Put down thy pitchforks

#racisttramlady and Jeremy Clarkson, do you exist solely to make my life harder? One of things I’ve been doing recently is becoming one of those people who delete stuff off the internet, otherwise known as a moderator. Some of you hate us, but believe me if you saw some of the shit that I see, you’d understand why we’re necessary.

Sometimes, I work on a news site. There is a section of its readership that can be classed as, shall we say, deeply unpleasant. They exist to type out the kind of thing tram lady said in public: ‘there’s too many immigrants, immigrants are everything that’s wrong with this country, this ain’t my Britain no more’. Well, no dear. This isn’t your Britain any more. And thank god for that.

I also see a lot of people saying something awful and then writing ‘oh, the CENSORS won’t like that and it’ll be deleted’ – usually because a previous comment of theirs along the lines of ‘kill all Arabs’ has been taken down like a shot. (The lack of self awareness is astonishing.) Which is why I held my head in hands when Twitter got its mob on over #racisttramlady. Firstly, I have difficulty believing there would have been an arrest without an outcry (I imagine BTP muttering something along the lines of,’yeah, thanks, but we’re more busy arresting vandals and trespassers’. I don’t think that’s right, but it’s what I imagine would happen. Edit: oh look, the Croydon Advertiser says that’s exactly what happened). Secondly, foaming at the mouth is not going to convince anyone who shares #racisttramlady’s views that they’re not, actually, the last bastion of right-thinking Britishness. ‘Look at what all the facking immigrants and leftie fackers ‘ave done to ‘er! Only expressin’ ‘er freedom of speech wa’n’ she? No freedom of speech in this fackin’ country.’ Etc.

We had a good opportunity for a bit of education and, gosh, I don’t know, community outreach. But we lost that the second people started demanding her child be taken away and Piers Morgan – Piers Morgan – called for her to be deported. (Where to? There’s someone who doesn’t understand the concept of deportation. Or that he’s using the same words the racists do.) All it’s managed to do is make the racists hunker further down into their sad little burrows, surrounded by their own fear and ignorance. Should she have been arrested? I don’t know, I’m not a criminal lawyer, I don’t know what offence she may have committed. But I do think that she should only have been arrested if she’d have got the same treatment without the baying of millions of people on Twitter. And now she’s in custody for her own safety, death threats have been made. How is any of this going to help change her mind and see that she’s completely wrong?

Anyway. Sunny Hundal put it better than me.

And then Jeremy Clarkson opens his stupid mouth. For what it’s worth, I don’t think Clarkson really did mean that he wanted all strikers lined up and shot. If you haven’t seen it, the Guardian have printed the full exchange, which I am now going to lift for people too lazy to click a link:

Matt Baker: Now, at the end of a day where Britain has seen some of its biggest strikes, what we need is someone calm and level-headed.

Alex Jones: Yep, a guest with balanced, uncontroversial opinions, who makes great effort not to offend.

Matt Baker: And we’ve got Jeremy Clarkson!

[studio laughs]

Jeremy Clarkson: Thank you very much.

Matt Baker: So Jeremy, schools, hospitals, airports, even driving tests have been affected. Do you the strikes are a good idea?

Jeremy Clarkson: It’s been fantastic. Seriously, never had … London today has just been empty. Everybody stayed at home, you could whizz about, your restaurants were empty.

Alex Jones: The traffic actually has been very good today.

Jeremy Clarkson: Very light. Now airports, you know, people streaming through with no problems at all and it’s also like being back in the 70s, it makes me feel at home somehow.

Alex Jones: Do you know anybody who …

Matt Baker: [interrupts – inaduiable] – being on strike today?

Jeremy Clarkson: What, in public service? Of course I don’t. No, absolutely. We have to balance it though, don’t we because this is the BBC.

Alex Jones and Matt Baker: Exactly.

Jeremy Clarkson: Frankly, I’d have them all shot!

[studio laughs]

Jeremy Clarkson: I would take them outside and execute them in front of their families. I mean how dare they go on strike when they’ve got these gilt-edged pensions that are going to be guaranteed while the rest of us have to work for a living?

Matt Baker: Well, on that note of balancing an opinion of course those are Jeremy’s views.

Jeremy Clarkson: I just … ! I was just giving two views for you!

Alex Jones: Well, we will be talking to Jeremy more later.

What we’ve got there is two unfunny jokes, one of which has been taken out of context. What Clarkson is actually attempting to do is satirise the ‘balance’ requirement of the BBC (something that the rational left has a massive issue with, btw; like when they get on climate change deniers to provide ‘balance’ to any discussion of global warming). He did it badly. He did it in extreme poor taste. He did it in a manner that would have me deleting the comment had he written it on a site I work for, for a description of gratuitous violence. But calling for him to be sacked? Well, I suppose we hadn’t properly put the pitchforks back in the cupboard after #racisttramlady, shame to see them just lying there…

As Dave Gorman put it, better than me, isn’t that what ‘they’ do?

Do we remember when America went nutso because Charlie Brooker made a joke about George Bush being assassinated? You can make the argument that calling for George Bush – a powerful politician – to be shot is different than calling for striking public sectors workers to be shot (except that’s not what Clarkson was doing). But ultimately: both were jokes. (Or meant to be.) Jokes generally have someone at the butt of them. I’m not about to start deciding what jokes can and can’t be told. Jim Davidson still goes around telling jokes that are homophobic and sexist. He’s a fuckwit. And his audience is limited and dwindling. And soon most of them will be dead. But I would rather have him exist than spend my time screaming until I am purple in the face at people who hold similar views to him, because shouting at somebody never, ever, convinced them they were wrong. Certainly none of the commenters will be (who, along with their more reasonable internet brethren, were posting at a rate of one comment every 60 seconds yesterday afternoon, unheard of in my experience of that site). To be fair, a lot of them aren’t moved by reasonable argument either, but I’d prefer to attempt the slow path than risk accidentally hardening their position as I beat them over the head with WHY I AM RIGHT.

As for Clarkson, I think it’s a more telling indictment of our society that an intelligent, right-of-centre man has realised he can make more money by (to quote Stewart Lee) fostering “outrageous politically incorrect opinions… every week, to a deadline, for money”.

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2 responses to “Put down thy pitchforks

  1. Jim Jepps December 2, 2011 at 11:29 pm

    So good. Thank you.

    He’s clearly making a point about balance, not shooting strikers, and all those people who have thought themselves ever so clever when reading Charlie Brooker’s attack on the unthinking right have just proved themselves as inchoate, spittle-flecked, and dangerous as those they’d put themselves so far above.

    Obviously the man is a fool but the result of the hysteria is that every paper chose a picture of Clarkson for their front page the day after an historic trade union strike. Now *that’s* a joke.

  2. Dave H (@DaveyHaste) December 18, 2011 at 2:39 pm

    I’m inclined to agree with more-or-less all of this.

    I’d also add that I think it’s absurd that anyone cares what Clarkson thinks anyway. He’s a motoring journalist. Motoring is his main (or sole) area of expertise. So why is he asked questions about (non-motoring-related) current affairs on TV? And why does anyone give a shit about his opinion about anything other than motoring issues? His opinion on the strikers (joking or otherwise) is no more relevant than that of, say, a London cabbie. Hardly headline news.

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