Tuesday, April 5, 2011


I was alerted by a kind reader to this BBC report about comedian Frankie Boyle getting his wrist slapped with a limp piece of soggy toast (one resembling Frankie Boyle's face). Apparently Boyle told a joke that involved Katie Price's son. The kind reader, ever alert, pointed out that the BBC article did not contain the actual joke that provoked this crazy outburst of ass-censuring.

Before I impress you with my skills as a web-researcher (I think I found the joke!), I wanted to discuss - briefly - the article. In part, it is completely crap journalistic writing, a mish-mash of provocative quotes of the He-said, She-said variety. In part, it is completely crap journalistic writing because nobody has really bothered to think through the topic at hand: How do we describe and make sense of offensive jokes?
Channel 4 said it was "wholly justified in the context". Price said it was "a further insult" that Ofcom had not forced the station to apologise.

Right, there's some nice examples: "in context." In what context? How does the context justify this particular joke? Which context are we talking about? And when does a context wholly justify something?

The model was among those who complained about the comments in Boyle's comedy series Tramadol Nights, saying they were "discriminatory, offensive, demeaning and humiliating".

In response Channel 4 said Boyle's comedy was not "intended as a slur on any particular community", but that "everyone is fair game in Frankie's eyes".

Having your cake and eating it too: we don't intend to insult anybody, we just insult everybody. Phony egalitarianism, the cowardice of comedians who pretend they're honest-to-god, "equal opportunity" truth-tellers and not vampires sucking the lifejuices out of the vulnerable. (Just to be clear, I mean "vampires sucking the lifejuices out of the vulernable" as a compliment)

One of the jokes that attracted complaints was not about Harvey's disability or about rape or incest, it said, but was "simply absurdist satire".

Okay, really? Really? Leaving aside the "simply", do we really suspect the joke is going to be "absurdist satire"? We can judge at the end whether it is "absurdist satire", but I'd have been willing to bet it was going to approximate "absurdist satire" about as much as Chinese Democracy approximates Glenn Gould. Discuss.

The broadcaster also said Boyle's remarks were meant to make fun of Price's alleged "exploitation of her children for publicity purposes... her behaviour as a mother and her cavalier attitude towards relationships".

So wait, is it "absurdist satire" or is it "meant to make fun of . . ." According to this article, Channel 4, which apparently can speak, speaks completely contradictory, righteous, arse-covering nonsense.

The ruling also said: "Ofcom was of the view that the material in question appeared to directly target and mock the mental and physical disabilities of a known eight year-old child who had not himself chosen to be in the public eye.

"As such, Ofcom found that the comments had considerable potential to be highly offensive to the audience."

Yes, and how do you bet this article is going to end?

Meanwhile, Ofcom also cleared BBC Two's Top Gear after the hosts made fun of Mexican people for being "lazy". The regulator said viewers would have been familiar with the show's "mocking, playground-style humour". "To restrict humour only to material which does not cause offence would be an unnecessary restriction of freedom of expression," it added.

I'd sigh if I weren't choking on a piece of toast.

So what was the joke?

I have a theory about the reason Jordan married a cage-fighter. She needed a man strong enough to stop Harvey from f***ing her.
Or, as it is fully reported:
Katie Price – aka Jordan - has complained to Ofcom about Frankie Boyle, after the comedian made a joke about her disabled son, Harvey, who suffers from septo-optic dysplasia and autism.

Boyle said on his Tramadol Nights show: "I have a theory about the reason Jordan married a cage-fighter. She needed a man strong enough to stop Harvey from f***ing her."
So what do you think of the joke?


Steven said...

I'd have been willing to bet it was going to approximate "absurdist satire" about as much as Chinese Democracy approximates Glenn Gould. Discuss.
Although in principle any piece of performance might approximate, to a greater or lesser extent, "absurdist satire", it is surely impossible for any rock album to approximate a person? Otherwise I would love to "discuss"?

So what do you think of the joke?
I don't really understand it? I mean, if it is a current stereotype of people with autism that they are really strong and always trying to fuck their mums, that really passed me by?

sw said...

You're quite right about the mangled comparison; I had sifted Axl Rose and Glenn Gould together in my mind. Discuss!

Regarding the joke, I believe it is a longstanding conceit that the mentally handicapped can be extraordinarily physically strong and sexually incontinent (see, for example, Of Mice and Men or John Terry). The question of physical strength is defined scientifically here: http://tinyurl.com/3zu8mb6. Frankie Boyle parlayed this into incest with a sex symbol mother.

Steven said...

Rose and Gould: two sensitive geniuses who retreated from the public eye to spend years in the studio creating their insaniac masterpieces?

Thank you for educating me about that stereotype. I will certainly see Rain Man in a new light the next time I watch it?

sw said...

It is rumoured that in the original script, Hoffman was supposed to dry hump Cruise, but Cruise had the scene cut because he didn't want to be associated with anything that might be perceived as gay.

Steven said...

Yeah so but, Rain Man is a different kind of (stereo)typing, isn't it? Is your stereotype really so well defined and ubiquitous? Is it really a working stereotype of those with autism in particular? I'm not sure I buy it.

But even if I did buy it: the joke? It's just crap, isn't it?

sw said...

Yes and no and no and yes?

Daniel F said...

I don't think the "joke" about Harvey relied purely on a stereotype that all "mentally handicapped" people are particularly strong. It relied on the fact that Harvey is a very, very large child for his age.

It was a very targeted "joke", in that sense. I found it shatteringly unfunny, and I doubt even Frankie Boyle would try to argue that the real target of the joke was Katie Price's attention-seeking exploitation of her family, as Channel 4 risibly suggested.

sw said...

Thank you for pointing out that fact about the child - it does tend to make us think that the child was particularly targeted. I still think the joke was meant to operate on a general level as well.

I agree with you about the "real target" being the child and not Jordan's "attention-seeking exploitation of her family" (just about any comedian chastising someone else's attention-seeking exploitation of family is skating on thin ice indeed). I want to add to your point: Channel 4 also said that he was mocking her "behavior as a mother" and - what was it - something to do with a cavalier attitude towards relationships? Not only does that come across as a really crude moralism, on both counts, it utterly saps the "joke" itself of its own content: they are, in effect, saying "in a joke about her son, he's really slagging off a slut who's a shitty mother . . ." I think your choice of word - "risible" - is unfortunate to describe Channel 4's response; you're right, of course, to use the term, but it is not a propos. I'd prefer "cowardly" with "moral grandstanding" and "bullying" thrown in.