December 20, 2006
U.K.'s queer idea of free speech
Posted by: Chris
Our gay friends across the pond have successfully lobbied for civil unions, immigration rights for same-sex partners and the repeal of anti-gay laws like disparate ages of consent and "no promo homo" rules for schools. But perhaps all that success has gone a bit to their heads. Now some gay activists there are up in arms over an alleged slur from the host of a TV program about cars:
The BBC has upheld a complaint against Jeremy Clarkson, the Top Gear presenter, after he described a car as a "bit gay." The ruling is a surprise since the corporation had defended Clarkson robustly when the remarks were broadcast in the summer.
He provoked the ire of the gay community when he asked a member of the show's audience if he would buy a two-seater Daihatsu Copen, retailing at £13,495. The man said, "No, it's a bit gay," to which Clarkson added: "A bit gay, yes, very ginger beer." …
Fraser Steel, the head of editorial complaints at the corporation, took offense and has upheld the complaint — thought to be the first in broadcasting about homophobia and a motor car. In his ruling, Mr Steel said: "Clarkson supplemented the term 'gay' with a phrase which is rhyming slang for 'queer.' There was no doubt that it was being used in the sense of 'homosexual' and was capable of giving offense."
That's right. It wasn't calling the car "a bit gay" that rankled official censors at the BBC, but the "rhyming slang" of "ginger beer" that was meant to mean "queer." I'll admit to not exactly being up on the latest British slang, but by "ginger beer" it seems to me Clarkson meant to say it was a bit fey, or metrosexual, or not manly enough. Either way, do gay activists in Britain really believe that government-enforced political correctness of this sort actually advances the cause? Apparently:
Ben Summerskill, the chief executive of Stonewall, the equal rights group, said: "At last the BBC appears to be taking this sort of offensiveness seriously. This is not light-hearted teasing, it is inappropriate language. The BBC would not permit offensive remarks to be made about faith or race communities."
Of course "light-hearted teasing" is exactly what Clarkson and his guest were engaged in, and the sort of hysterical reaction from Summerskill and his ilk only provokes a (well-deserved) backlash among free-thinking sorts everywhere. But Summerskill isn't the half of it. Paul Patrick of School'sOUT, the U.K. version of GLSEN, wasn't satisfied by Carson's scolding from censors and released a public letter demanding more decisive action from the BBC:
The BBC have told-off Jeremy Clarkson for his misuse of the word "gay." … Yet they continue to maintain that the use of the word “gay” to mean dysfunctional is not homophobic. Clarkson was only scolded because he went on to use the rhyming slang "ginger beer." This is outright hypocrisy!
Humor-challenged folks like Summerskill and Patrick bring to mind the old joke about how many gay activists it takes to screw in a light bulb. The answer? "Shame! Shame! Shame!"
What's really got Patrick fuming is the cultural use of the word "gay" to mean "stupid," which is apparently as universal in schoolyards in the U.K. as it is the U.S. of A. Of course using "gay" in that context is troublesome, and perhaps even worth a finger-wag from the teacher; but demanding the goverment censor its use from the airwaves?
As Patrick's No. 1 example of the injury he felt from such slurs, he offered up a boy band — yes, a boy band — called Take That, who according to Patrick "clearly used the word 'gay' to mean both 'naff' and homosexual to such a degree that [a BBC program host] apologized to her audience on their behalf."
In fact, Patrick's example is a perfect illustration of why the free marketplace of ideas is better than censorship, every time. The BBC host apologized to her viewers, so the message from the boy band, such as it was, was countered in real-time.
Asking for more — and Patrick even raises the specter of gay youth suicides to back his demands — only pushes anti-gay speech underground and colors the entire cause with the luster of political correctness run amuck.
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