Just as long as he’s on our side

Picture of British comedian Frankie BoyleA couple of weeks ago I read an article in the Guardian by Hannah Pool about sexual harassment, which according to the author was a common experience for women in public places which she observed was particularly prevalent at this time of year when more people have been drinking. A common reaction to complaints about such harassment, even from the police, is to tell women to “take it as a compliment”, but the behaviour she describes is clearly threatening, with the men often pursuing the women down the road and shouting obscenities.

I did a brief canvass of my younger female friends and relatives, and the first cousin I asked told me that it was certainly a fact of life for women her age (mid 20s), and that she remembered an incident when a man leapt out from a group of young men and grabbed her friend’s breast as they were walking in a high street. The second, however, told me that she didn’t experience it, probably because she has a large number of male friends who protect her, and is of a stockier build than the first cousin in any case.

The suggestion that women take this kind of harassment as a compliment, and ignore the threatening aspects of it, seems to me to be typical of our current attitude towards offensive and hurtful “humour”. When the mother of a child with Down’s Syndrome complained about Frankie Boyle mocking such people in April last year, the comedian replied that his jokes were “all true” and when she persisted, he said that it was his last tour and he did not give a f***. The mother posted a blog (reproduced by the Daily Mail) and the response from the public (or, perhaps, from an organised contingent of Boyle’s fans or from some other gang of harassers such as Anonymous) was so vicious that she eventually pulled the blog down. As Terri (who seems to be the mother of a daughter with Down’s Syndrome) noted, the response amounted to various versions of “just shut up”.

People find these jokes funny, as noted when I posted on the Ricky Gervais ME routine (I also talked to the local radio station about it, after the host ran a show about the already mentioned Boyle episode), people were laughing. The video to the entry was a short clip, but having seen the whole routine, there is a slew of ignorant and racist jokes in between the stuff about ME. More recently, Boyle came out with the line that Katie Price (the socialite also known as the model Jordan) would need a prize-fighter to keep Harvey off her (sexually — he used an F-word for that purpose), Harvey being her blind and severely physically disabled child. There is a fondness for rape jokes among some comedians, and when I complained to the BBC about a joke about the possibility of George Michael being raped in the shower during his recent prison term, I was informed that “as the BBC is a public service financed by the licence fee it must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour”.

A lot of people find jokes at the expense of the disabled funny at the point of delivery, but if it’s acceptable for such jokes to be made on stage and on national TV, it becomes normal for them to be made in the playground and on the bus, which may well partly explain why those with intellectual disabilities find being on buses with school-children a miserable experience. Surveys of such people have found that pretty much all respondents experienced harassment on a regular basis, and would go home early from their drop-in centres to avoid it. I am sure these people don’t find this kind of humour funny when it is right in their faces.

However, there are some who will excuse a comedian for these kinds of outrages because they approve of his views about something else. In the past, the Palestinians had some fine talent on their side such as Alexei Sayle, but if he could not liberate the place, one despairs when their best hope is the abominable Frankie Boyle. As a Muslim, it is depressing to see Muslims excusing someone who makes his living by mocking the most vulnerable in society on the grounds that he also supports the Palestinian cause, both through his jokes and through letters to the BBC. But that is pretty much what 1st Ethical did this past week when Boyle got in trouble for a routine in which he used the N-word, and “paki”, in a supposed parody of news coverage of deaths in foreign wars. I wonder, given his prior record, whether he really wanted to satirise that or just have fun with a couple of nasty words.

If we are to oppose oppression abroad, we should not support it here, or defend those who do. If we are to complain when Palestinians experience harassment when going about their business in the West Bank, we should feel the same way about disabled people here in the UK being senselessly harassed on the streets of our cities. A joke from the British comedy Fawlty Towers springs to mind, in which the senile Major Gowen tells Polly, the waitress, that he hates Germans but loves women. Polly responds, “what about German women?”. (His response is, “good card players … but mind you, I wouldn’t give ‘em the time of day”.)

So if you love Palestinians so much but don’t care much for those with disabilities, what about disabled Palestinians?

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