Should I report my boyfriend to the police?

He made a joke about punching. Unlike Michael Fabricant’s, it was funny

28 June 2014

9:00 AM

28 June 2014

9:00 AM

Driving along in the car, listening to the radio news, the boyfriend turned to me and said he thought the Michael Fabricant row a very strange one. Fabricant was being pilloried for having tweeted that he could never go on television with Yasmin Alibhai-Brown because he might ‘end up punching her in the throat’, but my man said he didn’t see what the fuss was about. ‘After all,’ he said, ‘I feel like punching you about 50 times a day.’

Reader, be assured, he was joking. Victims’ groups, hold your horses while I explain. My beloved was pretending to have punching urges for the purposes of humour. Do you see? It was irony. I-r-o… Do I need to spell it out?

The builder boyfriend (as readers of my column will know) is the least likely person on the planet ever to harm me. I would estimate that the chances of him punching me are even more slim than the chances of Michael Fabricant punching Yasmin Alibhai-Brown. But perhaps I should have telephoned the domestic violence helpline and reported an incidence of aggravated verbal assault. I am sure they would have taken me seriously.

If the fallout from the Fabricant virtual punch row has taught us anything, it is that large numbers of us have had a total irony bypass and now interpret literally that which was only ever meant to be taken figuratively, regardless of whether or not it could be described as genuinely amusing. Very soon, uttering the words ‘I could murder a pint’ will trigger a full-blown police inquiry because one has admitted to having what Ms Alibhai-Brown calls ‘violent urges’. ‘It was not a joke, but a violent urge,’ she complained.

Lawks a mercy! Hold onto your poke bonnets! Gloria De Piero, shadow women’s minister, said the punching comment was ‘utterly appalling’. I call ‘utterly appalling’ something like actually punching someone, or genocide, but clearly I’ve got some catching up to do. A quick glance at the foremost media rows of the past few months gives an insight into the po-faced state we’re in. The amount of time and energy we are putting into doing our best impressions of Mary Whitehouse is quite amazing.

There was a terrible to-do a few weeks ago, for example, when the actress Jennifer Lawrence was overheard telling ‘a rape joke’ to a guest at a Vanity Fair party in Cannes. Dare we repeat it? Are we brave enough? Right, I’m going in. It involved her joking that she once told someone she admired that she liked them so much that… ready for this… deep breaths… ‘I broke out my rape scream for you.’ Heavens to Betsy!

Are you still there, reader? Can you get someone to bring you a glass of water and put your head between your knees? Because there’s more.

A few days before that, Austin Mitchell MP tried to have a standard socialist go at the pharmaceutical industry by calling US drugs corporation Pfizer ‘rapists’ for attempting to take over the British firm AstraZeneca. Female Conservative MPs fell about fainting with shock and then, presumably after a snort at the smelling salts, pulled themselves together and lined up to call on Ed Miliband to deliver the head of Mr Mitchell, who looked thoroughly bewildered.

Claire Perry, MP for Devizes, pompously announced that it was ‘never acceptable to use rape as a corporate analogy’. Why? Who said? Mr Mitchell obviously felt that the smaller, less powerful company was being plundered by the bigger one. He used an interpretation of the R word entirely supported by the Oxford English Dictionary.But according to Ms Perry — yes, that’s the same Ms Perry who once joked about giving the Speaker of the Commons a blowjob — it has been decided by some unseen righteous indignation committee in the sky that the R word is exclusively owned by women who have been sexually assaulted and that all other uses of the word, including metaphorical, are prohibited.

Presumably, the same committee decided it was fine for a female MP to use a blowjob analogy. This is politically scurrilous, grammatically incorrect and morally absurd, of course. But what I really want to know is, when did we all become so hypersensitive? It’s like there is a new version of eggshell skull, only now the fragility is inside our heads.

What’s more, people no longer simply take offence in passing, by accident. They go adventurously out of their way to find offence. Hence the alarming practice of leaking private offensive comments to create shock and awe where there ought to have been none.

The sexist emails of Richard Scudamore sparked a full-on indignation orgy but nobody seemed to question who was more morally questionable: a man who engages in sexist banter in private emails to someone who is happy with his comments, or a temporary secretary who breaks into his emails, scours hundreds, out of which only a handful are at all risqué, and then hawks those to the tabloids in order to generate offence where none should have been caused.

But it’s worse than that. Not only does a man not have a right to say something stupid and offensive in private. He no longer has a right to almost say something stupid and offensive in private.

Jeremy Clarkson did not say the N word. I’ve watched the tape. He said ‘Eeny meeny miney moe, catch a nur-nur by his toe.’ He then claims that he viewed the tape and decided his nur-nur sounded a bit too like the N word, and so he requested that segment did not go out. And it didn’t. But that didn’t matter.

When the non-broadcast half-offensive version was leaked, deliberately, to cause offence, Aliya Mohammed, chief executive of Race Equality First (so not equal, actually, but first, you understand), took the bait and called for immediate action from the BBC. ‘I am appalled…’ she said. You can guess the rest of the quote.

I’m surprised Microsoft or Apple haven’t come up with a single command you can press on your computer to make an apology demand come out automatically.

Lawyers for the Indian-born actor Somi Guha, meanwhile, made a formal complaint to the BBC Trust, demanding an investigation into ‘how the offensive language had come to be edited out of the show’.

That’s right. I thought I had read that wrong at first, too. Not content with complaining about offensive material put into a performance, the outragees now want to complain about offensive material taken out.

These people won’t be happy until they can edit the inside of Jeremy Clarkson’s head. And if they had the technology, they would have all our brains thoroughly washed to scrub out anything non-PC we might be even inadvertently thinking. Fabricant would be lucky to get his head back after they had completely filleted it.

Personally, my preference would not have been for Clarkson to beg for forgiveness on YouTube. Watching a proud man grovel is deeply offensive to me. But then I don’t enjoy outrage porn. I think one is meant to get a frisson as the big guy pleads for clemency, but I just felt sick.

I didn’t mind too much about Fabricant being made to grovel, though.

He had it coming. His joke wasn’t even funny. That was the only truly unforgiveable thing about it. There was no clever wordplay or innuendo. It was just crass and stupid.

But feminists and victims’ groups are wrong to declare piously that ‘violence is never funny’. Of course it is. One of my favourite Blackadder lines is when Rowan Atkinson tells Baldrick that his latest cunning plan is useless: ‘However, I’m a busy man, and I can’t be bothered to punch you at the moment. Here is my fist. Kindly run towards it as fast as you can.’

Do I want to live in a world where a hapless Tory MP cannot make an unfunny joke, but then neither can Richard Curtis or Ben Elton make a brilliant one? Because I really do believe that creating a world free of bad, tasteless, cruel, unkind jokes and a world free of jokes will be one and the same thing, in the final analysis.

I find it genuinely terrifying that we treated Fabricant not as a bad comic but as a violent thug who had actually punched someone. And much as I wish he hadn’t done it,  for all our sakes, because the resulting row  is incredibly infuriating, I am concerned that if it is not all right for Michael Fabricant to joke about punching Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, then it might not be all right for me to joke about punching Michael Fabricant, which is a shame because I feel there’s got to be a riff involving his hair flying off…

But trying to be humorous will soon be a minefield that no one wants to negotiate. Those who make a joke out of life, in order to better bear it, are running out of material fast.

As the Fabricant row played out, we heard that Samantha, the fictitious scorekeeper on Radio 4’s I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue, is at risk of being ruled inappropriate. Someone rang the BBC to complain that all that innuendo about her endowments is demeaning to women. Well, I suppose it is, if we’re honest. But what are you going to do? You’ve got to have a laugh at something. Once we’ve ruled out everything that’s ‘demeaning’, ‘offensive’, ‘outrageous’, ‘appalling’ and ‘not a fit subject for humour’ then we really will be up shit creek without a paddle.

For once it becomes a reality that we cannot joke about anything — and that day will come, if we go on like this — then the chances of people actually punching each other out of sheer frustration will go up, not down.

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Show comments
  • Sean Grainger

    Fabricant wasn’t trying to be funny: he articulated what some of us have thought for years. Whenever that immensely stupid and conceited woman appears on Question Time I switch off lest a hammer gets thrown at my telly. Just have a look a the Channel 4 spat with Rod Liddle.

    • I can’t listen to her either. Utterly repulsive creature. It goes beyond being the person you ‘love to hate’. She is offensive and irrational. I usually flick between Radio 4 and LBC on the way into work in the morning. When Nick Ferrari has her as his ‘guest reviewer’ I dip into the other stations or listen to music

      • black11hawk

        Yeah, but I feel there has at least been some progress. Back in the good old days of Brown and Blair, Rod Liddle wouldn’t have even been invited on to defend himself. It would have been a panel of Yasmin Alibhai-Brown, Harriet Harman and Laurie Penny talking about how ghastly he and all the other ‘bigots’ are. I reckon the change is in part down to Brown’s gaffe with the Gillian Duffy incident and also thanks to Mr Farage, who where others would simply crumble, takes criticism like water off a duck’s back.

        • post_x_it

          He wasn’t invited to defend himself. He was invited to sit there as an example of a despicable right-wing middle-aged white man, so everyone could shout, sneer and spit at him. Is it really the case that this would not have happened in the old days? Nick Griffin was on Question Time in 2009. Not that Rod is in any way comparable to him.

  • Liz

    Decide when he punches you.

    • balance_and_reason

      you don’t really believe that.

  • “Do you see? It was irony. I-r-o… Do I need to spell it out?” no it’s not ironic.

  • Going by my experience with posting on the hilariously named ‘Comment is Free’ Guardian website, the most assiduously policed websites are those with a feminist meme. In fact I’m now officially banned for persistently querying why Muslim women seem able to have large families in a column arguing that part of the reason for our abortion rate is that young women can’t afford to raise children.
    I’ve also had comments pulled under a piece in which it was suggested that men should obtain verbal consent before intercourse to avoid later confusion over whether the act was rape, even if they are in a relationship. I pointed out that under that under that criteria, I (and most men) would probably be able to claim to have been sexually assaulted by their partners, and I personally would be able to claim rape having woken up to find a nocturnal tumescence was being made use of. Maybe we should all seek counselling?
    Feminists, and the left generally, are so far out on a limb, are operating in such a tiny moral bubble, completely unrelated to how anyone, including themselves, actually lives, that they are ultra sensitive to criticism. In fact it is only their suppression of free speech and argument, either by dissembly, diversion or outright censorship, that is holding their philosophy together… certainly as an electoral force

    • rogermurrayclark

      I got permanently banned by the Stasi for factual comments on the Muslim grooming epidemic, they really hate any mention of that at all – I used to get hundreds of recommends. As long as its “just” poor white working class girls getting horribly abused the sisterhood doesn’t seem that bothered

      • Jackthesmilingblack

        Stazi? Is that the latest euphemism for the Catholic Daily Telegraph or the Guardian…? The Independent perhaps? Now that really is a misnamed publication. Hardly makes any difference, I’ve been banned by all of them. You don’t attract flak till you’re over the target.

        • post_x_it

          Are you saying that only the Speccie will have you now?

      • JoeDM

        I now use VPN to make comments on CIF after being banned for using the term islamofascism when referring to al Qaeda !!!

        • rogermurrayclark

          Thanks for that. I may use it to go back to CIF at some point, but the moderation is so heavy handed it’s just ridiculous, it’s a far left propaganda outlet.

          • David

            When Boko Haram kidnapped all those schoolgirls, I drew attention to the fact that the Guardian article somehow forgot to mention that BH were an Islamist group. This comment was banned on Comment is Free. You couldn’t make it up!

      • Dont_Call_Me_Shirley

        There’s nothing the metropolitan liberal elite hate more than the white working class. All that Britain’s Got Talent, Turkey Twizzlers and 2 litre bottles of cider. Ghastly business.

    • Liz

      I can see why. Seems like you were advancing an irrelevant agenda.

      • You think like a Guardian moderator. You should sign up.

    • Joseph Alan Jones

      Why not written consent in triplet.

  • Tom W Huxley

    Whether or not it was appalling, it was definitely stupid. Alibhai-Brown has previous on this front – as a quick google of Gareth Compton (who received rather worse treatment) would show you…

  • Peter Stroud

    The utterly nasty, mean and unfounded remarks Y A B made towards Rod Liddle, were enough to make any tolerant person’s blood boil. Why on earth this woman is ever allowed to appear on radio or TV, is beyond me.

    • William_Brown

      …..because free speech is important to us, even if YAB wants desperately to shut it down.

  • Damaris Tighe

    This is what happens when you have a proliferation of professional victim groups each hair-trigger ready to find offence.

    • Holly

      I love profiteroles.

  • anncalba

    We live in a society which becomes ever more puritanical; a vocal minority becomes ever bolder and more powerful, enforcing its beliefs and prejudices on the majority. It is spiteful, self-appointed and unrepresentative, and has a whole lexicon of jargon buzzwords with which to intimdate and stifle free speech. It touches many aspects of our lives, from comedy to politics to language. There are batteries of quangos and pressure groups devoted to promoting, and making a profit from, victimhood and offence. Sickening, itn’t it?

  • alabenn

    When the Religion of Peace takes control, a punch if the neck should be the least of YABs worries, because she has appeared in public and on TV she will be first to be buried up to the neck next to a pile of stones.
    She might deserve all the horrors that is on its way, she is au fait with the modus operandi of this ideology.
    I cannot understand why no women in the press and media speak out forcefully on this, blind abeyance to politically correct orthodoxies will be the death of you.

  • Sarah Stuart

    “Someone rang the BBC to complain that all that innuendo about her endowments is demeaning to women. Well, I suppose it is, if we’re honest. But what are you going to do? You’ve got to have a laugh at something.”

    Dn’t worry, laughing at men is still totally ok and actually encouraged, so it’ll simply be replaced with that.

  • Picquet

    I’m getting deja-vu here. Ten and twenty years ago similar things were being said about the encroachment of the pc mindset into our lives, and dire warnings were made about it. It happened, and I suspect that anyone over 45 years of age now stays silent when a quick quip of an Appalling, Offensive nature wells up, or when a true opinion is called for.
    Fear and control are what pc is about, and it’s got to stop.

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    • AtMyDeskToday

      10) If you are completely, utterly, beyond redemption stupid.

  • Jim Franko

    You’re talking too much sense, maybe you’re in the wrong profession.

  • Mike Rosoft

    Today’s liberalism is simply communism without the manifesto.

  • AtMyDeskToday

    Unfortunately the slavish adherence to PC has permeated into the fabric of life. I regularly let loose with some pithy comment on the world in general and am pulled up by my 30+ years sons with words like….”Did I really hear that dad? Shocking! Disgraceful!” My reply?… Oh b***er off.

    • Britalianissima

      I feel your pain and I’m only 38…

    • William_Brown

      Me too….I love my kids, but by golly they’ve become rather narrow position takers of late.

  • dado_trunking

    “… total irony bypass and now interpret literally that which was only ever
    meant to be taken figuratively, regardless of whether or not it could
    be described as genuinely amusing.”

    Absolutely right – an irony bypass is the first step to progressing straight to fascism and a thought police. We want it, we cannot resist it. It is so compelling, yet we were never allowed by our elite to be proper fascists.
    (some of the Spectator’s readership will not get that)

    • pablo58

      I don’t read the ‘Spectator’, but I don’t know what the f**k you’re on about either. Please elaborate.

      • Cyril Sneer

        He’s talking out of his arse.

  • logdon

    Fabricanted outrage from a Ugandan ingrate?

    • post_x_it

      Are you suggesting they’ve had a discussion about Uganda at some point in the past? That’s too ghastly to contemplate.

      • logdon

        As an ex-Eye reader I get it.

        Maybe on Ultra Porn Tube.

  • amicus

    Humour is in the eye of the beholder. I thought Fabricant’s crack was hilarious.

  • Gergiev

    “These people won’t be happy until they can edit the inside of Jeremy Clarkson’s head.” It’s on its way…

  • David Prentice

    A Venn diagram looking at the points of intersection between Islamofacism, feminism and gay rights would be interesting. Power, control and an unhinged hatred of opposing points of view, would be my guess.

  • StephanieJCW

    Sorry for stating the obvious but there is a difference between a joke made by someone you know well and have a close relationship with and some stranger commenting they would punch you in the throat.

    Would you really be as comfortable with your boyfriend’s comment if it was uttered by some random colleague in the office?

    I think there was a load of fuss over nothing re: Fabricant, but that is no excuse for silly analogies.

  • Joe Connolly

    Great article. Ought to be read widely.

  • Joe Connolly

    There was a colleague of mine some years ago who used the remark “Too many chiefs, not enough Indians” in passing during a discussion and found himself accused of racism, quite seriously, by some of his colleagues.

  • Dryermartinithanyours

    All joking aside, Melissa Kite and ‘The Spectator’ are pretty much holding the line on freedom and sanity. With all the moral confusion I’ve had the refrain from Shirley Bassey’s “Never, Never, Never” going around in my head. Or is that a hate crime brooding in the dark?

  • Gwangi

    Well, many thousands (millions?) of women get away with physically assaulting men (slapping their faces) and violently abusing children (so-called ‘smacking’) not to mention massive emotional abuse on children (disparaging and demeaning and demonising the kids’ fathers) so why is the focus on men as perpetrators of abuse?

    Oh I know, because they are men – and the law still have a mediaeval view of women as innocent damsels in distress, always the victim and never the villain. GROW UP PEOPLE! Either we must arrest all these women for their violent assaults OR we do not arrest either men or women for such things, or the very uncriminal freedom of speech online.

  • SS

    The Spectator is possibly the last bastion of intelligence in Britain. Political Correctness has gone so far as to gag a nation. Similarly, British Gas engineers cannot climb a ladder to reach a switch without special training and harnessing – or so I predict.

    Ms. Alibahi-Brown is simply abusing a system of PCness to publicise herself. Nothing more. Anyone who claims to be a personality and reacts in such a fashion is being dishonest – which is a better condition than permanent sense of humour failure, therefore I sincerely hope she is the former.

    I agree that Fabricant might have demonstrated more panache, but my verdict of Alibhai-Brown abuse of a dimwitted public gushing over any fabricated sensationalism is far harsher.