Every so often, I promise myself never to go on the broadcast media again. I think this is a promise I should now think of keeping.
Earlier today, the 27th October 2017, the Conservative politician Michael Gove compared being interviewed by John Humphreys to being taken into Harvey Weinstein’s bedroom. Everyone laughed until some radio presenter called Shelagh Fogarty set off a virtue spiral with claims that the joke “trivialised” victims of sexual assault. The ritual condemnations rolled in at once, and Mr Gove apologised.
Probably because no one else was willing, I was begged to go on BBC Radio 5 this evening and discuss the matter with Miss Fogarty on the Stephen Nolan Show. I finally agreed.
The points I made were these:
That Mr Gove had used a rhetorical trope called hyperbolic simile. Whether or not it succeeds, this tries to be funny by making an incongruous comparison. An example I gave on air was that “listening to the BBC is like having two wisdom teeth extracted.”
That everything has been, is and ever will be made a subject of humour. This is not to say that the joker is in favour of assaults against life and property.
That a country can be seen to be taking leave of its senses when jokes become dangerous.
Miss Fogarty’s eventual response was to say how long she had been a woman and how difficult this had been: and Mr Nolan went into a fit of virtue-signalling in which he repeatedly spoke over me. I declined his veiled invitation to tell a joke about rape. Instead, I pointed out that satire in this country has died for two reasons. One is that the “brave alternative comedians” of the 1980s have become po-faced commissars, enforcing political correctness. The other is that it is impossible to satirise a satire, and that modern England has become a vast open-air festival of satire.
And that was it. I was switched off, and Miss Fogarty and Mr Nolan continued agreeing that jokes are no joking matter.
Listening to the BBC really is like having two wisdom teeth extracted. Going on it reminds me of the Greek city of Locris, where anyone proposing a new law had to speak before the Assembly with a rope about his neck – ready to be hanged if what he said was out of favour. And this may not be so hyperbolic a simile.
I have turned down every invitation this year to go on the radio or television. I rather wish I had turned this one down. If I come before you again, my Dear Readers, with a tale of what I said on the Establishment media, please feel free to hold me in contempt. It is no more than I shall deserve.