It was inevitable, really, wasn’t it? Obama orders Guantánamo to be closed, knife robberies and burglaries are up in the UK, Gaza smugglers get back to work — and the story that everybody seems to be talking about most is Jonathan Ross’s return to television after his three-month ban for making lewd calls with Russell Brand to the actor Andrew Sachs.
And, of course, it’s just as inevitable that I feel I have to say something further on this quite ridiculous state of affairs.
Initially, because of the involvement of Andrew Sachs, I considered this “prank”, or whatever you want to call it, a joke too far. His granddaughter, in my opinion, was fair game, but to involve him in that way… it just left a rather bad taste (as the “dancer” said to the “comedian”). In the intervening months, however, with the BBC continually being pushed to monitor and restrict more rigidly what their presenters say, I find my more usual stance coming to the fore on this matter.
It is time to take a step back, yet again, ladies and gentlemen, and survey this whole episode — and all similar episodes — more rationally, without the knee-jerk response of “that’s offensive!”
What really made me sit up and take notice today was a reference that some guy made on BBC News 24 to an earlier comment Jonathan Ross had made to David Cameron — Ross asking Cameron whether he had fantasised about Margaret Thatcher. This was given as evidence of Jonathan Ross’s recidivistic tendencies. He’s a bad boy now and he’s always been a bad boy. Why? Because he makes jokes about people in positions of power/authority? Because the jokes push the boundaries of good taste? I’m sorry, but this kind of joke is very different to the mistakes he would later make — and the very suggestion that such humour should be somehow eradicated, or even edited, is, frankly, unacceptable and deeply disturbing.
As Kurt Vonnegut said “The best jokes are dangerous, and dangerous because they are in some way truthful.”
Such humour plays a vitally important role in our society. Its purpose is to challenge, to say the things that we feel we cannot say ourselves. To impose restrictions, to pander to the simpering, politically correct idiots who are scared to offend anyone and everyone, is a further imposition — a further dilution of our right to express an opinion, however unorthodox.
Jonathan Ross made an error of judgement. Speaking for myself, I’d much rather live in a world where such mistakes can occur than one where the censorship of the imagined masses removes all possibility of their ever happening.