Thursday, 17 October 2013

Roy Hodgson's Monkey

Roy Hodgson has put his tongue in it again. Or rather he hasn’t but some people are acting as though he has and all the way down to his boots... What he did do is tell an old joke about NASA sending a monkey into space alongside an astronaut. The monkey is asked to perform all manner of technical operations and the astronaut is dismayed to find himself with nothing to do. He asks NASA if he can do something important. They reply: ‘you can in 15 minutes when you feed the monkey’. Bum bum tish. Or perhaps not…

Most right minded people (and Wayne Rooney) have said that Hodgson had nothing to apologise for but Piara Powar, the executive director of Football Against Racism in Europe, used Twitter to complain that: "Hodgson used very silly term within a diverse team environment. He should know better. Assume it wasn't a Freudian slip, no evidence to suggest it was. Some players will see it as reflection of the crude language still used by some coaches and attitudes that still prevail."

We are meant to infer that ‘crude language’ in this instance is the word ‘monkey’, which, I could easily point out, insults my distant relatives by turning their species into a term of offense. We can assume that given the modern climate, nobody involved in football can ever use the word 'monkey'. So there’s no use of that old polite saying about being a ‘cheeky monkey’, no PG Tips in the dressing room, not even the sportsman’s favourite bananas to replace energy during the game…

Of course, it’s an utterly stupid, reductive, and tedious story which I would normally ignore had Hodgson not issued a statement.
‘I would like to apologise if any offence has been caused by what I said at half-time. There was absolutely no intention on my part to say anything inappropriate.’

This kind of apology has become commonplace these days. People apologise if offence was caused even if it wasn’t intended. I’d like somebody to explain the thought process that leads to this kind of specious reasoning. Who decides if offence was caused? Who decides if the offence was justifiable offence? What would happen if the person feeling offence was a rabid right-wing loon, spouting nationalistic nonsense? What if they’re offended by the colour of a person’s skin or their speaking the wrong language or with the wrong accent? Who is to judge what is righteous offence and what is intolerant rubbish? I personally find Hodgson’s apology offensive and I’d like an apology for that, except I doubt if one will be coming.

The problem with this kind of utterly dumb media-driven story is that it distracts from the real problems of racism in our culture. It gives ammunition to people who want to dismiss every aspect of PC culture. Of course, I’ve argued before that PC culture is self-defeating and it is for precisely the kind of problems associated with Hodgson’s non-error.

A teacher friend told me just the other day of something that happened in her classroom. A student was asked where they’d put their homework. ‘I put it in the box,’ he said. ‘Which box?’ she asked. ‘I can’t tell you, Miss. It would be racist.’ It turned out that he’d put the homework into a black cardboard box but was frightened of using the term ‘black’ lest it offend.

It reminded me a similar situation that happened to me. A few years ago I used to teach a basic course on structuralism to university undergraduates. One of the things we’d discuss is why bad guys always wear black in movies and, occasionally, somebody would try to argue that associating the colour black with evil was terribly racist and we should now know better than that. Of course, the only racism evident was their associating blackness with the colour of a person’s skin. The correct answer was that bad guys wear black because our ancestors undoubtedly feared the night and dark places. Evil would have been thought to lurk in dark places. It's why ancient mystery rites always used to take place in deep dark caves. It means that our horror stories are rarely set during the daytime. Nobody is ever frightened of entering the old well lit mansion. Ghost don’t wander the graveyard after the church bell has tolled noon. Simply put: it's more frightening not to be able to see where you're going than when you have a clear path.

What does this have to do with Roy Hodgson and his monkey? I suppose it just shows that we live in ridiculously fretful yet hypocritical times. Hodgson is in trouble for telling an utterly benign story about a monkey going into space whilst Grand Theft Auto 5 continues to be sold by every high street retailer whilst teaching our youth (most of whom aren’t even old enough to legally buy the game) the most vile kinds of racial stereotypes and is littered with the very word that has effectively be stricken from our language, edited out of our great literary texts.

With such idiots supposedly on the side of the angels, is it any wonder that bigots prevail?


  1. The white man is forever in apology; it is getting truly ridiculous. And the comments on the literary link themselves show the prejudices: “The far right is known for its virulent racism…” And the left is beyond any reproach? Hypocrisy writ large.

    To make it even worse, the target of the comment was not offended – others now feel it beholden upon themselves to be offended on behalf of others, presumably because of the assumption that the poor “victims” are too stupid to recognize an offence.

  2. Laughable, isn’t it? There are so many problems with our society that the media never (or rarely) address or ignored in the past (cough, Jimmy Savile) yet they focus on this nonsense. I bet the BBC is rife with forms of discrimination which are never addressed, from their hostility towards older presenters to the attitudes most southerners have towards those of us in the north.

    As to Conrad, I was just reading through those comments myself and some of them are jaw-achingly bad. Conrad was a racist according to the same people that would probably condemn John Donne for being a misogynist. The problem is these idiots judge the lives of these men with such righteous belief in their own modern moral purity. Should there be a new crime created or recognised in, say, 50 years, how many of us would be guilty? Energy abusers? Climate change deniers? Climate change advocates?

    The problem is that there's no room for difficulty in modern debates. There is no room to consider the complexity of the real world, no shades of grey, just white and that other colour...

  3. I try to take solace in the belief that what goes around comes around; this will be proven when the term "nigger" can be applied to a black person by a white person with the same lack of recriminations as the word "honky" as applied by black folk to white folk is. Is the word "nigger" more offensive than "honky" (and similar)? No. Should either or both words be banned, to avoid the risk of offending someone? No. Should we feel pity (or, even worse, "empathy") for anyone offended? Once more, no.

    After many decades in this country, I do regard myself as English; others might disagree with me. I hold to the philosophy that it is not possible to offend a true Englishman (or woman, if you insist on being PC) - and there is only one way to offend a Scotsman, a Welshman or an Irishman (or, if you wish to reflect these entire isles, Manxmen, Channel Islanders, Scilly folk, and the Islanders) and that is to call them English. Under that philosophy, I sail through life, utterly oblivious to all insults.