In 1965 a line was crossed: theatre critic Kenneth Tynan was the first to say ‘fuck’ on live TV.
Since then the line has been crossed so often that it has become smudged. Words beginning with just about every letter of the alphabet have flooded the airwaves, drowning the stultifying norms of public decency.
That proved yet again that the march of progress is unstoppable, while also adding a facet to our current understanding of progress. Take technology out of it, and progress is essentially mass brainwashing in the severing of all traditional roots of morality, reason, decency and etiquette.
Since television, now abetted by social media, has effectively replaced education, Tynan’s pioneering effort has borne rich fruit. These days obscenities are ringing throughout the land, and one can routinely hear even little tots describe one another in a language that suggests intimate familiarity with genital anatomy and the more recondite sexual variants.
As a result of overuse, words that used to act as shockers and intensifiers have lost the power to either shock or intensify. Their inappropriate use in public (I’ve forfeited the right to object to their use in private) only serves the purpose of branding the speaker as a tasteless, ill-mannered boor. Or else, depending on the audience, as a free-thinking rebel who can soar above convention.
Still, flouting convention is what progress is all about, and the sewer of torrential obscenity never gets plugged on our TV. However, our media watchdog has hypocritically banned swear words before the 9 PM watershed – pretending that today’s children dutifully go to bed at that time and have no TV sets or computers in their bedrooms.
Having paid perfunctory lip service to propriety, our TV networks can safely continue to ignore it in every way that matters. A new world has no room for old morality.
Instead new morality has barged in to take up the slack. Its rules are enforced fanatically, and deviations are punished cruelly.
The new line was drawn on the football pitch in 2011, when one player, John Terry, called another a “fucking black cunt”. The only word in the triad that isn’t an obscenity is the middle one, and yet it was only that word that got Terry banned. Had he limited his self-expression to the two outside terms, he wouldn’t have even drawn a caution, nor raised an eyebrow.
The message was clear. It was acceptable to insult people in the foulest possible way, impugning the sexual behaviour of their mothers, accusing them of having oral or anal intercourse with their fathers – whatever. And the offended parties could have no recourse.
But any reference to their race, even without using overtly pejorative terminology, and the offender will have to face the slings and arrows of outraged modernity. As to real racial slurs, they will draw not just slings and arrows but the executioner’s axe, at this point still only metaphorically.
Our media regulators responded with decisiveness hitherto associated with rather unsavoury regimes. Their laisser-faire attitude to post-watershed obscenity remained in place, but racial insults were banned at any time – whatever the mitigating context.
Stricter standards are now applied to racial slurs than even to homicide, where extenuating circumstances may be taken into account. To our progressives, racism, however contextual or tangential, or however broadly defined, is a worse crime than murder.
What makes the new morality more tyrannical than any traditional Western tyranny is that it’s mostly imposed not by the state but by the people themselves. They’ve been brainwashed into enthusiastic self-policing. Before too long they’ll be sufficiently indoctrinated to arrest themselves, rough themselves up and then put themselves in prison.
The BBC’s social affairs correspondent Fiona Lamdin got a taste of it when reporting a vile racist attack of two thugs setting upon a black man. They deliberately drove their car at the victim, leaving him with a broken leg, nose and cheekbone.
In the process they hurled racist abuse at the man, which Miss Lamdin reported. She told her ideologically sensitive viewers: “Just to warn you, you’re about to hear highly offensive language… Because as the men ran away, they hurled racial abuse, calling him a nigger”.
That didn’t violate the injunction issued by watchdog Ofcom in 2016, to the effect that, though the word was “highly unacceptable at all times”, it could be used when “strong contextualisation is required”.
‘Contextualisation’ could hardly have been stronger than that, but Miss Lamdin’s viewers weren’t into such nuances. They knew they had been ordered to be offended by that word, however used, and offended they obligingly were.
The BBC received 18,656 complaints, of the kind that in the country of my youth were called denunciations. The Corporation explained that the decision to include the criminal word was taken “by a team of people including a number of senior editorial figures”, but that only made matters worse.
Yet for once, those senior BBC figures were right: the word made the report even more poignant – just as saying that the thugs broke the victim’s leg was more effective than saying that they caused grievous bodily harm.
Just compare these two sentences: “They screamed ‘nigger’ as the man tried to run away” and “They screamed racial invective as the man tried to run away”. Which one condemns the thugs more strongly? Which one represents accurate reporting, as opposed to wishy-washy woke waffle?
These are moot questions as far as our morbidly sensitive public is concerned. The OFFENCE toggle switch has been implanted into their minds, and each time it’s flicked they are offended on cue.
Well, they offend me no end. Can you suggest where I should post my complaint?
P.S. Wearing face masks, especially on a hot day, has one definite advantage: it enables a man to concentrate on what’s really important in a woman. Her soul, that is, and what did you think I meant?