Whenever I sign out of my inbox, Yahoo automatically takes me to what passes for their ‘headlines’, which usually consist of the kind of showbiz fluff I cross oceans to avoid. One I saw today was referring to some actress in some movie where she apparently drags up (i.e. wears a fake beard); I only know because there was a photo of her. I didn’t bother reading it because I couldn’t care less, though the headline itself caught my eye because it claimed said actress ‘defends her trans-role.’ Curious choice of word – ‘defends’. Sorry, it was my understanding that the only people who have to defend their actions are those on trial for murder and other such serious crimes. Am I missing something? What is there to defend about playing a part, which is indeed the definition of being an actor?
‘Plumber defends his decision to unblock drain!’ ‘Mechanic defends changing tyre!’ ‘Postman defends delivering of letter!’ Any sillier than ‘Actress defends pretending to be a fictional character in a completely made-up story’? Not really, though public figures over the years have often had to answer to the archetypal ‘Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells’ figure incensed by something they’ve seen on the TV, at the cinema or in the paper – or haven’t seen at all but have surmised they would find offensive. This seems to have expanded in recent years, perhaps a consequence of the democratisation of fame, so that those who grab their fifteen minutes also have to be scrutinised by Mr and Ms Disgusted, now firmly on the left where once they were on the right. It gives the impression that society as a whole has been transformed into one giant court of law, one in which we are all permanently on the defensive, having to justify every move in anticipation of criticism from the unofficial PC police who guard against offence.
This is a court bereft of statute books so that nobody is entirely sure what can and can’t be said and what can and can’t be done, hence the increase in habitual criminality. How helpful then, that we have our self-appointed online lawmakers who are on hand to recite the dos and don’ts, as well as intervening if we unknowingly break their laws. The novelist Lionel Shriver gave a lecture in Australia a few days ago, one that received publicity across all mediums; generally, the sense she spoke was well-received, though there was the predictable backlash from those that enjoy the lashing of backs. Shriver appeared on ‘Newsnight’ to…yes, you guessed it…defend what she had said.
Essentially, Lionel Shriver accused the scourge of so-called Identity Politics and accompanying disgust with Cultural Appropriation of stifling the creative and the imaginative – which those who propagate such Orwellian control are not. This is the attempted policing of creativity that says writers of fiction can only write from the point of view of their own gender, sexuality and race; and if ‘ethnic’ characters are introduced into their stories, they have to be non-caricatures and inoffensive, officially approved representatives of their individual ethnicity. What a remarkably philistine set of rules and regulations.
Any good novelist researches the background and environment of any character that isn’t based directly upon them or somebody they’ve known – or they simply use their imagination, which is one factor that distinguishes the writer of fiction from the writer of fact. Beatrix Potter couldn’t converse with ducks or mice, so she had to imagine what it would be like to be a duck or a mouse.
I’ve written stories myself that have been set in, say, Georgian London. I was born 200 years too late to have lived in Georgian London and to have known anyone who did. So I research. I get the historical facts right in terms of surroundings, social manners, dress, diet, language et al – in short, making sure my characters and the world they inhabit are as accurate as somebody living in the twenty-first century can possibly portray them. Graft contemporary mores onto the past and you end up with an invented ideal that says more about now than then. Hollywood does it all the time because America doesn’t want to accept that many of its revered Founding Fathers were slave-owners.
The ludicrous ‘outrage’ a couple of weeks ago over a funny line in ‘Coronation Street’ provoked a silly storm in an even sillier teacup, whereby a reference to a character from ‘Roots’ was deemed to be racist. Considering the amount of black and gay characters in Weatherfield, there’s a surprising absence of racism or homophobia from those who fall into neither camp. I would hazard a guess that the majority of those who were sufficiently outraged were white and probably of middle-class descent.
It’s that familiar condescending middle-class white guilt which prompts such people to speak ‘on behalf’ of the perceived persecuted minority, which ironically makes them sound more colonial in their attitudes than those who don’t take offence if a campus ‘Mexican’ night deigns that wearing a sombrero is crucial to the event. They feel compelled to appoint themselves as spokesmen and women, as though the minority in question are incapable of articulating any outrage themselves. A verbal pat on the head which says ‘Don’t worry, poor ignorant little coloured person; we can be your mouthpiece, what with you being denied our privileged education’. It’s laughable.
I’ve cheered myself up of late by watching episodes of ‘The Goodies’. Aside from the nostalgia factor and the surreal madcap humour which still makes me laugh, one element that really struck me was the freedom the trio had to poke fun at anyone and anything. A series that was unfairly regarded at the time as ‘Python-Lite’ today seems incredibly subversive. Indeed, it’s hard to watch it now and not mentally note all the jokes that could no longer be made on television, let alone the piss-taking of celebrities we’re not allowed to mention anymore, such as Rolf Harris, Clement Freud or Jimmy Savile. There’s no what used to be called ‘bad language’ on any episode of ‘The Goodies’ whatsoever, yet whilst one can now swear to one’s heart’s content on TV comedy today, the field has narrowed beyond belief as to targets of jokes.
As regular readers will know, my sideline online identity as a purveyor of satirical and silly videos enables me to get away with things that television would no longer permit. Comments often say ‘You should have your own TV show; you’re funnier than anything currently on telly’, which is immensely flattering, but also misses the point. I’m not on the telly because nobody would dare commission anything of a humorous nature that refuses to acknowledge the boundaries established that define what can and can’t be laughed at. Well, sorry. I’m not prepared to defend myself or my work to people I neither respect nor recognise as creative peers. You either find it funny or you don’t; and if you don’t, I’m not especially bothered; go and watch ‘Mrs Brown’s Boys’.
Any unwritten rules when it comes to any artistic medium stinks of puritanical censorship and the policing of creativity by the non-creative. Sorry if I offend, but you can go f**k yourself. I’m not living under Stalin, the Stasi or the Spanish Inquisition, so your opinion carries no weight and has no authority.
© The Editor