Around and about

by Chris Bertram on January 9, 2005

I’m just back from the Oxford Political Thought Conference, which was great fun. On my trip I managed to run into Chris Brooke of “The Virtual Stoa”: , Marc Mulholland of “Daily Moiders”: and Sarah of “Just Another False Alarm”: . I’ve met Chris before, but it was good to see the others as well and to compare blogospheric notes with Marc. Chris told me about “the fuss about the BBC’s broadcast”: of “Jerry Springer: The Opera”: . So of course I tuned in to this spendid TM production last night and greatly enjoyed such numbers as “Chick with a Dick” and “Mama Gimmee Smack on the A**hole”, before wowing to the Jerry in Hell special program complete with Jesus, God and the Virgin Mary. The microslice of the blogosphere that both hates the BBC _and_ was in a great lather of indignation over the British government’s incitement to religious hatred legislation (Melanie Phillips and co) is going to have a problem over this one. Here’s how I expect them to handle it: (a) they’ll argue that it exemplfies the double standards of a decadent culture (everyone is careful not to offend Muslims and Sikhs but Christians can be trashed with impunity) and (b) they’ll say that whilst _of course_ there should be no legal interference with speech, the BBC _is an exception_ , since, funded by licence-payers, it had an obligation not to transmit JSTO. Just my prediction, now let’s wait and see…



rob 01.09.05 at 1:27 pm

This is not fair. Not only is there an annual political thought conference in oxford which no-one tells me about, but there is an annual political thought conference in oxford at my college which no-one tells me about. I hope you liked Catz.

I remember reading in the Scotsman, over christmas, after the play in Birmingham was cancelled, a piece by someone who could only be described as a conservative christian and he was already calling for christians to riot to stop things they found offensive being on TV etc…

I’m still pissed off about the Catz thing.


Nick 01.09.05 at 1:40 pm

Surely at least one of them will also have to pen a piece telling us how JSTO isn’t really an opera, and thus the BBC is insulting fans of real opera by transmitting it.


Ophelia Benson 01.09.05 at 5:15 pm

New item for either dictionary or rhetoric guide, or perhaps both –

Great lather of indignation: criticism of something I think is a good thing. See demonization, bashing.

I know, I know, I’m going.


Chris Bertram 01.09.05 at 7:07 pm

Not having one of those Carly Simon moments are you Olivia?

Since I’m opposed to the legislation too, and single out Melanie Phillips, you might have worked out that it was the people who get cross about it _at the same time as_ banging on about our Judaeo-Christian moral heritage and the moral relativism of the BBC that I had in mind. I’m sure _you_ would have a great time at JSTO.


Ophelia Benson 01.09.05 at 7:16 pm

Olivia’s the detective. I’m not nearly as cool as she is.

I did work it out. But I still think it’s one of those irregular verb things. They’re in a lather, I’m rationally critical. I’m a great fan of irregular verbs myself, but I think it’s worth pointing them out all the same.


Danny 01.09.05 at 7:21 pm

I saw the show in London and wish I hadn’t. I was completely mystified by all the people around me who were enjoying themselves and by the critics who lauded the show. If ‘Jerry Springer’ is a great musical, then perhaps the genre of musical comedy has reached such a low that it should be put out of its misery.

My religious background isn’t Christian and in any case I’m not a believer so the blasphemy didn’t bother me. I don’t mind obscenities in works of art either – I do mind when there is nothing except obscenities – it offends my intelligence. And after 5 minutes it gets very old. Maybe it’s just me, but Jesus wearing a diaper doesn’t strike me as the height of wit.

The only decent review of ‘Jerry Springer’ I could find was this.


Chris Bertram 01.09.05 at 7:25 pm

Ouch, sorry Ophelia… I do know your name of course but brain and fingers must have refused to cooperate….


Ophelia Benson 01.09.05 at 7:54 pm

Quite all right, Chris! Happens a lot. Makes me feel muy macho.


Robin Green 01.09.05 at 8:03 pm

danny – Presumably – I mean, I don’t know – JSTO is intended to appeal to people who like to watch Jerry Springer in the first place?


Bob 01.09.05 at 9:03 pm

A few years back, I watched a couple of Jerry Springer espisodes on TV, enough to get the drift, and haven’t watched any since. In fact, I seldom watch any TV. Sometimes whole weeks pass by and I’ve not switched TV on but on this occasion, with all the protests and publicity over JSTO, I had to make an exception. If there was any outrage and disgust to be had, I wanted my full share to wallow in. Actually, I didn’t watch it so much as listen while surfing. It was terrible: I hardly stopped laughing all through. The thought seems not to have dawned on the protesters that JSTO was hugely moral. Much of the point of the countless obscenities was to show their inflated currency has devalued their power to shock or express anything meaningful. There again, perhaps that had dawned on the protesters and their intent was to generate publicity so a bigger audience would get the profoundly moral message of the performance. In the event, the official audience figure of 1.7 million was rather modest. At the time, there were far more popular diversions on offer on TV.


Alison 01.10.05 at 9:50 am

The music was mediocre, with a couple of notable exceptions (the extended counterpoint between Satan and Jesus which consisted just of the repeated syllables Fuuu, Fuuu, and Taaa, Taaa; and some of the work by Baby Jane and the Virgin Mary).

The concept itself was interesting. If our modern model of reconciliation is confrontation on TV, if it is ‘expressing yourself’ and ‘not bottling it up’, then what happens when we draft this model on to the old concept of duelling good and evil?

The result is that both the modern and the ancient concepts are shown to be flawed and inadequate: but the conclusion was nevertheless not entirely pessimistic. It’s not the deepest message in the world but neither is it trash.

The final point is that of course ‘Jesus Christ’ was not shown in a nappy. Instead Jerry Springer, while dying, hallucinates the problem of good and evil and transposes the real life (hem hem) people from his show into a theological fantasy.


Jimmy Doyle 01.10.05 at 11:11 am

“[T]hey’ll argue that it exemplfies the double standards of a decadent culture (everyone is careful not to offend Muslims and Sikhs but Christians can be trashed with impunity)…”

Yeah, I mean, what kind of totally hallucinogenic alternative reality are these people inhabiting? Just to state this view is to see how absurd it is!


ian 01.10.05 at 1:44 pm

And predicatably up pops the Adam Smith Institute.


mc 01.10.05 at 1:57 pm

This is a bit orthogonal to the thread here, but I don’t know how (or indeed whether) I can start a new one.

I’m just curious why so many are so strongly opposed to the UK government’s proposal to introduce a new offence of incitement to religious hatred – mentioned in the original post, and picked up in passing by a couple of commenters.

From the comments here, as well as from the wider media reaction, I take it that the opposition is based on a worry that introducing this new offence would threaten freedom of speech. Clearly such worries must always be taken seriously. But it strikes me that the current proposals do respect a fairly standard distinction in the free speech debate – that there should be no restriction on what you can say, but some on where and how you can say it.

This is the kind of argument we use, for example, to respond to the marchers in Northern Ireland: we don’t question their right to say what they want to say about catholics; rather, we question their right to do so in certain ways and places – in aggressive ways and predominantly catholic places.

Similarly, we tolerate people making racist comments, provided they don’t do so in an organised way, or with an evident intent to stir up hatred. This is why the laws on incitement to racial hatred are invoked only a handful of times each year.

Analogously, if the proposed new offence were introduced, it would not threaten, for example, people’s right to air their belief that Islam is an evil religion which preaches violent rape (cf the recent notorious BBC documentary) – provided they restricted themselves to airing this belief in organic gatherings in their local pub, rather than specially assembled meetings, targeted at areas where there are tensions between Muslims and other groups.

If we all agree that the latter kind of behaviour is genuinely nasty and harmful, the kind of thing we shouldn’t tolerate, if only we could find a way of preventing it which didn’t have worse spillover effects – and we just disagreed about whether the likely spillover effects are indeed worse – then I sympathise with both sides. What I find difficult to sympathise with is the view that any attempt to extend the law in this direction is not just a mistake but an obvious and crass one.

I also think it worth noting that the Muslim community has lobbied the government on this issue not on the basis of special pleading, but on the basis of the apparent inconsistency between the degree or kind of protection offered to two sets of faith groups – those who over the years have been recognised by the courts as also constituting ethnic groups (Sikhs, Jews), and those who have not. This, presumably, is the kind of reason-based contribution to political debate we all respect? That doesn’t mean it is correct or decisive (though I must say that one of the counter-arguments I have seen offered by liberals, namely that the inconsistency is merely apparent and not real because religious affiliation is ‘chosen’ while ethnic affiliation is not – strikes me as a bit shallow and simplistic); but it does mean the issue, and the actual proposals being put forward, demand a serious debate rather than an easy dismissal as just another example of this government’s supposedly casual way with civil liberties.


Tracy 01.10.05 at 4:55 pm

Chris – you mean you don’t see a distinction between requiring people to tolerate something they find deeply offensive, and requiring people to not only tolerate but fund it?

I do not believe that a government should achieve 100% consensus before undertaking any action, so of course in practice I do support at times people being required to fund things they find offensive. But I do still see a distinction – and I do think that the arguments for government funding of the arts are weak enough that people’s tastes should be taken heavily into view. And, more generally, it does not strike me as irrational to make a policy distinction between the two situations. To take a more important example than the Jerry Springer opera, one can firmly oppose both honour-killings and forcing parents to pay for their children’s weddings to people they disapprove of.


Peter Briffa 01.10.05 at 5:01 pm


Our Melanie actually liked the show, and has written a rave review in today’s Daily Mail about it.

As for the BBC, well I’d privatise it, close it down, and plant landmines down all the corridors.

Well, until they bring back the Black and White Minstrel Show, anyway.


clive 01.10.05 at 8:26 pm

On JTSO itself, I thought it was rather banal. It didn’t seem to me to say anything which isn’t pretty obvious from watching the actual show; most of it is just a ‘typical’ show set to music. And the Devil/Jesus stuff was funny, but a lot less edgy than the Devil stuff in South Park the movie, IMHO. There are lots of interesting things that Jerry Springer might tell us about our culture. JSTO didn’t seem to me to explore any of them much.


Chris Bertram 01.10.05 at 9:21 pm

Well, as Peter B points out, I sure was wrong about Melanie this time… William Rees-Mogg stepped up to the plate, though.


Ben 01.11.05 at 12:05 pm

The letter writer to Tuesday’s Daily Telegraph put it best.

He questioned why we, the taxpayer, should pay for superstitious twaddle and demanded forthwith that songs of praise be removed from the BBC schedules.

And that’s pretty much the argument really. In *my* perfect world, the BBC would have no religious scheduling. I’ve yet to riot about it, however.


Jerry 01.13.05 at 2:22 pm

Regarding your dissing of Melanie Phillips on the main page. Are you going to post an update?

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