Richard North, 15/07/2021  

A playground ditty familiar to all of my generation was: "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names and faces will never hurt me". There was enough truth in that to steel most kids against that nastiness of school banter, where trading insults was a normal part of school life.

Perhaps there needed to be a corrective of sorts as some of the verbal exchanges were indeed hurtful, despite the ditty, although I suspect our tolerance for such things was a great deal more than it is today when we see a 14-year-old being arrested by the police for "hate crimes".

And for all that, I find it hard to take seriously the easily-ignored racial slurs directed at a trio of multi-millionaire football players – the exact nature of which I have no knowledge because I have blocked such garbage from any account I might read. If the intended recipients ignore the dross, it loses most of its power – not so the 22 black boys stabbed to death on the streets of London this year, which mostly the national media don't bother to report.

What is particularly striking about what have been dubbed the "culture wars" is their selectivity. It seems that only certain privileged groups are allowed to take offence while, for the non-privileged groups, even complaining about being offended is deemed to be offensive.

For my part, it is unlikely that I would ever be called to account for hate crimes directed against a particular trio of footballers. I hate all professional footballers equally, and loathe the game of football. If it disappeared completely and was never heard of again, I would be a happy man.

To be fair, I have not always felt this way. Generally, I am fairly tolerant about what consenting adult do in their own time. But when what is, to me a boring and trivial game is so much "in your face", I've got to a point where I've really had enough.

There is a thing, for instance, called BBC television news, for which I pay a king's ransom, considering that it is the only BBC output I ever watch (and gave up on the radio years ago). And, under the guise of "news", the BBC News 24 channel gives us half an hour of news at 6 o'clock each evening, followed by half an hour's sport.

Lately, though, sport has been encroaching more and more into the news programme and recently, in the run-up to this football thing we've just had, the game was given the first 14 minutes of the 6 o'clock news, and a few minutes later on in the bulletin. Thus, of an hour's slot, more than three-quarters was devoted to sport. The news, covering local, national and international, was crammed into less than 15 minutes.

And if this isn't offensive enough, we've also had Wimbledon thrust in our faces and we're soon to have the never-ending sports-fest of the Olympics, followed - in the interests of equality – by the para-Olympics, to which the BBC insists on giving maximum coverage.

The newspapers, of course, are even worse. To all intents and purposes, on some days there has been no news at all on the front pages – only football. It is as if the papers collectively decided to print their editions back-to-front, with the sports on the front pages instead of the back. The trouble was that the back pages were filled with sport as well.

More and more I've been reminded of that superbly prescient quote from George Orwell's 1984, in his reference to the plebs: "Football, beer and, above all, gambling, filled up the horizon of their minds. To keep them under control was not difficult".

But then, Juvenal got there first, in 100 AD, with his panem et circenses. From the age of enlightenment, we've regressed to a brutish form of sport and celebrity worship which bodes ill for society as a whole. We simply cannot afford to have our nation obsessed with the triviality of games, to the exclusion of almost everything else.

But then, it is most definitely the case that those who are not in the least interested in sport simply do not have a voice. Twitter, for instance, offers a running feed on "what's happening", with usually about five items. Most are undeletable, and most are either about sport, celebrities or entertainment. And that is not just Twitter culture. It pervades the entire social media, as well as the legacy media.

But, while we're supposed to tolerate anything and everything thrown at us, whether we like or not, the scope for expressing our own opinions on a wide range of subjects is becoming increasingly circumscribed.

Going way back, I recall the stories about the Soviet Union under Stalin, where parents had to be careful what they said in front of their own children, for fear of being denounced. Even failing to be critical of enemies of the state could meet with dreadful sanctions, even before those "enemies" had been officially recognised as such.

Now, this climate of fear has come to the UK, where there are any number of things which are simply too dangerous or troublesome to discuss. We've seen this even on the blog, where any attempt to analyse the behaviour of the Kashmiri minorities in my adopted home region will invariably bring out the trolls to accuse me of racism.

One thing that has struck me recently though, is the silent racism in television advertising – silent in that we're supposed to tolerate it silently, and not remark on it at all. But it cannot have escaped notice that, in commercial breaks these days when five or six adverts might be shown, the majority – and sometimes all of them – will have black characters, very often as the lead figures.

We can surmise what is happening here: every advertising agency has obviously – and simultaneously – decided to meet its BLM (Burn, Loot and Murder) quota and have at least one black actor in their productions. Cumulatively, that means that blacks, who make up 2.4 percent of the population, are now vastly over-represented in television advertising.

The preponderance gets even more surreal when it comes to mixed-race couples, which are a very small sub-set of the population. Here, I recall one recent ad which has a white, obviously middle-class granny driving a classic motor scooter, alongside her black middle-class husband, through a picturesque rural village to meet their winsome mixed-race grandchildren.

Bearing in mind that the original purpose of advertising was to deliver a message that "these are people like you – look what they are buying", the chance of this happy little vignette actually representing the real world is vanishingly small. From being a tool for selling goods, such advertising has become an exercise in corporate virtue signalling.

This has even spread to clothing websites. Recently, I looked at one with a view to making on online purchase of a pair of trousers. Of the range I looked at, every one of the models depicted wearing the type of garment in which I was interested, was young, slim – and black.

Clearly, the subliminal message being sent by the vendors was that these clothes were not for the likes of me. As for some banks, it seems that they are mainly interested in black clientele.

Overall, though, the message being conveyed by the advertising fraternity is that we are a multi-cultural society, where blacks are shown as the majority, or at the very least equal in numbers to whites (but very rarely Asians), while mixed-race couples and children are a very high proportion of the community.

What bothers me about these adverts is not the presence of black actors, per se. But for the "in your face" frequency, I probably would not have noticed. Now, I am more conscious of black faces than I ever have been, conscious that the advertisers and their paymasters are seeking to depict a society that does not exist but is one, evidently, that they would like me to see, and believe exists. 

From selling dreams, they are now selling lies – and if we are rash enough to complain, we are branded "racist". And don't get me started on the "trans" controversy. But the common thread that ties all this, and much more, together, is that one is not allowed to complain. In this "consumer" society, when we supposedly have freedom of choice, the one thing we no longer have is the freedom to shape our own thoughts.

We get what we are given, and we are required to like it.

Also published on Turbulent Times.

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