are so serious they must be laughed at. Laughter is a defence mechanism against manifold horrors. Not to laugh would be to actually have contemplate them in their fullest horror. Some are emotionally mature enough to want to face that, others less so; laughter provides that coping mechanism, a way of explaining away the spiralling cognitive dissonance of looking at them face on.

    I think that those who cannot defend themselves are possibly the ones to be considered first: maybe it’s why some of us struggle with jokes about abuse or serious disability. There’s a sense that some people can at least do the same thing back, but others cannot and maybe that’s where the line should be drawn. But it\s also about the politics of hate and /or envy. How can you tell how someone who tells a joke really feels about its subject. Take Frankie Boyle and Kerry Katona jokes. Does he really hate her as much as some of the “jokes” suggest, or is something else going on? How vulnerable is she to those jokes? What responsibilities does he have as a comedian? dDes he even have any? I don’t know the answers but it seems that context and intent are the keys.

    • robinince says:

      yes, i should make it clear I was not disconcerted because it was a lady, it just felt like another image that on a pissed up saturday night wouldn’t necessarily make a lone woman’s journey home any easier

  2. Al says:

    Interesting to read your thoughts on the matter(s), might be more interesting when you come to a conclusion but you got me thinking about the word “cunt” and the issue of it is a gendered swear word. Surely if that is the problem it is no worse than “pussy” “twat” “boob” or “tit” as a swear word, except “cunt” is used slightly differently much more infact like “cock” “dick” and “prick” as it sounds harsher. Is there some offense being generated by “cunt” not from its feminine origin but from its more masculine use? Should we take gender out of it all together and just use “arse hole?”

    • Gary says:

      arseholes is my dad’s turn to swear word and it usually makes me and my family laugh. It most often means that he’s well on his way to losing an argument and cannot think of a way to turn it around.

  3. S says:

    Slightly off-topic perhaps, but your thong-burqa comment, brought to mind Iraqi-American, GoRemy and his parodic videos:

  4. rich says:

    I think the most interesting point here is that people just don’t know where they stand anymore; on the one hand we’re told we live in an equal country, and most men (and women) think, act and speak as if that’s the case. But on the other hand as the statistics and subtle cultural behaviours clearly prove we are very much not in an equal country, sexism is still a huge problem, just not in the Mad Men way we are all trained to watch out for. The lack of public discourse on the matter is what causes the confusion I think, we’re into the “is it racist for me to ask/say x,y,z” portion of things- when people start thinking about it they know there’s a problem, but it seems to be outside of them, so it’s difficult to pin, and this difficulty seems to mean a huge scope of things get sucked in to the debate, which in the end is counter productive (the manholes nonsense being a perfect case in point- who gives a shit that manholes are named such when there is still a statistically provable glass ceiling in the UK for women?).

    I would say at the moment we’re in the colonial white guilt phase of dealing with the sexism issue- there is still a problem but it’s more subtle, and overt attempts to deal with it (ie manhole) just smack of guilt and over compensation rather than genuine interest in the issues at hand.

    • clarissa112 says:

      I find this really interesting – regarding the video ad it does seem like a line has been crossed and especially inappropriate for the brand in question. I’m unsure who this would appeal to, it sounds tailored towards men yet presumably the intended audience is women. i’m not sure if things like this contribute towards sexist attitudes. I think certain sections of the media preoccupation with appearance and the idea of respectable behaviour for women (assumptions around the Kate story vs page 3) are equally damaging.

    • Scurra says:

      Whilst C4’s The Last Leg tv show during the Paralympics was generally a fairly bland, non-threatening show, the regular item entitled “Is It OK to…” in which people were encouraged to ask questions about the advisability or otherwise of asking a disabled person to do something (or, indeed, the other way around), worked exceptionally well since it provided space for the concept to be both mocked and seriously answered at the same time in a relatively safe environment. There was more public discourse about facets of disability discussed there than in any number of more “worthy” documentaries.

  5. clarissa112 says:

    I find this really interesting – regarding the video ad it does seem like a line has been crossed and especially inappropriate for the brand. I’m unsure who this would appeal to, the ad itself sounds tailored towards men yet presumably the intended audience is women. I’m not sure if things like this contribute towards sexist attitudes. I think certain sections of the media preoccupation with appearance and the idea of respectable behaviour for women are equally damaging.  

    • You don’t think that a lot of ads for women are tailored towards men in such a way as to say ‘A woman should look like this and you’d better buy this product, if you don’t you won’t be “pretty” and therefore everyone will hate you.’ I write it in extreme over-emphasis but this is how I see a lot of women’s adverts, they’re designed to make women feel inferior unless they try to match the photo-shopped white-wash that is the female model today. Just my pennies worth.

      • Clarissa says:

        I certainly hope not, I work in marketing and it’s not the way we approach things, of course attractive people are going to be used in ads but emphasis is usually on what fits best with the brand – of course the view of ‘attractiveness’ reinforced by the media is much too narrow, the eg of m&s is interesting as normaly their ads are quite inclusive using older and non white models, i think its all in the approach – the current underwear ads featuring a supermodel are pretty bland and inoffensive but displaying videos of young girls in underwear does seem like a step too far – my guess is that it was something that sounded quirky and original in a brainstorm but actually comes across as pretty stark and unsavoury in real life

  6. Laura says:

    I find the word “cuntish” pretty hilarious. As it’s used here in the US, “cunt” is an angry, hostile, aggressive word (and, yeah, not one of my favorites). It’s just not a word that people here use when they’re calm enough or equivocal enough to add “-ish” as a suffix.

    • ds says:

      I like the sense of the -ish, where being ‘cuntish’ is bit, though not entirely cunt-like. Which leaves room for questions like: “In what ways?” and “To what extent?” It rather subtly undercuts the brutishness of the word as sounded, though the thing is represents is very far from brutish indeed. It’s a rather British, subversive way of swearing because you’re not entirely sure just how sweary the user is being, outside of dropping the so-called c-bomb.

  7. Martin says:

    A little bit of my imagined soul dies everytime I hear a teacher, parent, or child say “You HAVE to sing ‘Baa baa woolly sheep’ now. ‘Baa baa black sheep’ is racist.”

    I thought this was one of those myths about political correctness, but it seems it is actually going on in schools and nurseries across the country. You hit the nail on the head with the work ‘Intent’. Are children who sing about black sheep nurturing a deep hatred for people of African origin? Does the song encourage them to take slaves, or demand that blacks sit at the back of the bus?

    The same applies to swearing. How is “Fucking hell” really any different from “Flipping heck” if the intent behind it is actually the same. Remove the intent, the MEANING, and all you are left with is a bunch of pnonemes.

    • robinince says:

      I am surprised to hear about the change in baa baa black sheep as it is nothing I’ve come across in schools. There was a baa baa rainbow sheep but that was to help learn colours. have you come across this yourself?

      • Martin says:

        I would hope it isn’t widespread. Here in Nottinghamshire I’ve spoken to one teacher, who was adamant that it was ‘policy’, and two parents who’s child have come home singing the “woolly” sheep version.

        I suspect that when the myth was circulating some teachers weren’t really sure how to interpret the situation. I can’t believe myself that this was ever ‘policy’ anywhere.

      • Martin says:

        Robin. A simple search for videos reveals a LOT of videos of children singing the “woolly” version, and most of these don’t seem to be making a point about political correctness. I think this is evidence that it actually happens, though not an indication of the extent:

        http://bit.ly/UwWyKo

      • Martin says:

        Actually… not a lot. But a few.

  8. Pingback: A Joke is Just a Joke…Apart from that one about me, now that’s offensive | Robinince's Blog

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