In the 14 years I've written for F365 the articles which evoke the most fury have always been those perceived as overly PC, 'liberal lefty', anything on racism and especially anything even vaguely pro-feminist.
I've spent this month reviewing shows at the Edinburgh Fringe for The Daily Mirror and it really brings issues about what you can and can't say into focus.
I'm sure if a manager had sent a text using the c-word, this would have been held up as deeply offensive and possibly misogynistic. It is a word that is seen as utterly unacceptable by many and yet it is used by lots of people every day of their lives. Certainly, the majority of comedians I've seen in the last month use that word liberally and in every context imaginable without censure. Americans, in particular, are amazed that it's 'allowed'.
But who is right and who is wrong and who decides? Language is a tricky thing.
I went to see Jim Davidson, who played a Fringe show for the whole of this month. Despite growing up in the 70s, I have to admit to knowing very little about him. 'Chalky', snooker, liking ELP and being arrested, pretty much covered it. The one thing I do know is that I'm not supposed to like him.
Obviously, he's the bête noire of the liberal left and a whole generation grew up with Davidson as the establishment Tory against which to kick. My favourite comedians are Jerry Seinfeld, George Carlin and Bill Hicks. One of my favourite shows at the Fringe this year was by fantastic feminist comedian, Bridget Christie. I say this just to illustrate how Jim Davidson is not in my cultural universe.
Yet I didn't see any comedian better received. The audience of about 500 gave him a standing ovation and did so, from what I'm told, every night for a month. They laughed uproariously at what he said and were on his side throughout. However, by contrast, reviewers were very sniffy, calling him a 'throwback to an era comedy forgot'. If this is true of him, it is also true of many younger, modern comedians who perform very similar broad humour without criticism. It's a huge double standard. I have seen far less controversial comics perform far more 'offensive' material without attracting any ire at all. Davidson's critics were clearly reviewing the man and not the act.
When you see over 40 comedians within three weeks, it's not hard to spot those with the ability to amuse and those who don't and Davidson has it. He has superb technique (though I found it all a bit predictable and, as a result, a bit dull) but if you expected to see a tirade of sexist, racist comedy (and some reviewers clearly did), it wasn't that or at least, it was no more that than many performers' acts are. As I say, it was received to huge acclaim and it'd be easy to say this was because his audience were nasty, vicious bigots, but standing amongst them they obviously weren't, or at least, no more than any public gathering. They were largely working class and drawn from all ages.
Where this informs the football debate is that Davidson has clearly become emblematic for his audience. They see him as standing against the people who are sometimes called liberal fascists who, they feel, tell them what they can and can't say or think. They feel culturally dictated to by a self-appointed elite of people. They don't want to be told what to say, how to say it, or how to behave by these people. They don't want to be told they're misogynists, racists or homophobes when they feel they're genuinely not. Davidson rails against the 'PC liberal lefties' even though I'm pretty sure, this being Scotland, almost none of his audience vote Tory and most are probably on the left to some degree. This is all about the cultural, not the political.
This seems to be the same thing at the core of some of the more visceral responses in defence of the 'real football man' (as though working in football is in and of itself proof of your moral worth) Malky Mackay. Some feel it's not like he's committed a great crime; some feel that there is a witch hunt by over-precious people who are merely looking for an opportunity to be offended, people for whom their righteous indignation is forever on the point of boiling over. And, let's be honest, anyone who has been patronised by someone telling you to 'check your privilege' has probably felt some sympathy with that view. There can be an over-focus on expression rather than intent or belief. But as we know, words are tricky things.
Yet all this being said, I found those Mackay texts profoundly depressing and suspect they really do reveal the driving cultural tides in our football culture and in our society too. They reveal what most of us already know - that people say one thing for public consumption, but think another. It wasn't a mistake, he just didn't think it was wrong. We have to deal with the fact that in wanting to create a less divisive, bigoted culture, we have helped create a covert culture where the 'wrong' views are still held and expressed. Just shouting people down won't change that, indeed, it may help perpetuate it.
Talk of 'rehabilitating' him, as though he is ill, smacks of Brave New World mind control, but defending it with that most heinous of words, banter (a word we have long railed against here), is dumb too.
Extreme reactions - and the internet specialises in extreme reactions - make dealing with the issues these texts raise all the more difficult, as a result, most just keep quiet, scared that they put their foot in it and say something thought to be wrong.
We're all part of football culture and we need to sort this out and we won't do that if we just resort to calling each other names and trying to be superior. All sides need to exercise more understanding because I think we can agree we've all had enough of anger and intolerance. And anyone who disagrees is a c**t.
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