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  • « Who cares if they 'told'? | Main | America's queer idea of free speech »

    December 20, 2006

    U.K.'s queer idea of free speech

    Posted by: Chris

    Jeremyclarkson 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? 

    Takethat 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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    1. Huw Richardson on Dec 20, 2006 8:37:31 PM:

      Ever the problem in the UK... where I think the actual legal issue is "offence". Don't offend. I think the same is true in Canadian Law where they seem to depend on the state to shield one from offensive behaviour. But it is the same here, in some respects - not as strident yet.


      Ginger Beer? Mmm.

    1. Nerva on Dec 21, 2006 1:28:14 PM:

      Huw is correct. There are criminal laws in the UK protecting minority groups from "hate speech" that causes offence (offense, in US English) and both the police and the Crown Prosecution Service have targeted this sort of "crime" as a priority. It is only releatively recently "hate speech" to gay men and women has been included, though the original law goes back many years when it comes to the colour of one's skin and ethnicity.

      Chris does make a good point. The word "gay" is used by kids in the playground - they have hijacked the word, in much the same way as Noel Coward did in the late 1920s in a song he wrote when "gay" meant "happy" or "carefree".

      Having said that, the school playground can be a place where it can be a horrible place for a gay kid to be.

      SchoolsOut is an organisation that is trying to combat homophobia in the school system - a problem that is rife in most countries. The number of teenage suicides in UK is worrying - and some of these suicides are because the teen boy of girl is subject to homophobic bullying.

      So while the "gay car" episode on the BBC - together with the "It is a little bit ginger beer" remark from Clarkson (translated from Cockney rhyming slang, "ginger beer" is "queer") - might seem a bit of a storm in a teacup, there is an underlying aspect to it.

      Interestingly, it was not the describing of the car as "gay" that caused the BBC's rap on the knuckles, but Clarkson's use of "ginger beer".

      And when our tabloid The Sun (Clarkson is one of the paper's columnists(reported the BBC reprimand, Clarkson is quoted as saying: "And it wasn’t a gay car — it was actually a bit lesbian."

      All things considered, the "hate speech" laws are good - it keeps Phelps out of this country as he knows that her would be arrested. But common sense should prevail. Describing a car as being "gay" is hardly offensive and certainly not "hate speech"!

      Political correctness is has run amok here in the UK.

      Merry Winterval, to be very PC!

    1. Test Block on Jul 9, 2007 4:27:15 AM:

      I doubt that you're one who should be talking of "censorship", Crain...

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