Saturday, June 15, 2019

Thoughts from Lisbon: 15.6.19

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable. 
                  Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain
  • I forgot to say that I could swear I saw a sports version of the (in)famous Sinclair C5 flash past me in the other direction on a quiet road the other day. Painted a gold colour, which was matched but the helmet of the driver. Of course it could have been some other 'car' but the C5 is what it reminded me of.
  • Talking of vehicles . . . I parked my car behind the hotel of my friends last evening, only for a passing police patrol to stop and advise me not to do so, as the spaces were reserved for staff from the nearby police station. I wonder if this would happen in Spain these days. Or would the police have waited until I'd gone and then slapped notice of a fine on my windscreen?
  • Something that is totally different from Spain - an early-morning café where the TV is off and there is no loud conversation/arguments taking place between the customers.
  • This is how they start off making those roads made of rows of small bricks. Sometimes in parallel line and sometimes not, as here:-
  • I was checking on Lisbon metro lines last night and came across this claim: The ticket machines are user-friendly, logical and provide instructions in multiple languages. I beg to differ in the case of the first adjective. Unless the system is different from that of Oporto. I'll find out today.
The Way of the World 
  • See the article below, arguing that comedians must have the right to experiment with ideas. Even in this time of snowflakes.
  • Word of the Day: Monda.
Finally . . .
  • At a restaurant in Ericeira yesterday, there was a very modern couple at the next table. He was chatting non-stop to a friend on his phone and she was occupying herself by reading the labels on the olive oil and vinegar bottles.

The Jo Brand scandal has revealed the Left's hypocrisy, but the answer isn't yet more censorship: Konstantin Kisin, a comedian and the host of the TRIGGERnometry podcast

We comedians must have the right to experiment with ideas

While heads in Westminster were fixed on the Tory leadership race, a scandal was erupting over the radiowaves. Comedian Jo Brand, speaking after a number of European election candidates were covered in milkshakes last month, quipped that since “certain unpleasant characters are very easy to hate… why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?”.

Her remarks immediately triggered outrage from many on the right of the political spectrum, including Nigel Farage, one recent victim of ‘milkshaking’, who branded the incident ‘incitement to violence”, and called for a police investigation, reportedly now under way.

As a genuine centrist, who identifies with neither left nor right, I quite understand public anger at the obvious double standards at play. Had a right-wing comedian joked along similar lines about, say, Diane Abbott, they would expect to be sacked within hours, their TV career over, their reputation in tatters. The offending comic would immediately face accusations of racism and sexism from the great and the good, and might even be ostracised from public life.

However, the answer to this depressing state of affairs is not to subject Brand to the same knee-jerk response. Those who criticise ‘Snowflake Millennials’ cannot now call for heads to roll when comics joke about things that upset them. You don’t fix political double standards by treating everyone equally unfairly.

Context matters. In this case, Jo Brand, a well-known and hugely accomplished comedian, was performing on a Radio 4 programme called Heresy, a talk show which aims to challenge received wisdom and dogma through humour. In other words, she was joking. And everyone knows this. Even if you ignore this background, Brand made her intent crystal clear by adding “I’m not going to do it, it’s purely a fantasy”, for good measure.

I doubt Brand would consider it one of her best jokes and the timing is unfortunate to say the least, but we comedians must have the right to experiment with ideas because, the truth is, we often don’t know whether something is funny until we say it. What’s more, comedians don’t always mean everything we say. Shocking, I know.

The desire to take words literally has infected public discourse. When Nigel Farage called on the police to investigate Brand, the ever-vigilant Twitter mob responded in kind. Had Mr Farage not said that if Brexit is not delivered he would, “don khaki, pick up a rifle and head for the front lines”? But did anyone in the country genuinely interpret this as a threat of armed insurrection and not a metaphor?

Sadly, this is the world we live in: fighting faux battles about things we intentionally misunderstand so we can pretend to be offended. And while the outrage may be fake, the consequences are very real.

Last year, Count Dankula, a YouTube comedian, was found guilty of breaching the 2003 Communications Act for posting a video in which he trained his girlfriend’s pug dog to perform a Nazi salute. The comedic intent of the video was undeniable. So undeniable, in fact, that the police struggled to find anyone who was genuinely offended by it. It was only when officers started showing the video to people who might be offended by it that they managed to secure a suitable complainant.

One of the most dangerous implications of the case was the Scottish court’s appalling decision to accept the prosecutor’s assertion that “context is irrelevant”. The notion that the environment in which words are uttered and the intent behind them has no impact on their meaning is absurd and dangerous nonsense – by this logic, John Cleese should be urgently extradited from his ‘hideout’ in the Caribbean to face charges of glorifying Nazism in Fawlty Towers.

As if to make this very point, later in the year, Liverpool teenager Chelsea Russell, was found guilty of a ‘hate crime’ for posting rap song lyrics by Snap Dogg, a black artist, on her Instagram which contained the n-word. She was placed on an eight-week, 8am-to-8pm curfew, fitted with an ankle tag, ordered to pay £500 costs and an £85 ‘victim surcharge’. Her conviction was eventually overturned on appeal but the fact that she was found guilty in the first place is terrifying.

It is our failure to take a stand against these ridiculous prosecutions that now allows the police to investigate a comedian for telling a joke, something that should never happen in a free society. Too many of us have been willing to turn a blind eye as our freedoms have been eroded, and some, particularly those on the progressive Left, have cheered on this creeping authoritarianism.

But framing the battle over freedom of expression as “Left vs. Right” is both unhelpful and inaccurate. Free speech is not a political club with which to batter your opponents – it is a universal birthright and a cornerstone of Western civilisation. We must defend it, even when doing so is personally uncomfortable.

When I turned down a "safe space contract" sent to me by SOAS students for a gig at their campus in December, within hours Kate Smurthwaite, a radical feminist, called me a ‘Nazi’ on national radio. It was a stupid thing to say and a ridiculous accusation but it’s the price we pay for living in a free society. Besides, I’ve now got a niche – I’m the only Jewish Nazi comedian in the world!

No comments: