Taking ‘banter’ seriously

It’s not easy to take Katie Hopkins – really a person just famous for being famous – seriously, and so probably one shouldn’t bother too much with anything she says. For those who are not familiar with her, she was a contestant on the BBC’s show The Apprentice in 2007, and before and after that she was known more for her various relationships than much else; but somehow she has reinvented herself as a serious business consultant, and indeed has made it twice (including yesterday) on to the BBC’s political programme Question Time.

Anyway, Katie Hopkins has a Twitter presence, and a couple of days ago she issued the following tweet:

‘Sky sports – can no one have an opinion anymore? Can no one have a giggle? Must everything be so sanitised and magnolia? Equality mania.’

She also delivered herself of a limerick on the same subject, but I am certainly not going to repeat it here as it is wholly objectionable. Why bother with her at all? Because, alas, I suspect she does speak for more people than just herself, and it’s a serious matter.

For those who may not know what her tweet was referring to, it was the comments made by Sky Sports football commentators Andy Gray and Richard Keys about a female assistant referee, amongst other things expressing the view that women are unable to understand the offside rule. As people started digging they found that both pundits had form, and that they had been recorded making other objectionable remarks previously. At first it was thought that Gray was the worse offender, but since then Keys was shown to have made horribly lewd comments to a fellow pundit, referring to a former girlfriend as ‘it’ in the context of obscene suggestions about sexual conduct.

Sky Sports and the two commentators have parted company, and it would be nice to think that this has addressed the problem; almost certainly not. But the more worrying aspect for me has been the willingness of others outside the world of football, like Hopkins, to come to the defence of the two idiots and suggest that this was nothing more than just a bit of banter. Online debates about the affair also have tended to have plenty of contributors taking the same line, though in fairness most express strong disapproval.

But those who think that this is ‘just’ a case of wildly inappropriate and sexist comments are also wrong. There is more to this. As more information has been revealed, it has become clear that Gray and Keys were known as bullies who regularly abused their positions as veteran pundits. This is not just about maintaining decorum, being fair or keeping the language clean. It is not even about recognising gender equality. It is about combating abuse and harassment and bullying.

For those who think that this is just typical of football and that the rest of the world has moved on, I’m not so sure. Recognising the dignity and equal worth of all people, regardless of gender, race, origin, sexuality or other characteristics is still not something we always manage, in various walks of life. And that is one of the reasons why I was being vigilant in the political context earlier this week.

In the meantime, football is better off without Gray and Keys (and I hope they don’t re-appear elsewhere). I hope the lesson is being more widely learnt. I much prefer to be writing about the just cause of Newcastle United than this kind of idiocy.

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5 Comments on “Taking ‘banter’ seriously”

  1. wendymr Says:

    I’d never heard of Katie Hopkins before reading this post, and I wish I’d remained in that blissful ignorance. Quite apart from her repulsive reactionary views, she could score pretty highly on the anti-woman and anti-human right scale as well. This, for example:

    Shared maternity leave? Anybody considering the needs of the employer? Two losses for price of one. USA is right with 0 weeks paid leave

    Words fail me.

    But as for the Gray and Keys debacle, which I was also unaware of until reading this entry, what is very encouraging to me is the employer response. No brushing it under the carpet, no slap on the wrist (or the kind of penalty a former acquaintance of mine referred to dismissively as an ASBO), but actually sacking them. Of course it’s the right thing to do, but we all remember times – especially in macho industries such as sport – that this would never have happened. Let’s hope this does send a positive message, not only about zero tolerance for sexism and bullying, but also about equality.

  2. Jeffrey Says:

    Hopefully Ben Arfa will be a boost while Carroll mends.

  3. anna notaro Says:

    humour is a serious matter indeed! A sexist (or other kind of discriminatory) joke might seem like benign amusement or “just a joke”, however it has the potential to legitimize prejudice in the wider society (interesting how the same discriminatory jokes recur across different cultures). As a football supporter myself the most insulting of all is the above mentioned one about women and the offside rule!!!

  4. jfryar Says:

    I’ve been subject to various remarks about my parentage, gender, sexuality, race, nationality, and mental health. And those are just from my best friends over a few pints. Thankfully I don’t live yet in a PC sanitised world and I do believe in a difference between joking ‘banter’ and discrimination although I think that is hard to define. Gray and Keys can’t fall into the category of ‘banter’ though because the comments were directed at ‘non-participating’ third-parties and it’s right and proper they lost their jobs.

    Finally, Katie Hopkins on Question Time did raise one interesting question that I felt should have been dealt with – at what point does the attempt to create equality simply mean special treatment for some?

  5. Al Says:

    I left school and went straight on to a building site, twasnt the most politicaly correct environment.
    I’ve changed, honest….
    Seriously though, there is a danger that political correctness eclipsing incorrect intelligence..

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