Friday Night with Jonathan Ross - 23rd October 2009
Tim Minchin was the third guest on last week's Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. Before chatting to Jonathan, Tim was invited to perform a song he'd specially written for the occasion.
During the performance the TV audience saw a couple of carefully posed views of the house band in the foreground, wearing T-shirts with Boy George logos, and Jonathan's guests - including Boy George - looking on (see screen shot above)
On Tuesday I promised to examine the lyrics.
The word 'poof' is offensive. It was used by a contestant on Channel 4's Big Brother in 2007. There were many complaints, with people comparing the seriousness with that of a racist word. Guidelines published jointly by Channel 4 & Five in 2008 state: "As with ethnic minorities and the disabled, the casual or insensitive use of offensive terms, such as ‘poof' or ‘queer', can cause serious offence, regardless of intention."
Two days ago Jeremy Paxman suggested that the word 'poof' is no longer heard on television. The following is taken from an item on Newsnight (28 October 2009) -
Paxman: Can you really do comedy without ever offending?
Paxman: There are some things you'd never see now:
(clip from BBC comedy programme 1975 - with English actor playing a Sikh)
(clip from BBC comedy programme 1970 (B&W))
Man (1970 clip): He fancies you.
Paxman: And there are some things you'd never hear now:-
Man (1970 clip): He's a poof. ....
Obviously Jeremy was wrong, as he'd know if he watched Friday Night with Jonathan Ross. But Newsnight, as we've seen, was right to indicate that 'poof' is offensive. The simple truth is that without collusion from Jonathan's house band, the BBC would no more be able to broadcast the word 'poof' than it would be able to use any other offensive term about a minority group.
So, simply put, Jonathan's house band confers a spurious legitimacy to the use of an offensive term. This is clearly appreciated both by Ross and his house band, and also by the BBC (see blog 26 October 2009). That this situation has been allowed to continue for so long is also partly due to Ofcom's complicity, though if their recent consultation document on Equality and Diversity is to be believed this should be about to change.
Tim Minchin's song plays a blinder, in that it subtly misleads listeners by referring to "the best solution to the problem you're inevitably having" with gay men in the house band. The song goes on to suggest that the licence-paying public don't want the BBC to employ LGBT people on the show, and spends time detailing examples of Daily Mail-type letters of indignation. Despite the insinuation that the BBC is worried about pressure from homophobes, I'd hazard a guess that the more substantive problem Ross and the BBC "are inevitably having" is from those who support equality and diversity, and who object to the word 'poof' and to the demeaning way Jonathan introduces his house band each week.
Just as Tim's song plays a blinder with Jonathan's public, so did Jonathan with Jeremy Piven three weeks ago (blogged on 13 October 2009). In both cases the suggestion is that opposition to Jonathan's house band results from prejudice. Jeremy Piven is a diverse-friendly actor, and Jonathan Ross knew that fact full well.