Thursday 2 May 2013

Beware the language police!

I think there's a point being missed in all this Calman stooshie. And it's not a point about Susan Calman - who is all but irrelevant to the issue. On the basis of her reported comments I would dismiss Calman as a second or third-rate wannabe comedian who has essayed a bit of satire without grasping the essential point that the crucial prerequisite of effective satire is a solid grasp of the subject matter. To this the good satirist will add some hopefully thought-provoking observational quirkiness that causes amusement.

Satire points up uncomfortable truths. Satire does not perpetuate the myths that prop up conventional power.

Satire is clever, in every sense of that term. I see no evidence of cleverness in Calman's remarks about the referendum debate. I see only a crude and distinctly unfunny resort to facile stereotypes and lazy misconceptions. Criticising a self-proclaimed comedian for failure in their chosen craft is not abuse. It is merely criticism.

Satire also takes a stand. Something which Calman assiduously avoids doing. Satire is committed. It has a point to make. There is no such thing as idle satire. It is never benign. It always has a target and it should never be in doubt who or what the target is. Calman tried to pass off as satire something that plainly wasn't the real deal. It is right that her audience should feel short-changed. Perhaps even cheated.

But neither is satire or humour the real point here. This is not about whether something is funny or not. There is no possibility of a definitive answer to that question. Evidently, some people thought Calman's tediously unoriginal comments were hilarious. I can only feel as embarrassed for them as I do for her. Poking a stick at the political establishment is a worthy pursuit. Pandering to ill-informed prejudice only serves to expose those afflicted by such prejudice.

The real point here is the way in which the anti-independence campaign has leapt upon what was, for the most part, no more than a perfectly unremarkable and entirely predictable reaction to an equally unremarkable and commonplace attempt at comedy that turned out to be somewhat ill-judged and just plain unfunny. Rather than discussing some insignificant performer, we should be taking a close look at the political players in all of this. Rather than asking questions about the nature of comedy, we should be asking what is the purpose of the hysterical sensationalising of a few critical comments.

What does the anti-independence campaign hope to achieve by making such an inordinate fuss about something of so little substance?

There is, of course, the obvious propaganda angle. The ongoing effort to create an impression of independence supporters as a bitter, bilious mob. It is a variation of a propaganda technique known as projection or flipping in which you take whatever it is that you are open to being accused of and accuse your opponent of doing the same thing - but first and worst. You see it all the time as evident racists attempt to brand their opponents as racist.

But the ultimate purpose is more insidious. The aim is to channel and constrain debate by intimidation. To have every independence supporter afraid to put their head above the parapet for fear of being branded with whatever unpleasant epithet is currently in vogue with the largely unionist mainstream media.

This is the kind of power that the media loves to wield just for its own sake - making it all the easier for the political propagandist to turn that power to their own purposes. It is the power commonly deployed in the ever-popular game of Let's Force A Resignation! But the game here is to make every pro-independence voice hesitant and wary. To make everyone who would speak out for the restoration of Scotland's rightful constitutional status over-cautious to the point of banality.

It is an attempt, not only to dictate the terms of the debate, but to control, without even the pretence of impartiality, the very language in which that debate is conducted. The distillation of the unionists' argument here - eagerly and unthinkingly picked up on by those anxious to be perceived as "good" nationalists - is that opponents of independence have unfettered freedom of expression while others must self-censor or suffer the consequences.

I, for one, will have none of it! I am happy to defend Susan Calman's right to be as embarrassingly unfunny as she wants. But the quid pro quo is my right to say just how unfunny and out of her depth I find her. And to say it in my own way without being subject to the dour rigours of some self-appointed language police.

This is the most important political debate in any of our lifetimes! If that is not cause for passion then what is? Unionists would suck all the passion out of the debate leaving only the cold calculations of the dismal science and a litany of smears and fears to which we are permitted to respond with nothing stronger than a bit of heavy tutting.

Fuck that!
Enhanced by Zemanta


  1. Roddy Macdonald2 May 2013 at 15:07

    Excellent article, Peter.

  2. Nicely put my own views in cartoon form.

    1. I've pinned that! And will be following your efforts with interest. Excellent work!

  3. Spot on. Independence is all about passion, ambition, spirit, freedom. If we are to be bullied into banal mutterings, we'll never get there as you sharply note in your final flourish!

  4. Well said Peter. I am not sure to what extent Calman is a "willing party" but frankly couldn't give a toss. As you rightly say, this is FAR TOO IMPORTANT. Not just for us, but for our families to come.

  5. Well said Peter.

    I have always mistakenly considered your tweets and blogs as a parody of a frothing cybernat.

    I accept that in this I have been completely wrong.

    May I offer a complete apology to you.

    Keep up the good work.

    Yours for Scotland


  6. My thoughts exactly -- she wasn't even a 3rd rate comedian; she would have been a poor show guest. Hard to listen to this person who so obviously delights in her supposed humour (that comes across as the height of amateurish behaviour from a comic) and whose quips were frankly embarrassing. Terribly unfunny - a caricature of witless drivel. I found the same to be true of the Have I Got News For You though the 'tramps' quip made me laugh, yet the other quips were awful. They were awful because caricature is extremely limited in humour and Mars Bars for money left one uninterested and wondering where these ordinarily intelligent people somehow lose the plot when Scotland is the subject. Calman - the daughter of the Calman commission guy - should be looking for a new career path. Perhaps she could replace Ruth Davidson, they seem to have a shared view of Scotland and neither are funny.

    1. Interesting point about how "ordinarily intelligent people somehow lose the plot when Scotland is the subject". Might be worth exploring in a future blog. Thanks.

  7. Absolutely brilliant as usual

  8. Fabulously eloquent argument. A pleasure to read and a point well made. As usual.
    Thanks Peter.