Dumbing Down?

Last night, I caught a good portion of an excellent documentary on the late Charles Wheeler. It was narrated by John Humphrys and included contributions from Jeremy Paxman and John Simpson, and lauded the seriousness of Wheeler’s approach, his commitment to the highest quality journalism, and an insistence that the story, not the journalist, take centre stage.

How incongruous, then, that the broadcast was followed by Des Lynam’s Sport Mastermind, the very title of which screamed of the current obsession with celebrity and spin-off, old ideas re-packaged.

Here we go again

A classic multiculturalism scare story without substance, now honed to a fine art. This time, Ben Elton is the stooge:

Ben Elton has said the BBC is too “scared” to broadcast jokes about Muslims for fear of provoking radical Islamists… [he] added that the broadcaster would “let vicar gags pass but would not let imam gags pass”.

I’ve dealt with the difference between vicar gags and imam gags before (though I can’t seem to find the appropriate comment at the moment). Vicars are inherently more funny, especially to the British mind-set which sees more humour in taking the piss out of the familiar, than the exotic.

The other strand to the story is the second-guessing among well-meaning yet ultimately clueless decision makers. The story here is not “muslims can’t take a joke” or even “BBC thinks muslims can’t take a joke” but the ridiculous third degree of separation: “Ben Elton thinks that the BBC thinks that muslims can’t take a joke.” Is this what passes for discourse now?

As an aside to all this, may actually be the case that taking the piss out of minority religions could actually signify integration an acceptance, rather than intolerance.

Robert Kilroy-Silk is a waste of space

Robert Kilroy-Silk is not an example of human bigotry, but human idiocy

Once again, real issues have been marred by people who do not know how to have an argument. I refer of course to the embarrassing piece of human discourse that was the Kilroy affair. The article at the centre of the argument was very bad, but in some ways the arguments against it were worse, because they lent credence to Robert Kilroy-Silk where absolutely none was due.

In years to come, historians will hold up the article as a prime example not of human ignorance or bigotry, but of human idiocy. It is likely that they will give short shrift to the article itself, which embarrasses itself with inaccuracies, sentence construction, and ignorance: Kilroy-Silk says that no-one can think of anything the Arabs have ever given us. To this, the long list of retorts begins with an ‘a’ for algebra, and continues from there.

His one vaguely pertinent point – that Arab states should not be supported – is given an entirely offensive new meaning by the fact that he confuses ‘Arab states’ with ‘Arabs.’ His “grammatical error” (if we assume that is what it was) betrays a general immaturity of thought – that to speak of a people, is to speak of their government, and vice-versa. It is not racist to criticise the policies of the state of Israel, the USA, or any of the Islamic middle-eastern states. I believe all deserve the criticism ten-fold. Indeed, it can never be racist to genuinely question the policies of anyone, or anything. However, it is the very definition of racism is to ascribe the policies of a few, to a whole race, for that is a prejudice. To rail against The Arabs, The Jews, The Americans is nonsensical, for they are groups of individuals about which we know very little except where they live.

It is therefore nonsense to say that Mr Kilroy-Silk has a right to free speech over this issue, because his article has nothing logical or interesting to say. It is as if he had declared that he was actually a Vauxhall Astra 1.6 convertible, and then someone said “Well, I disagree with him, but everyone has a right to their opinion.” With free speech comes the responsibility to string your words together in a proper order, a task at which Mr Kilroy-Silk has manifestly failed.

The right to free speech is also attached to the responsibility to research your topic. We should not expect everyone in the UK to understand that Iran is not an Arab state (indeed, their proximity makes this a forgivable mistake). However, such knowledge is a pre-requisite for someone such as Kilroy-Silk, who was commenting directly on the issue. The BBC took the ridiculous step of suspending Kilroy-Silk and his programme only after complaints were made. They should have sacked him immediately: not because they disagreed with the article, but for proving beyond reasonable doubt what a rubbish journalist he actually is. The Sunday Express should be vilified for printing what is unarguably shoddy journalism.

The editors at The Sunday Express are the chief culprits in this tale of human stupidity. Their response to the complaints was to remark that the article had been printed in April, and no one had complained! This is an argument that could be used to justify any of the holocausts that stain our history. If something is only made racist or wrong by the number of complaints received, then every unreported crime is acceptable… Perhaps during the article’s first publication, the complainants were reading a better newspaper. More likely, they were too busy complaining to the Express about something else.

Every day, the foolishness of our media, and the inability of our politicians to ever make a proper argument, draws me closer to my depressing conclusion: we still live in the dark ages, where false arguments justify false aims. Historians of the future will group this new century in with all its predecessors, and call it the pre-enlightenment age. They will not bother trying to learn anything from this era, for it is already stained with the mark of a village idiot. The controversy surrounding Robert Kilroy-Silk’s article is the latest in an infamous tradition of mad hatter tea-parties. Like the dormouse, we shall sleep through many more.