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A close call

Just back from Aberdare in South Wales. (Note to Kathryn: places whose names begin ‘Aber’ are nearly always in Wales. This will allow you to blag your way through geographical conversations. There are of course exceptions, like Aberdeen in Scotland, and Abba, who were from Sweden and weren’t even really a town at all.) Tonight’s show demonstrated the limitations of the Request Stops idea because, although someone in Aberdare must have wanted me to show up, most of the rest of the town felt differently. On the other hand, the next few shows – Basingstoke, Northampton, Aldershot, Winchester – have all sold healthily, so, y’know, it’s all about the area, isn’t it? And South Wales has generally been good to me, but Alan Carr and Sarah Millican were in nearby Cardiff tonight and it’s not easy to compete with People Off The Proper Television. Overall, no complaints.

The Gervais thing seems to have simmered down by now. I’m glad I didn’t write a blog about it, because some of the remarks directed at Richard Herring for his (well-reasoned) points of view almost gave me Frankie flashbacks. I shouldn’t think Richard would care about insults from people who’ve little idea who he is, but I know from experience that I would. I’ll just quickly note that although language does evolve constantly – as I’m fond of arguing myself – comedy at the moment is in danger of cementing more harmful and old-fashioned stereotypes than it erodes, and certain comics seem to think there’s absolutely no problem with that, even as they adopt apparently right-on stances on other issues. If you think there’s any chance a word you’re using might cause misery to the vulnerable, it seems a bit rash to tweet it casually as you’re sitting in your millionaire pad. It’s all very well saying ‘gay’ doesn’t mean ‘happy’ any more, because users’ consensus has modified its meaning over 50 years. But one of the ways in which it’s been modified is that millions of schoolkids now use ‘gay’ to mean ‘bad’, e.g. ‘it’s really gay we have Physics on a Monday’. In fact plenty of much older people do that as well, and the net result is a continuation of negative associations with homosexuality. No one actually thinks you’re saying that Physics is a homosexual subject, but the sense of insult endures all the same. The moral of the story: you can let words go in any direction you like, but you’re still in charge of them, and they always have the potential to do harm. Using a word which you know to be politically or socially volatile, and then saying ‘pff, it’s just a word, cool down guys’ is a bit like letting off fireworks in the high street and going ‘hey, it’s just explosives, it’s not my fault if someone gets in the way’.

But luckily I’m not blogging on this subject because if you speak up too much, you get hate-tweets, and then you get called a cunt and end up in the Independent. Phew. Close call there.

This blog will self-destruct tomorrow morning, just in case.

14 Responses

  1. Charles says:

    I have to say that I often use the word gay to illustrate something as bad. It’s a bit childish to be honest and I know I have a far better literary index in my mind that goes unused but it’s the easy option isn’t it? I will however always be mindful of who I’m talking to or might be in earshot. If I have ever offended someone I have never been afraid to admit my wrong doings and apologise. Maybe others should be more like this?

  2. Kathryn says:

    Thanks for the advice. In my defence, one of my friends was convinced that Cornwall was a city in Wales, so I could be worse… Most of our arguments end up being resolved by consulting Google Maps.

  3. I went to see Adam Hills tonight in Oxford. He was very gay, as in happy. And very funny too, had never seen him before. Reminded me of you, a naturally funny person rather than someone just telling jokes.

    Have managed to get a couple of seats for the Swindon gig (sighs of relief in the Penrose household). They are in the front row of the Circle to the left of the stage, the two closest to the front. I think if I bring peanuts I may be able to throw them from there and you can catch them in your mouth. Just a thought if you feel so inclined. I hope I can catch you after the show as I will have hubby with me, I think I said before he has never seen your show, only the IMDW pilot recording, so I am hoping he will understand why I am such a fan. Having said that he has read your books, so he is well aware of your literary talents.

    Thanks for doing this blog every night, you make an old woman very happy with your ramblings …

    And so to bed. Nite xxx

  4. ChrisP says:

    Mark, you do make a very good point sometimes.

  5. Rick Procter says:

    Right on, dood. Did you see Derren’s tweet? “Would only add that Mark Watson is a v fine chap RT @RichardWiseman: why no one has the right not to be offended…”

  6. Knox says:

    i think you’ve done a rather brilliant job here, given of course you weren’t really making any sort of comment on this whatsoever. my non-comments on this are of exactly the same nature.

  7. Rikki says:

    Long time reader, first time commenter. I’ve been prompted to delurk by your eloquently argued non-blog. The careless normalisation of negative associations is something of a pet peeve, and it was so nice to read what you wrote here. Thank you for saying it so well.

    PS. I live in Singapore, where you wrote that memorable post about the September 11 anniversary. I figured out a couple of days later that I was actually in Changi Airport while you were there, which was rather thrilling in an “almost-encounter with a notable person” kind of way. I just flew in from Kuala Lumpur, while you were on your way to Australia. Now, doesn’t that provide context to your international jet-setting life-style?

  8. Sam says:

    The whole Gervais argument of reclaiming the word Ming just reminded me of Clerks 2 when Randall decides to reclaim the term porch monkey as an “endearment” used by his granny. Seems that Kevin Smith gets it better than Ricky because the joke’s on Randall.

  9. Sam says:

    Ha!! My phone’s predictive text replaced mong with Ming! No offense was intended to ancient Chinese dynasties!

  10. Lydia says:

    You’ve said the right thing, as usual. I’m glad it’s all simmering down really, talking about it makes me too cross at the moment. I feel like the time when society stops being crap towards disabled people is not incoming. Especially with disability living allowance being taken away.

  11. Misha says:

    Redgarding the Abers, it’s all in the lilt of the way you say it. The Welsh say it more abur.

    Anyway, as a great big gay (make of that what you will) I think you’ve made a well reasoned point there Watson. And you’re not a cunt.

  12. Jen says:

    Ermmm I’m tired otherwise I promise I would have blown u all away with my articulate n thought provoking yet exactly the same views!Jx

  13. Rachael says:

    I’m glad you aren’t going to blog about it because it makes me angry when people say horrible things about you, but if you were to say any of those things above, you would be right. As always.

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