Thursday, October 15, 2009

Racism, Celebrities and the Poo Bin Mystery

I have been a dog owner for a few years now, and like all good owners I always pick up my mutt's crap and bin it. At first, this usually meant just lifting the lid of the poo bin and dropping the bag inside, but soon I began to notice that the bins round my way were gradually being replaced by bigger, chunkier receptacles with a lock on the front and a big metal flap on the lid. You lift the lid and place the bag on the flap, then when you close the lid the poo drops inside. To retrieve it, should you be minded to do such a thing, you would need the key to unlock the front. Why? What is the point of that? I began to wonder, is dog poo valuable? Is there a thriving market in dogshit derivatives? Is the borough council trying to corner the market in a precious commodity here? What are my hound's mounds worth?

I have been thinking about racism a lot this week. I went to Bolton v Tottenham last Saturday, with some old mates from London who follow the Spurs all over the country. They told me about their Sol Campbell song: a ditty so vile and so offensive that it has finally been officially outlawed by the club after years of complaints and hypocritical tabloid outrage. Anyone caught singing it nowadays is immediately ejected from the ground and may be banned for life. Undaunted, the crowds now simply hum the tune instead. "Dum dum dum-de dum-de dum..." they go, and everyone knows exactly what it means: "Sol, Sol, wherever you may be, you're on the verge of lunacy, and we won't give a fuck when you're hanging from a tree, Judas cunt with HIV". Nice. My view is that this is an incontrovertibly racist song. That may not be the intent (my friends were quick to deny it and you don't have to look far on the net to find convoluted self-justifications) but you simply cannot sing "hanging from a tree" to a black man without evoking the spectre of lynching. To argue otherwise takes a special kind of stubborn stupidity, a wilful refusal to step outside your own narrow worldview, and I expect better from Spurs fans who endure hissing and similarly obnoxious songs about "gassing the Jews".

Then Bruce Forsyth did something similar, defending dimwit nonebrity Anton du Beke for his you-look-like-a-Paki "joke". Can Brucie really be so dim or so divorced from reality that he really thinks "Paki" is no worse than "Limey" as an insult? Maybe in Brucieworld it isn't, but has he ever tried to imagine what it feels like to suffer that kind of abuse? Was he ever spat at or insulted in the street, or his kids beaten up for being "Limeys"? I don't think so. And if that scandal wasn't bad enough for the BBC, it then turned out that they featured the BNP on Radio 1's Newsbeat show last week, giving a platform for two racist morons (introduced as simply "young guys who are BNP members.. ..Joey and Mark", but who were actually Joey Smith, managing director of the BNP's record label, and Mark Collett, BNP Director of Publicity) to tell millions of listeners that London-born footballer Ashley Cole "came to this country" and will never be "ethnically British". And all this is in advance of Question Time next week, at which head nazi Nick Griffin will be presented as a democratic party leader. I have no doubt that Griffin will keep his nastier racist thoughts well-hidden on this show, and that the BNP will gain enormously from the coverage, however well his opponents perform.

The BBC used to make far better programmes about the BNP. In 2003 they gave a camera to Andy Sykes, a former BNP member in Bradford who had seen the light and decided to expose the truth about his erstwhile colleagues. Was it true, as Griffin claimed, that the BNP had modernised, become more professional, moved away from its racist past? No. Sykes's undercover filming for Panorama revealed them (surprise surprise) to be knuckledragging thugs just like their NF skinhead predecessors of the 70s (sadly, the film has disappeared from Google video, although there is more Panorama material about the BNP here). At one point in the film, a group are meeting in somebody's house when they are joined by a late arrival, who boasts proudly that on the way to the meeting he has emptied the dog poo bin at the top of the road and posted the bags through the letterboxes of Asian families along the street. What larks! And what a eureka moment for me! Could this be the answer to my poo bin mystery? Is this why the boxes now have to be locked up as tightly as the night safe at the bank, to stop racist scumbags using the contents to terrorise their neighbours? I don't know for sure, but to this day I have never again picked up a dogturd without thinking of the BNP. This, Brucie and Anton and Spurs fans, is why you should never joke about "Pakis" or black men "hanging from trees". Whatever your intentions, it makes you part of a culture of racist violence and oppression.

Who knows, maybe there is another explanation for the Fort Knox poo bins, but it is something to think about if you watch Griffin on the box next week. Every time you see his smug, pudgy, lopsided face, imagine a hand inside a pale brown plastic bag coming down on a huge pile of steaming, squidgy, stinking shite.


Stu said...

Excellent post Mike, slightly Charlie Brooker esque, which is an excellent thing.

Anonymoz said...

Faecal mail shots! These guys really do know how to win hearts and minds. And how to provide apt self-defining alliterations - in this case, ‘scary, scandalous, and scatological’. And Brucie? Cor (b)limey! Pretty good dancer but two malodorous left feet when it comes to pronouncing on socio-political-moral issues.

Yes, the BBC’s invitation to Griffin is an outrage. Enlightenment notions that free and open debate will invariably result in the defeat of the false and the pernicious and the triumph of the true and the noble now seem almost risible. One suspects that had the likes of Voltaire and John Stuart Mill known about the sheer scale of ethic cleansing that was to come they would have been a little more qualified in their support of freedom of speech. One also suspects that they held a too optimistic view of human nature. Most humans are deeply flawed. They can be led to water but, as often as not, will not drink if doing so conflicts with their interests, or challenges a deeply held view, or merely involves an admission that they are wrong.

Remember the British TV sit com ‘Till Death Do Us Part’ (screened 1965-75) which featured, as the central character, the racial bigot Alf Garnett? At the time there was a debate about whether the programme was likely to promote racism. Johnny Speight, the author, argued that Alf Garnett’s expressed views were so outrageous that no reasonable person would see him as anything other than ridiculous. Seemingly, the argument prevailed [despite its being close to begging the question – what would be the effect on an unreasonable person?]. However – and here you might be able to help out, Mike. [I oughtn’t to address you as ‘Punk’, even though that’s what you call yourself. Do you think Brucie might hazard a guess as to why that is?!] I remember reading (of) some USA research published sometime in the 70’s on viewers reactions to Archie Bunker [the Alf Garnett character in ‘All In The Family’, the US version of ‘Till Death Do Us Part]. As I recall, it was found that liberals, as measured by a political attitudes scale of some kind, saw Bunker as a raving bigot whereas those scoring high on conservatism saw him as talking a lot of sense. In other words, the ‘satire’ was more likely to reinforce than weaken the racism of those already predisposed to it. I don’t remember enough to know whether this finding could be regarded a trustworthy or indeed whether it (or something similar) had been replicated. Perhaps you know, or if not could check it out. If it checks out as I’ve described it, then it woul;d constitute further grounds for believing that the BNP will benefit from having Griffin on ‘Question Time’.
M. M.

Mike Eslea said...

@Anonymoz - here's a conference paper and a journal article about that Archie Bunker research.

Anonymoz said...

Thanks for that almost instant response. Looks like my memory served me well and the findings do indeed suggest that having Griffin on ‘Question Time’ is more likely to strengthen than weaken racist attitudes in those viewers already predisposed to them.