The Judge RANTS!
Get The Blue-Noses On The Run!
Robert A. Heinlein, whom I used to consider a great writer before I
grew out of the infantile fantasies of what is nowadays termed
'Libertarianism', still has some wisdom to offer us nonetheless...
In the Notebooks Of Lazarus Long, which form a long
interval in Heinlein's interminable novel Time Enough For Love,
the book's eponymous hero says:
"Freedom begins when you tell Mrs. Grundy to go fly a kite."
I thought of that line earlier today when I read about the
continuing fuss over BBC Television's decision to televise a
performance of Jerry Springer - The Opera this coming weekend.
The BBC, it seems, has received thousands of complaints
about this, from people apparently upset that the show contains a lot
of swearing and some blasphemy.
How much swearing? Well, apparently, there are 8000 'obscenities'.
This is in just over two hours (not lncluding the interval, it seems,
where one might reasonably expect a few in the theatre as people
desperately try to get a drink and go for a pee before the performance
resumes). I've worked out that I could say the word fuck about
300 times in a minute. That means that, if they let me take over the
show, I could get it to finish in just under half an hour, and everyone
could get out in time for the last bus home.
Blasphemy? Well, apparently there's a transvestite Jesus in a
nappy...or something. And Jesus and Satan spend a few minutes swearing
at each other. The details don't seem to matter.
They certainly don't seem to matter to the people making such a
holy stink about it. We have a parade of the usual suspects. The
evangelicals are in the lead once again - you know, the people who put
the 'mental' into 'fundamentalist'. They are 'outraged',
'incensed' (I thought fundies didn't bother with incense?). They
have paraded outside BBC offices and studios with placards bearing the
deeply-witty slogan 'BRITISH BLASPHEMY
CORPORATION'. Some have burned their TV licenses
in protest - or at least have burned copies of their licenses -
I daresay they don't want the knock on the door while they're watching My
Favourite Hymns on Sunday morning.
Something calling itself the Christian People's Alliance Party
has called for the Controller of BBC2 to be suspended. I don't suppose
it took long for both members of that outfit to agree on it.
Leading in the decibel stakes comes a mob calling itself Mediawatch.
Older readers may remember an organisation called the National
Viewers And Listeners Association. This was led by a cranky old bat
from Birmingham called Mary Whitehouse, whose name swiftly became a
by-word for footling, prissy, self-righteous outrage. Well, after La
Whitehouse went to the great editing suite in the sky a few years ago,
the organisation reinvented itself under its new name. And a neat name
it is, too - Mediawatch. It sounds very official, doesn't it?
Very high-minded. Very concerned.
Well, as renaming Windscale nuclear processing plant to Sellafield
has proven, you can change the name, but it still pumps out the same
old poison. Changing Chernobyl ('Wormwood') to, say, Krasnaya
Zemlya ('Beautiful Land') wouldn't make the soil less lethal.
So it is with Mediawatch. As under the old name, so with
the new. This group of self-appointed, almost entirely white,
middle-class busybodies want to stop anyone seeing this programme.
That's right - they want to stop any adult from being able to
make up their own mind about the show - or, indeed, about anything at
Leaving aside the fact that they have, not for the first time, been
basically dishonest in their claims about the programme - the figure of
8000 naughty words was reached by multiplying each word by the number
of people in the chorus - even if the claims were true, what on earth
gives this tiny number of impudent prudes the presumed right to tell
anyone what they may or may not see? Especially when they themselves haven't
even seen the programme they're so upset about?
One may expect ignorant behaviour from religiously-motivated people
of a certain stamp - that brand of latter-day puritanism which has its
roots in small-town America. (Puritanism, let us recall, was defined by
H.L. Mencken, the Sage of Baltimore as "The haunting fear that
someone, somewhere, may be happy"). These are people who are
obviously so insecure in their own beliefs that they fear deep-down
that they will be unable to withstand the pressure of anyone being
permitted to hold and express a contrary view.
(To redress the balance, I should say that last year, the BBC
dropped a satirical cartoon about Karol Wojtyła (you know, the fella
they carry around Rome in a chair) after complaints from 6000
Catholics. None of them had seen it, either).
But what is the motivation of self-regarding cliques such as Mediawatch?
Well, to some degree, it is much the same as their more overtly
religious allies. But they go further. They are not energised solely by
their own moral certainties.
To put it briefly: they hate people they deem to be morally
inferior to themselves. In this category they seem to place all
intelligent, sane, rational, broad-minded adults. If you doubt this,
then just consider: they think this programme is unsuitable for anyone
to view, however intelligent, sane, well-balanced or discerning.
What exactly do they fear? Perhaps it is the same fear
which motivates the religious fanatics. After all, it must always be
borne in mind that the Pilgrim Fathers didn't leave England in a huff
because they were prevented from practising their religion: they left
because they were unable to prevent anyone else practising theirs.
But I think it is something more than that. As I said, Mediawatch
is an organisation with a very narrow field of membership. In this,
they clearly define those who work in the broadcasting media
(especially the BBC, towards whom they, like Whitehouse before them,
seem to have a particular hatred - commercial television, despite its
consistently lower standards (especially in recent times), has seldom
if ever come into the gunsights of their low-calibre weapons) as being not
quite their class, whatever class they may think themselves as
being. Those running the BBC are, in their eyes, people not to be
trusted, with a strong tendency towards immorality, blasphemy, and all
the other 'offences' which certain types of human mind have Magimixed
out of thin air.
In short, they're snobs.
But they are dangerous. When the NVLA first got going in the late
1960s, they got short shrift from the then-Director General of the BBC,
Hugh Carleton-Greene. He, clear of sight and broad of mind, saw them
for the tiny bunch of blue-nosers that they were, and would not treat
with them. They might have gone away for good, simply being content
with muttering quietly to themselves or penning green-ink missives to
the Daily Telegraph. Unfortunately, Greene's successors, such
as Alastair Milne, were not made of such strong stuff, and paid undue
attention to their grumblings. This gave them a spurious and undeserved
credibility, and they took full advantage of it. They now wield a media
presence and influence out of all proportion to their tiny number, and
they are sufficiently obsessed and sufficiently cunning to make full
use of it.
And therein lies the danger. I may go on another time about the
corrosive nature of censorship itself, but in the meantime we must,
whatever our views on particular TV programmes, books, movies or
what-have-you, recognise that no-one has any right to tell an
adult what they may or may not have access to.
It is time - more than time - that we tell these self-appointed
paragons of 'decency' to SOD OFF and leave us to make up our