Protesting too much

Home truths spark the loudest screams of 'offence'.

Protesting too much

Topics Politics

The truth hurts

It is often said that the symptom of inferiority is to display neurotic hostility to any form of criticism. Only the truly great have the confidence to brush aside adverse remarks with indifferent contempt.

In the 1980s and 90s, for instance, there were periodical occasions when someone in the media – usually a tabloid journalist or comedian – would make a joke about a northern city, saying what a dilapidated dump it was – only to be met with furious indignation from the relevant burghers. Prominent Glaswegians, Mancunians and Liverpudlians would emerge to register their disgust, protesting that such remarks were offensive and totally erroneous.

Of course, a city that is prosperous, confident and, as we say in modern parlance, ‘vibrant’, would be immune to such tetchiness. When have you ever heard the mayor of London or New York or Paris issuing statements to protest about nasty words a journalist has written about his or her city? To a truly great metropolis, criticism means nothing. On the other hand, when you live in a city in decay, it hurts to be told some home truths.

We have seen this in a different form recently. The Sun (UK) got itself into a terrible flap following the report, published by Der Spiegel in Germany, which portrayed Britain as a nation of egotistical vulgarians and violent drunkards. Anyone who has witnessed the scenes in towns and cities on a weekend night knows that Der Spiegel’s conclusion is absolutely spot-on. Compared to our continental cousins, the Brits are aggressive yobbos who can’t handle our ale. No wonder we got touchy about being told as much.

And then there were the remarks made by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey. Last month he merely reminded an audience that most Islamic countries were ‘undemocratic and authoritarian’ and that Islamic culture had achieved little since its golden age in the Middle Ages.

There was predictable outrage from Muslim spokesmen, who said how ‘saddened’ they were by his remarks, accusing him of ‘trampling on a sensitive area’. As with those who took exception to Der Spiegel’s grim yet accurate diagnosis, those who expressed disquiet at George Carey’s comments failed to refute him, or even attempt a counter-argument. All we had was the predictable language of ‘being offended’.

Carey is no Robert Kilroy-Silk-type hack – he is someone who has studied the Islamic and Arab world for decades. And what he said was sadly true. The problem is that sometimes the truth hurts.

Good, old-fashioned discrimination

Two headlines in the Guardian this week: ‘Met plan to fast track black recruits’; ‘Gay police “need stronger backing”’. The first refers to plans by the Metropolitan Police to ‘fast track’ ethnic minority people into its training school, so as to help to achieve its goal of having 25 per cent of its officers from ethnic minorities by 2009. The second alludes to plans to achieve ‘greater diversity’ in the British police force by making it ‘more gay’. The thinking here is that Britain’s police must represent accurately the population it serves.

It is depressing that just as America is rescinding its affirmative action laws, we are taking them up. Cannot we learn why it has failed there rather than making the same mistakes all over again? Promoting people solely by the colour of their skin breeds resentment from those who are discriminated against. Those who are perceived to be appointed merely because of their race or sexuality are rarely respected. Ultimately, affirmative action ‘sends out the message’ that blacks and gays are mental infants who are incapable of making it on their own merit. This is nothing but old-fashioned racism and homophobia.

Blessed are the geeks

‘The geeks have inherited the Earth’, wrote Sandy Starr in these pages recently, arguing that adolescent-minded, sci-fi nerds have colonised popular culture – as witnessed in the popularity of the Marvel comics, the Buffy the Vampire Slayer television programme and the Lord of the Rings films (1). Like my fellow (but infinitely more erudite) sci-fi enthusiast, Starr, I have mixed feelings about this development.

I finally saw the last instalment of Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings on Saturday. I had been putting it off for months. I find films far too long these days, and most cinemas intolerably loud. But luckily, I discovered that my local art-house cinema, the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London, was showing The Return of The King at the weekend, and took in a show.

Most of my initial misgivings proved to be correct. The film was far too long. Jackson also took a fair degree of liberties with the original text. The ridiculous cockney accents of the Orcs had become even more pronounced: in The Two Towers they had sounded like extras from Minder; here they were seemingly doing a collective impression of Bob Hoskins from The Long Good Friday (‘You’re messing with the big boys now Frodo – you facking slaaag!!’).

And, the Tolkien fans were a predictably sad collection, caught up, almost literally, in their own little universe. As I eavesdropped (and enjoined) their conversations at the bar I heard nothing but dorkish conversation about what Gollum’s wretched fate represents, if ‘The Ring’ is a metaphor for the atomic bomb, how Tolkien was affected by the First World War, etc, etc.…

The strangest part was, at a particularly sad part at the end, hearing someone four seats down from me actually start sobbing uncontrollably, and quite audibly. Others had tears streaming from their eyes. To be fair, it was a moving part of the film, and the bit from the original book I have always found most touching. One shouldn’t sneer I suppose. It’s a great compliment to a great story.

A little backward they may be, geeks are, in general, a polite and essentially amiable lot. They are much like Hobbits. I can think of worse people to inherit the Earth.

(1) The geek shall inherit the Earth, by Sandy Starr

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Topics Politics


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