If you're feeling brave enough, let me take you by the hand and lead you away from the comforting inanity of Labour Hame, and back to the scary right-wing swamp that is Political Betting in its current state. Now, long-term readers of this blog may recall me referring in the past to 'Chris g00', one of the thoroughbred PB nutjobs. He once 'interrogated' me for hours, nay days, on why the SNP had "reneged" on its 2003 manifesto promise to hold an independence referendum. The answer was of course remarkably straightforward, ie. "the SNP lost the 2003 election", and as you'll appreciate it didn't change much no matter how many different ways he found of posing the question. But the poor chap was genuinely labouring under the misapprehension that he had me on the ropes, and repeatedly returned to the subject whenever he spotted me posting on the site in an effort to "embarrass" me. This delusional pattern has repeated itself in a number of slightly different forms ever since. But last night really took the biscuit, not least for the fact that one or two of the ostensibly saner Tory contributers to PB (including the Deputy Editor, no less) piled in on Mr g00's behalf, apparently unaware or unconcerned that they had become cheerleaders for a familiar and truly cretinous repertoire.
It started when g00 made this comment -
"Black youths beating English youths right now on virginmedia channel 525"
I immediately asked him if by "English" he really meant "white" - ie. was it impossible for black people to be English in his eyes? A different poster called 'Notme' immediately jumped in and claimed that English was indeed an exclusively ethnic identity, and that black people could be British, but not English. He even made the extraordinary claim that the English are "the indigenous ethnic group of these islands", before swiftly spotting the difficulty of trying to persuade a Scotsman to accept such a nonsensical line of argument.
And then Mr. g00 returned to the fray. He triumphantly informed me that he had not in fact been making a comment about black youths beating white youths in English cities, but had instead been making a joke about the Nigerian under-20 football team beating England.
Now of course, this changed absolutely nothing - the 'humour' in his thoroughly tasteless joke hinged entirely on an assumed clear distinction between 'English' people and 'black' people. If you don't feel there's such a distinction, the joke would never occur to you in the first place, and if you didn't expect to share that world view with others you wouldn't tell them the joke, because it wouldn't work. But in classic g00 fashion, all that mattered to him was that I had "fallen into his trap", and my queries about how the joke could possibly work (as he claimed) on an entirely "non-racial basis" were swatted away with the observation that I was continuing to dig a hole for myself and it was all highly entertaining. He promised to gloat about his little triumph at regular intervals over the coming days (just as he had done with my "inability to explain why the SNP had reneged on its 2003 manifesto pledges") - but then put that wizard plan on hold for a little while in favour of some shuteye.
Things then took a distinctly ugly turn as a number of g00's fellow Tory posters refused to countenance even the vaguest possibility that one of their own had told a tasteless joke, and claimed that the real issue was my own lack of a sense of humour. One of them eventually tried to "pull rank" on me by declaring that he was an Asian, that he found the joke funny, and that I should therefore "get over myself". I replied that his opinion of the joke was a matter for him, just as it would be if he also found Bernard Manning a riot. I was then informed that simply by mentioning the words "Bernard Manning" I had implied that the poster in question was a "coconut" and an "Uncle Tom". At some point "implied" mutated into "said", and by the morning it was an accepted truth among the PB Tory fraternity that I had not merely "called" an Asian poster a coconut, but that I had "racially insulted him". Just when I thought things couldn't get any better, the ever-delightful Mr g00 awoke from his slumber, determined to keep his promise to show me up at every opportunity for having fallen into his 'hilarious' trap.
Well, naturally I'm not a shrinking violet in such situations, so whenever he posted something like this...
"I don’t need to try, given posters on left and right all found fault with your response. Not a single person decided that on balance you had a point, and as I said the conversation ended with most calling you humourless, and two believing you racially offensive. Not bad for a nights work."
...I immediately fired back with something like this...
"Rubbish. Every single person who disagreed with me was a Tory, apart from one very brief and indirect comment from Nick Palmer which didn’t even mention me.
The classic PB syndrome : my Tory chums all agree with me, therefore I’ve been proved right."
And unsurprisingly his chums (the usual headbanger tendency) continued to support him, and I responded to them in robust fashion as well. But what really shocked me (although it shouldn't have done) was this spectacularly ill-judged and one-sided intervention from PB's Deputy Editor David Herdson, which had the distinct feel of a semi-official reprimand about it -
"You made yourself look silly last night when most people were sensibly asleep. You’re now making yourself look silly this morning and spamming up the thread.
You’re right in your assertions about the joke. Given, however, that you were the one who misinterpreted it on racial and ethnic lines, despite all the evidence being there to work out what it was talking about, I’d suggest you have a deep look at your own instincts as regards race and identity."
This point is so misconceived on so many levels that it's difficult to know where to start. It was literally impossible to 'misinterpret' the joke on racial or ethnic lines because there is no joke without the assumption that 'black' and 'English' are mutually-exclusive concepts. It works by assuming the listener will instantly accept that "black youths beating English youths" is a perfectly natural description of what has been happening on recent nights in many cities. If that acceptance is forthcoming, then it indeed probably is a sign that the listener needs to "look deeply at his instincts regarding race and identity". But did I instinctively accept that description as natural? No, Mr Herdson, what I instead did was challenge it - immediately. And in any case the purpose of the joke's punchline is not to spark a period of mature reflection on the part of the listener about any racist instincts which have just been exposed - the 'humour' instead lies in a kind of pleasurable complicity between the teller of the joke and the recipient, ie. "we both know what you were thinking, and why you were thinking it".
Dear God. Only in PB World could it be the person who challenged the racist premise of a joke who needs to "examine their instincts", rather than the person who told the joke or the people who found it funny. And only in PB World could it be the person who rebuts Mr g00's endless cretinous gloating that receives the semi-official reprimand for "spamming up the thread", rather than Mr g00 himself. I'm pleased to say that one or two posters did eventually offer a degree of support for the points I made, but all in all this episode is yet another sad example of what has gone so terribly wrong with that once fine website.