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Chris Morris – that old fogey

Shouldn't conservatives be Brass Eye's biggest fans? After all, Morris hates the same things they do.

Patrick West

Patrick West
Columnist

Topics Politics

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The furore generated by the latest Chris Morris extravaganza – the Brass Eye Special, on 26 July 2001 – was a classic case of life imitating art.

Chris Morris fronts a TV show that addresses the media’s hysterical and demented attitude towards paedophilia. In response, the media succumbs to a fit of demented hysteria. Meanwhile, just as celebrities were duped into making pronouncements on subjects they clearly knew nothing about, so Beverley Hughes, the child protection minister, and home secretary David Blunkett, waded in with condemnation – when neither had seen the programme in question.

But in reacting so strongly against Morris, haven’t the so-called ‘conservative’ tabloid press missed a certain irony – that however controversial his programmes, Morris is in fact a conservative?

Much that Morris has lampooned in Brass Eye, and the 1994 series The Day Today, is the stuff that both old-fashioned, hard-headed leftists and traditional conservatives find distasteful about modern society. In the mould of the late Auberon Waugh, Morris looks like a Tory anarchist: often objectionable, deliberately provocative but evidently repulsed by a society governed by emotionalism, the cult of celebrity, bad TV, modern art, thuggery, cant, humbug and general dim-wittedness.

In short, Chris Morris is an old fogey. One of the highlights of the Brass Eye Special on 26 July was an ex-paedophile who now runs his own bus-tour, joshing and joking with passengers as he points out his own haunts, soliciting loud guffaws as he makes jokes about pubic hair. This is, of course, a parody on ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser, the south London celebrity-gangster who similarly runs his own tour of London, reminiscing about the good old days when you could leave your front door open and torture people with impunity.

Fraser is himself a former victim of Morris. In a previous episode of Brass Eye, Morris had him on as a guest, in which he was presented with a ‘madometer’. Morris asked him to rank various crimes from one to 10 on how ‘out of order’ they were. When he asked Fraser how serious ‘messing wiv de kids’ was, Fraser – who used to practise amateur dentistry on his victims as a form of punishment – of course replied that this was the most out of order thing that anybody could do.

Just as former criminals will plead that at least they’re not a kiddy-fiddler, so the red-top tabloids are notorious for the hypocritical moralism when it comes to criminal activity – at once adoring the likes of the two Ronnies (Kray and Biggs) and tacitly encouraging the general public to find a paedophile and smash his face in.

I once remember somebody on a bus telling the conductor what he would like to do to a nonce. He said he would personally love to ‘cut his bollocks off with a rusty razor’. It is this bloodlust and violence dressed up as morality that Chris Morris is mocking. And it is done in a true fogeyish manner, in which the unwashed masses are erected as a figure of contempt – simple, tribal people fed on a diet of poor quality newspapers and sensationalist TV.

How people laughed at the Portsmouth lynch-mobs of last year, or the paediatrician who was threatened by marauding imbeciles. Similarly, after the fictional burning to death of a paedophile in Brass Eye, roving reporter Ted Maul is on the scene to conclude: ‘Tonight, one man kebabbed. Thousands scarred forever by a shared blood ritual. And yet, an astonishing sense of community here now, a positive atmosphere, a sense of a job well done, a shared sense of relief.’

And just as old codgers love sneering at revolting proles, so they love to admonish the corrupting influence of pop music. The Brass Eye rapper JLB8, who boasted of his sexual conquest of minors, is similar to Fur-Q, another creation of Morris who featured in The Day Today – a rapper who sings ‘She’s an Uzi-lover’ and guns people down on stage. Just as Fur-Q reflected the early-1990s panic over gangsta-rap, JLB8 is a parody of Eminem, a figure who has worried parents throughout the globe with his ‘dangerous’ act. Although Morris is primarily seeking to shock, and indeed mimic people’s fear of pop music, there is the suspicion that he also endorses it.

So shouldn’t the Daily Mail really be on Morris’ side? If it hates modern art, then so too does he. In Brass Eye, Michael Hames, the former head of the Obscene Publications Branch, deemed new works of art ‘obscene’ or ‘not obscene’ – in what seemed an utterly arbitrary manner. Reactionary establishments like the Daily Mail are fond of seeing most modern art as essentially rubbish or pornography – so too does Chris.

To Morris, as it was to Waugh, the biggest cretins in the world are celebrities and politicians. Time after time Morris has gruesomely stitched them up. By doing this he attacks our own propensity to follow the word of somebody just because he or she is famous, and exposing the lamentable calibre of politicians we have today. Never again should anybody listen to Carla Lane bleat on about animal rights, Bianca Jagger about Nicaragua or ‘baby spice’ Emma Bunton support the NSPCC, without thinking, a) Do they know what they are actually talking about?; b) Is the cause they are endorsing necessarily a good thing?; c) Are they sincere anyway?

After all, Phil Collins, who was done over by Morris, is the same Phil Collins who sang Another Day in Paradise, then threatened to leave the country if the Conservatives lost the general election. And as for Tory aide Lord Coe, Labour MP Syd Rapson and Labour MP Barbara Follett falling for Morris’s pranks – not to mention Tory MP David Amess raising questions in the House of Commons about the made-up drug Cake – it is we, not they, who should be furious. Our dumbed-down society seemingly goes right to the top.

Whether you agree being a fogey is a good thing or not is of course a matter of choice. And of course this is merely one interpretation. Morris is so elusive, hiding behind irony and parody, that it is hard to know what he really believes. Nonetheless, the son of doctors and educated by Jesuits, he is, I suspect, a moralistic man; and from the Jesuits I suspect he got his taste for tormenting people.

There is a danger that when we have the next paedophile panic, we will merely snigger, ‘Oh, this is so Brass Eye’. Man cannot live by irony and parody alone. However, Chris Morris has done us all a favour. Although he has spread much cynicism, let us hope he has generated a good dose of scepticism, too.

Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).

Read on:

All eyes on Brass Eye, by Rob Lyons

Brass Eye: reaching satire’s gold standard?, by Ian Walker

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Topics Politics

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