10 Dec 2009


A few weeks ago, I sent a complaint to the BBC after watching David Walliams on 'Never Mind The Buzzcocks' make a joke about the Chris Brown/Rihanna domestic violence situation. His words were "Unlucky things for Rihanna include black cats, walking under ladders, and burning Chris Brown's dinner" - a reference to the fact that earlier this year, Brown attacked Rihanna, biting and punching her in the face until her mouth filled with blood. Nice work, Mr Walliams. Not only have you made light of an issue that kills two women a week in this country, perpetuated gender stereotypes about female servitude and implied that domestic violence is the fault of some minor 'slight' on the part of the victim, but you managed to do it on International Stop Violence Against Women day. I don't care if he's an 'alternative comedian' with a reputation for 'edgy jokes'. I don't care if he spends most of his comedic career mocking or caricaturing the female form. But I do care when he thinks that taking the piss out of an issue that is already not taken seriously enough, is funny and OK. So I complained in the strongest terms.
Here's the response I received:
Dear Ms Scott

Thanks for your e-mail regarding 'Never Mind the Buzzcocks' broadcast on 25 November.

I understand you felt David Walliams made light of domestic violence, making a joke about Rihanna being assaulted by Chris Brown. I note you felt it was particularly wrong as it was broadcast on International Stop Violence Against Women day.

As a public service financed by the licence fee we must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour. We believe that there's no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree, and it's inevitable that programmes which are acceptable to some will occasionally strike others as distasteful. The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they're catered for at least some of the time.

Nevertheless I assure you that it was never our intention to case any offence and I regret any you may've been caused. With your complaint in mind I'd like to take this opportunity to assure you that I've recorded your comments onto our audience log. This is an internal daily report of audience feedback which is circulated to many BBC staff including senior management, producers and channel controllers.

The audience logs are seen as important documents that can help shape decisions about future programming and content.

Thanks again for contacting us with your thoughts.


Ciaran McConnell
BBC Complaints
So, apart from one tiny concession in the form of a vague promise that my comments might be seen by senior management and used to 'shape decisions about future programming', I get diddly squat in the way of actual redress. Had Walliams' comments been racist or homophobic, I can see them causing much more of a furore. When Anton Du Beke told Laila Rouass she 'looked like a Paki' on an episode of Strictly Come Dancing, the stink made the front page of several newspapers, and Du Beke was forced to make a statement apologising. There was no attempt by the BBC to defend Du Beke on the grounds that 'there's no single set of standards upon which society can agree' ergo racism is fine, no recourse to this disingenuous form of cultural relativism that the media resorts to in defence of misogyny time and again. Just because there'll always be a vile minority who thinks that racism, homophobia or misogyny are fine, does not absolve the rest of us from all responsibility from challenging them. Yes, the BNP had to be given a spot on Question Time if we really do consider ourselves to have a free press in this country, but that also meant they were thrown open to the powerful challenges, and sometimes outright abuse, that they deserved and so rightly got. Why, then, is a powerful and popular comedian, allowed to go unchallenged in his mockery of violence against women? Is being anti-misogyny not chic or 'edgy' enough for the BBC? Are they less afraid of being seen to be misogynist because feminists aren't likely to send a suicide bomber round their way, whereas racism and religious hatred has already been seen to generate plenty of extreme violence?
I'm disappointed, but in no way surprised. A cowardly response from a cowardly organisation, and an insult to women from a man who has, ironically, spent his career appropriating femininity and effeminate behaviour for his own ends.

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