Silly season is turning us all into Mary Whitehouse
When I was a teenager, I had a bit of an obsession with Mary Whitehouse and her campaign group, the National Viewers’ and Listeners’ Association. For those of you too young to remember Mrs Whitehouse, she was an extremely famous, and extremely conservative, wannabe censor of everything she didn’t like.
You name it, she didn’t like it. From things as harmless as the old versions of Doctor Who to plays with the ‘F’ word or shows which showed a bare boob, Whitehouse and her cronies would be quickly on to all the newspapers in the land, expressing their fury and demanding people be jailed for blasphemy or indecency.
So why did a young me, who loved the things she hated, develop such a weird obsession with her?
After all, she was the personification of everything I detested — the archetypal busybody with too much time on their hands, fretting that someone, somewhere was having a good time.
Well, the answer is quite simple — I’ve always had a morbid fascination with views that are objectively, demonstrably silly, and in particular, the silly people who spout those views.
I remember friends of mine who used to start frothing at the mouth whenever her name was mentioned. But I always took a perverse enjoyment out of her furious tirades against the permissive society which terrified her so much.
What, I often wondered, was her problem? As we subsequently learned after her death, she enjoyed the publicity as much as she hated the things she complained about and she has become the template for her censorious descendants today. Most of them would barely have heard of her, but they use the same tactics, updated for the internet age, and seem to derive the same sense of weird satisfaction whenever they are able to force their views on to other people.
I once debated one of her successors on Irish radio. The chap, perfectly pleasant yet weirdly sinister, wanted to ban Natural Born Killers. Perhaps unsurprisingly, I didn’t. He actually boasted that he hadn’t seen the film. Nor had he any intention of ever seeing such filth. However, he had seen a trailer and read some of the reviews, so as far as he was concerned, anyone who disagreed with him was obviously the sort of person who would like to go on a murderous killing spree, à la the two main characters from the film.
Some of the listeners went mad. The host thought he was a weirdo.
Me? Well, what can I say. Sometimes something is just so bonkers and, yes, silly that you have to admire it. After all, it takes a special kind of stupid to want to stop people watching something you’ve never seen.
Also, there was the real sense that this was a generation and a mindset that was rapidly dying out, and once they were gone, we could all enjoy whatever we wanted without the busybodies wagging their fingers at us.
I was brought back to those more innocent times when I saw this week that more than 130,000 people have signed a petition to ban Netflix comedy Insatiable.
According to the petition, Insatiable “will kill young girls... cause untold harm... objectifies the female body” and my favourite, “it celebrates revenge”.
Jesus Christ! What the hell are Netflix pumping into our living rooms?
Well, as it happens, Insatiable is a high-school comedy about an overweight and bullied teenager who loses weight over the summer, goes back to school and starts to get her own back on those who had tormented her. But here’s the really silly bit — the show doesn’t even start until next month. Just like my ban-happy friend who had only seen the trailer for NBK, the organisers saw a 30-second promo clip for Insatiable and their first thought was — I don’t like the look of this so I demand that it never be shown. These are the updated, modernised version of Descartes: I feel, therefore I am. Or more accurately, I feel, therefore you better do what I want.
The only difference between the likes of Mary Whitehouse and the modern breed of wannabe censor is that the newer version have a habit of actually succeeding in their aims. But contrary to the lazy stereotypes, it’s not only liberal ‘snowflakes’ (God, I hate that bloody word) who have developed a blood lust. Dan Harmon, creator of Community and Rick and Morty, has been forced to delete his Twitter account after a bunch of alt-righters found some old sketches of his that they didn’t like and launched such a campaign that he is struggling to keep his job.
Why? Well, as one person put it: “They got Roseanne Barr’s scalp, we’ll get one of theirs.” This is pop culture as gang war, a sort of Twitterati tit-for-tat that leaves everyone the loser. Both sides of this infernal cultural struggle are now so busy piling up the body count of their so-called enemies that, sooner or later, nobody will say a thing for fear of attracting the vicious attacks from one side or the other. Because let’s be honest, when the bullets are flying in your direction, it really doesn’t matter who is firing them.
There was a time when only silly people wanted to ban things or get people sacked. Now everyone’s at it — because feelings, don’t you know. Yes, we’re all Mary Whitehouse now. And that’s not just silly, it’s terrifying.
Let’s be honest, when the bullets are flying in your direction, it really doesn’t matter who is firing them
‘Celebrating revenge’: More than 130,000 people have signed a petition to ban Netflix show Insatiable, and, inset, Mary Whitehouse