Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 07/01/05

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 all.

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 own minds.