Skip to main content

British Ha-ha

Stephen Fry, the world's most beloved Tweeter, if not twit, is a national treasure in England - but now persona non grata in Tokyo, Japan (death threats even, allegedly) for joking on his comedic panel show about a double-survivor of the A-bomb attacks in WWII - the BBC has had to apologise; as they have had to apologise to the the Mexican ambassador, for a joke from Jeremy Clarkson, another national treasure and TV personality, which claimed that Mexicans were lazy and feckless.

Last night, on yet another British TV show, I saw yet another well-known comedian make a joke about how the death of millions of Canadians wouldn't be so bad - because they're Canadian.  Substitute the word "Jew" or "Irish" or "homosexual", and one sees the problem.  The BBC has argued that "national stereotyping is part of British humour".  Uh - okay.  And apartheid was part of the South African regime.  Reprehensible traits, however "native", can and must change - and are not merely "political correctness gone mad".

Far be it from me to stereotype all English people as xenophobic, culturally superior in tone, or racist - though a recent poll finds the British the most obsessed with immigration among a number of nations (all with higher rates of immigration).  I understand how an island mentality used to projecting massive power globally is likely to need to deploy humour to downgrade the value of other peoples (sometimes threatening, sometimes threatened) - and I understand that the British have a sense of humour that stands them in good stead in hard times (which these are).  Still, it is time for jokes about various nationalities to cease - within reason.  It cannot be right to mock Mexicans or Japanese people in this way, let alone Canadians.


Sheenagh Pugh said…
Asterix isn't British, and also relies heavily on national stereotypes - in Asterix in Britain, the Romans are frustrated by the Brits' insistence on abandoning battles for a tea break. Belgians have enormous appetites, the Swiss are forever cleaning something and Parisians have no manners. 'Allo! 'Allo! guyed all comers in a similar manner. I do appreciate, being Welsh, what you say, but I still think it depends on circumstance and whether one nationality or many is being targeted.
Danish dog said…
But comedians are just saying what most people think but don't dare say. Patriotism is a fact of life in every country. And when people say patriotically, "We Canadians (or whoever) are the best," the corollary is that people of other nationalities don't matter as much.

If these comic indiscretions are banned, then we'll be bereft of an important channel for letting off steam. Even in former times the King had his jester who could speak unwelcome truths and be laughed at.

Summa summarum, this angst and obsession with political correctness in the public domain is a serious threat to freedom of speech AND freedom of conscience. One should perhaps note that Brits are also more willing to laugh at themselves. So, in this one area at least - they've got a LOT of problems in other areas - maybe others should learn from them instead of cutting a swipe at them.
Kiss My Art said…
Dear Todd

What's wrong with a bit of teasing and some gentle banter?

Best wishes from Simon
Fry is an arse. And Clarkson is a pain in one.
Sheenagh Pugh said…
Echoing danish dog about humour as a safety valve, we should recall that there are comedy vicars, comedy priests and comedy rabbis but no comedy ayatollahs or mullahs. So who has the unhealthiest society?
Safety valve my arse! By all means have your opinions and society will address them, but
don't dress them up or pass them off as humour.This is a real and insidious issue , have you not heard Cameron of late? As for 'Political correctness' it is a ridiculous notion and is used as a decoy. Things are neither 'politically 'correct nor incorrect,that term is merely bandied to dismiss and invert what is right from what is wrong.
Anonymous said…
"What's wrong with a bit of teasing and some gentle banter?" Nothing. Do jokes about the death of a million Canadians fall under that category?

On the other hand, whilst the Japanese joke was tasteless, the failure of their nation to address their behaviour in the war might slightly lessen the sympathy.
To be honest, I don't mind jokes about others, even if they do rely on national stereotypes. But I do sadly agree that Britain is gradually beoming more racist.

Popular posts from this blog

Review of the new Simple Minds album - Walk Between Worlds

Taste is a matter of opinion - or so goes one opinion. Aesthetics, a branch of pistols at dawn, is unlikely to become unruffled and resolved any time soon, and meantime it is possible to argue, in this post-post-modern age, an age of voter rage, that political opinion trumps taste anyway. We like what we say is art. And what we say is art is what likes us.

Simple Minds - the Scottish band founded around 1977 with the pale faces and beautiful cheekbones, and perfect indie hair cuts - comes from a time before that - from a Glasgow of poverty and working-class socialism, and religiosity, in a pre-Internet time when the heights of modernity were signalled by Kraftwerk, large synthesisers, and dancing like Bowie at 3 am in a Berlin club.

To say that early Simple Minds was mannered is like accusing Joyce of being experimental. Doh. The band sought to merge the icy innovations of German music with British and American pioneers of glam and proto-punk, like Iggy Pop; their heroes were contrived,…


Wheeler Light for 'Life Jacket'.

The runner-up is: Daniel Duffy - 'President Returns To New York For Brief First Visit'

Wheeler Light currently lives in Boulder, Colorado.

Life Jacket

summer camp shirtsI couldn’t fit in then
are half my size nowI wanted to wear
smaller and smallerarticles of clothing
I shrunk to the sizethat disappeared

of an afterthoughtin a sinking ship body
too buoyant to sinktoo waterlogged for land
I becamea dot of sand


With the death of the poetic genius John Ashbery, whose poems, translations, and criticism made him, to my mind, the most influential American poet since TS Eliot, 21st century poetry is moving into less certain territory.

Over the past few years, we have lost most of the truly great of our era: Edwin Morgan, Gunn, Hill, Heaney and Walcott, to name just five.  There are many more, of course. This is news too sad and deep to fathom this week.  I will write more perhaps later. 

I had a letter from Ashbery on my wall, and it inspired me daily.  He gave me advice for my PhD. He said kind things about a poetry book of mine.

He was a force for good serious play in poetry, and his appeal great. So many people I know and admire are at a loss this week because of his death. It is no consolation at present to think of the many thousands of living poets, just right now. But impressively, and even oddly, poetry itself seems to keep flowing.