Saturday, January 08, 2005

Never Mind The B*ll**cks, What About The C***s?

David Soul as Jerry Springer/BBCSo, the BBC has decreed that everyone must watch Jerry Springer, The Opera on BBC2 tonight or lose their television licence.
Well no, they haven't actually. Anyone who doesn't like swearing or religious references, blasphemous or otherwise, doesn't have to switch it on. They could watch Billy Connolly who is on BBC1 at the same time. Well, perhaps not. He's been effing and blinding on the BBC for years and nobody says a dickie bird.

The orchestrated campaign by some Christians to stop the broadcast of the Springer musical, coming so soon after the successful campaign by some Sikhs to close down a play, makes me think that the great battle of this century will be not so much between rival religions as between the religious and the non-religious. More specifically, the battle to preserve a secular, liberal state in this country where the presumption is in favour of free expression.
I said 'some' Christians because not all Christians believe the musical to be either offensive or blasphemous, including the DG of the BBC who is a Catholic. The stage show has never generated any protest although some of the 500,000 people who have seen it must surely have been Christians.

But why should it be shown on television? When Jeremy Isaacs was running Channel 4 and showing 'art house' films with sexual content he always argued that viewers who had no access to 'art house' cinemas were entitled to see such films on television, albeit late at night and with due warnings. He was much derided for his red triangle scheme which displayed a small warning logo throughout such films. But it did have the advantage that people couldn't complain that they missed the verbal warnings at the beginning. It seems reasonable that viewers who can't get to the West End should sometimes have the chance to watch acclaimed and award-winning shows on television. Although not a mass audience, they are paying over £100 a year for a TV licence which is increasingly hard to justify in a multi-channel age.

One of the objections to this musical is the number of F and C words - which are bleeped out in the TV show that inspired it. But not the thousands that The Sun reported. It seems they multiplied each use of a word by the number of people in the chorus. Not that The Sun is in a position to take the moral high ground on anything.

But I must address an inconsistency of my own. My default position is anti-censorship and I particularly dislike the censorship of sexual swear words. I'm one of the few people to have complained about the bleeping of the C word in a TV programme. Yet at Christmas I used a blog title 'Cocks, Cannibalism and C***s With Tubas.' I've also used asterisks in this title. Why?
Firstly, the usage in that earlier post was gratuitous and arose from my wish for an alliterative title. Alliteration isn't smart and it isn't clever but it's a time-honoured journalistic device for grabbing the reader's attention. As is linking disparate things. On both counts, that was one of my better efforts. But why the asterisks?
There are several reasons. This blog carries no warning about content and is freely available 24 hours a day to everyone from five to ninety years old. In that, it differs from a late night TV show.
Secondly, whilst I don't think offence, as opposed to harm, should be a reason for censorship, that doesn't mean I have no compunction about offending people. Let me be frank: I am deeply contemptuous of people who are offended by swearing. I think it is evidence of sexual hang-ups and that there are more important things in the world to get angry about. But that doesn't mean I would go out of my way to swear in their presence any more than I would rub the face of a vegetarian in a pound of raw steak.
Thirdly, I think swearing is one of life's pleasures and an easy and free therapy for anger and frustration. Now that 'fuck' has lost most of its force, we're going to be pretty fucked if 'cunt' goes the same way.

There is, of course, a ridiculous sexual inequality here, because 'cock' for 'penis' is relatively mild but 'cunt' for 'vagina' is usually off-limits. At least The Guardian now prints it in full where the context justifies it so I'm doing the same here.
One of the objections that is often made, and has been made to me, is "You wouldn't use language like that to your mother." Well, I sometimes did. My mother was an intelligent woman who, having been a teacher, was no stranger to strong language. If such language was integral to a story or I was quoting someone else, then I used it. Not to do so would have been more insulting to her. And I remember having a conversation with her about the word 'cunt': when she first discovered the word and how she had to explain its meaning to a more innocent friend.

So, although I may sometimes use 'fuck' in this blog, I'll only rarely use 'cunt'. When I do it will either be a direct quote or because, as above, I'm talking about language itself. Frivolous use of the word will still get asterisks, although I'm very unhappy about them.
Is that reasonable? Is it consistent? Would certain words stop you reading a blog? Should blogs have an age rating logo?


I don't know if Sainsbury's read my recent piece about their delivery service where, inter alia, I complained that they were sending me grumpy old Victor Meldrew lookalikes. Because today they sent a young man who was not only very talkative but he winked at me. Straight up. No shit. I kid you not. He winked at me.
Maybe I won't switch to Tesco after all.
I didn't wink back because I'm having to be very careful after yesterday's episode with the binoculars in my back garden. (No early morning knocks on the door yet from the local plods, you'll be glad to hear).
Also, because if I try to wink I end up looking like someone with Tourette's Syndrome. I'm just not one of nature's winkers. People have sometimes said I was. At least I think that's what they said.


At 3:34 AM, Blogger Steve said...


You are quite right - the need for rational people to fight to preserve the secular state from the nonsense of religion is paramount.

Why shouldn't 'they' be offended? I often am by the 'written in stone' assumption by otherwise perfectly well-educated BBC types who have to pay lip service to the this patronising bunch of 'by Royal appointment' pricks. Fuck 'em and, indeed, cunt 'em or whatever. Every morning on Radio 4, 2 and probably elsewhere in Auntie's increasingly large empire, we have some jobbed-for-life twat in a dog-collar, hijab or dreadlocks who is allowed FREE airtime to ram the idea of some fucker upstairs looking after everyone. WTF?

Well he didn't look after 'em on Boxing Day did he? Too busy making a turkey curry no doubt. Twat.

Who will stand up for the non-believers? No cunt - I'm tellin' yer!

At 5:04 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

Forgive me if I've misunderstood you, Steve, but I get the impression that you're not too bothered about strong language.
Of course, we're not a truly secular state anyway. We are governed by "the Queen in Parliament under God". Two people there you could get rid of, one mythical and one ludicrous. And notice how there's no mention of the people?

At 11:03 PM, Blogger Steve said...

Perhaps I was a little OTT there as gratuitous strong language does offend me. However when something as innocuous as this play is catapulted onto the National debating stage by a bunch self-righteous, God-botherers I feel the need to vent my spleen just as much as they do.

As for secular states - I hear what you are saying. I can but dream.

At 12:33 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

I didn't think it was OTT. I was just gently pulling your leg.
Disappointing that I haven't upset anyone enough for them to call ME a cunt. Or, and this is my favourite, a cunting little bastard.

At 2:25 PM, Blogger mike said...

I use asterisks for f*** and c*** because some ex-colleague friends of mine read my blog from work, where all web content goes through a profanity filter. If I left the words intact, my blog would be blocked as "unsuitable content".

At 3:52 PM, Blogger Willie Lupin said...

That's a good pragmatic reason which hadn't occurred to me. So I could be losing readers. But what the fuck.


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