I must admit a lingering fondness for Radio 5 Live’s saturday morning panel show, Fighting Talk. I’ve gotten out of the habit of listening the last six months or so, admittedly, but it’s perfect for an inconsistent prawn sandwich sort of football fan like me, normally pretty amusing in a low level way and littered with comedy sound effects.
Now it’s in trouble…again. For people who have better things to do on a saturday morning, the show puts four sports journalists, comedians or whatever against each other in best-pundit-wins battle, with points awarded on an avowedly arbitrary basis by jocular chain-smoking Ulsterman Colin Murray. At the end of the show, the two contestants out in front compete to ‘defend the indefensible’ – mount a case for an utterly inappropriate proposition in 20 seconds or less. Wikipedia’s random examples, which are as good as any, are: “I’d gladly drink a pint of Maradona’s liposuction fat for Comic Relief”; “Cricket has been cheapened now common people and ladies have jumped on the bandwagon” and “I believe the annual Oxford-Cambridge boat race should take place in Iranian territorial waters”.
On Monday, Bob Mills was asked to argue that he would be able to cure Clare Balding’s lesbianism. He may have made a good case, or not; it might have been funny, or not. Some of us will never know, because as soon as the shriek-o-sphere had its inevitable collective hernia, the BBC panicked and edited the offending bit out of the podcast. You can still hear Colin Murray disclaiming the segment thus:
We don’t mean what we’re saying. The point is to defend the indefensible. I’m going to get it tattooed across my forehead, because every week, someone complains.
It really is very, very simple, isn’t it? It’s a concept so simple that even Colin Murray, a man who apparently thinks a forehead tattoo will get a point across on radio, can understand it.
Julie Bindel can’t.
“If I were to count the number of times I have been told by a man that all I need is “a good seeing to” to turn me straight I would be dizzy,” she complains. “If anyone is in any doubt that the discussion of Balding was rooted in sexism, remember that it was also suggested on the programme that she should be made to present racing coverage topless, and Mills joked that Balding was a “horse woman” who “appreciates power between her thighs”. Please!”
In fact, the exact reverse is the case; the routine is based exactly on modern right-on liberal mores. The whole point of that little rhetorical quarantine – indefensible – is to produce, if you’ll forgive me, a ‘safe space’ where the unreconstructed maleness of sports fandom can deprecate itself; the whole thing is dripping with irony. Bindelite feminism wouldn’t know irony if it offered to give her a good seeing to. It doesn’t reinforce sexism any more than it challenges sexism – it takes sexism out of the garage, kicks it around the park for 20 seconds and puts it back. No harm, or good, is done. Neither is the point of a saturday morning sports panel show, surely.
I note that she doesn’t bother to quote the ‘defence’ of the notion that Balding should present the racing sans brassiere…it would be a tougher sell, after all, seeing as the defendant was Martin Kelner, erstwhile Guardian colleague and resolutely right-on beta-male, who walked the liberal line with admirable precision.
In any case, if the Clare Balding jokes are sexist, then the aforementioned proposition about oiks taking over cricket is presumably offensive to about 99% of the show’s audience. It’s amazing that nobody complained! But then, nobody would; just as none of the substantial Liverpool crowd raised more than a good-humoured middle finger to the scouse-baiting jokes on the same broadcast. Only people who are, in effect, paid to take offence at meaningless things can be bothered.