Kilroy, darts, and the respectable working class.
- Everybody’s talkin’ about me
Hands up anyone who does not have an opinion about Robert Kilroy-Silk. Any takers? No, I didn’t think so. Everywhere you turn at the moment, someone is telling you that what he said about the Arabs was either pernicious nonsense or fair criticism of the brutal nature of many Arab states. Print, electronic and TV commentators have been popping up in scores to defend or denounce him. He is the talk of pubs, email correspondents and internet messageboards. It is a fascinating phenomenon.
It is ostensibly strange that some rather oafish words written in a newspaper not read by many people, from a person not generally revered as a political heavyweight, should cause such a commotion. Robert Kilroy-Silk was hitherto recognised as a slightly smarmy presenter of Kilroy, a daytime TV programme in which the less refined elements of British society exchange ill-informed opinions and holler at each other.
Who cares what he thinks? I mean, if some famous historian or philosopher had written that Arabs were ‘loathsome… suicide bombers, limp-amputators [and] women repressors’ who had contributed little if nothing to human civilisation, a comparable response would be understandable. Kilroy-Silk is but a Sunday Express rent-a-hack, much like Julie Burchill (who, incidentally, writes equally offensive stuff about Muslims on a weekly basis). They are there less to inform than to entertain.
The key lies to one word that, it is reported, was removed by sub-editors. Rather than levelling his invective at ‘Arab states’, his article referred to ‘Arabs’ – which indeed gives the piece an absurd and racist slant. On another count, his assertion that we have nothing to thank the Arabs for is just wrong. One has only to think of their contribution to science, medicine and technology. They gave us the number ‘0’ and invented algebra.
But it is disturbing the way that individuals and organisations, such as the BBC and Commission for Racial Equality (CRE), have come down on him. It is consistent with today’s climate of ‘liberalism’, the motto for which has become ‘I will defend to the death your right to agree with me’. The reaction is alarming, not merely in its affront to free speech, but for what it reveals about our true feeling towards Arabs and Muslims (apparently, everyone now thinks these are the same thing).
As has been pointed out, you can describe Americans as planet-spoiling, gun-toting nutcases who are addicted to burgers and capital punishment. It’s fine to write about ‘Kosher Conspiracies’ and Israelis being modern-day Nazis who should be shot. This is because Jews and Americans are not a threat to us.
On the other hand, some people seem terrified of pointing out some home truths about some Arab states. We mustn’t upset the Muslims. They’re a terribly volatile lot, you know, and if you do they’ll get even angrier and start hijacking more planes. Shhh! Don’t cause any trouble! Show fawning, blanket tolerance and punish anyone who threatens to rock the boat.
It seems that those who want to hush Kilroy-Silk do so not because they disagree with him, but because they share his prejudices. And while some of these prejudices are legitimate, some are not.
….or maybe, as the old slogan goes, it’s all about oil.
- Tokyo, not telly
On my days working from home I try to avoid programmes such as Kilroy and Trisha. I find them too depressing. Jerry Springer is fine – a ‘ha ha’ look at America’s sad underclass with their mullets and comical redneck accents. But when you watch our domestic variety, one can no longer afford to feel smug. They always seem to feature bickering simpletons and the hopelessly unemployable.
This is not some kind of class prejudice on my behalf. I merely lament the fact that a respectable working class has been replaced by an idle underclass. It’s rather unfashionable these days to talk of the dwindling ‘respectable working-class’. To do so is thought of as patronising. But what is wrong in having an ethic of self-betterment, in believing in self-dignity and hard work? A friend of mine at school came from an old-fashioned respectable working-class family from Bethnal Green, East London. His father was a caretaker; he himself went to university, got a job in the city, and now lives in Tokyo, where he earns £500,000 a year.
Those who turn their nose up at the notion of a ‘respectable working-class’, perhaps, would rather people from poor families stay poor and spend their lives watching daytime television.
- The dignity of darts
Glued to the box as I have been for the past week watching international darts, it struck me what an admirable game it was. Us petit-bourgeoisie are all too keen to sneer at the sport, famous for its beer-bellied contestants with their bling-bling jewellery and tacky silk tops – watched in the background by a shrieking audience who have seemingly turned up only for a giant piss-up. To top it off you have the priceless Bobby George, a living, walking, talking Cockney stereotype.
What you also notice is the immaculate sportsmanship (even though darts is only a game). Players are utterly magnanimous in defeat, embracing the victor with a bear hug and a kiss on the cheek. The audience displays no jingoism towards foreign players, quite something considering the recent ascendancy of the Dutch in the sport. Each player is treated with the utmost courtesy and never heckled (with the exception of Mervyn King, admittedly). The audience, composed of many nationalities, seems to get on riotously well. To put so many people together in the presence of so much alcohol and achieve as much is quite a feat.
At the risk (once again) of sounding a bourgeois romantic, does this tells us that the respectable working-class is not yet a thing of the past?
Patrick West is the author of Conspicuous Compassion: Why Sometimes it Really is Cruel to be Kind, Civitas, 2004. Buy this book from Amazon (UK).
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