Earlier this week, David Cameron, the British Conservative Party leader and probable next prime minister, was “cleared” of “breaching” “the broadcasting code” by the country’s TV and radio regulatory authority, Ofcom. Back in July, Mr. Cameron had been appearing on the morning show at Absolute Radio, a national rock station, and had, apropos the political class in general, observed that “the public are rightly, I think, pissed off.” To a question about why he was not using Twitter, the Tory leader replied, “Too many twits might make a twat.”
“That seemed to go okay,” reckoned Cameron as he left the studio. “Apart from the language,” responded his press secretary, Gabby Bertin.
“Oh, yeah, ‘pissed,’ sorry about that.”
“No, it was the ‘twat,’ ” said Ms. Bertin.
“That’s not a swear word,” insisted the heir to Thatcher, Churchill, Lord Salisbury and Disraeli. My dictionary says:
“noun [origin unknown] (1656): VULVA—usually considered vulgar.”
On the other hand, an Ofcom report from 2005, Language And Sexual Imagery In Broadcasting: A Contextual Investigation, is more ambivalent, concluding only that “twat” is “very polarizing . . . offensive especially to British Asian females and some women from other groups, but many especially men think it is an everyday word.”
Nevertheless, Ofcom felt obliged to spend two months investigating David Cameron, prompting lefties to advance the theory that the Tory honcho deliberately said “piss” and “twat” on the radio in order to appear “cool” and not your usual uptight conservative like . . . um, well, names no longer spring easily to mind in the British Tory party. But imagine Mitt Romney going on the radio and saying “muthafucker” to look cool, or Stephen Harper revealing he has nipple piercings.
If it wasn’t a focus-group-generated coolness op, Mr. Cameron might reasonably wonder why in the United Kingdom of 2009 his on-air effusions should merit a two-month investigation. I am a wee sensitive soul and so, when in Britain, try to avoid turning on the TV. A couple of years ago, I forgot myself and switched on to find in progress a game show in which the male contestants were required to remove the female contestants’ brassieres without using their hands. This was on the BBC. Which is funded by a poll tax: if you own a television set in the United Kingdom, you are obliged to pay a licence fee of £142.50—or about 250 bucks Canadian—which goes to fund the BBC. This is necessary, so it is claimed, to prevent the airwaves being clogged with hideous down-market trash of the kind that infects American telly by enabling the BBC to produce quality programming the market would not support. Like televised bra-removal competitions. Although, if that’s not commercially viable, it’s no wonder capitalism is dead.
Anyway, speaking of “everyday words,” and indeed of vulvas, last year I forgot myself again and switched on for my annual 15 minutes of BBC quality programming. This time I caught an episode of Mock the Week. This is one of those shows in which comedians say funny things about the news. If you’re thinking, “Ah, you mean like Air Farce or 22 Minutes?”—not exactly. If you’re faintly irked by those shows’ cozy relationship with the political establishment they’re meant to be afflicting and the party leaders showing what good sports they are by appearing in toothless sketches, that doesn’t seem to be a problem at Mock the Week. The host, Dara Ó Briain, asked the panel to suggest things Her Majesty the Queen would be unlikely to say during her Christmas message.
The show’s star, Frankie Boyle, replied: “I’m now so old my pussy is haunted.”
Alas, this chanced to be broadcast during a difficult time for the BBC. Two other stellar Beeb performers had engaged in an on-air “prank” by dialing the home of the actor Andrew Sachs (formerly Manuel in John Cleese’s Fawlty Towers) and informing him that one of them had had sex with his granddaughter. So the Queen’s pussy line was briefly the subject of controversy, and Emily Maitlis, the host of Newsnight, demanded to know from the BBC director-general what he thought of the “joke.” Mark Thompson replied that he hadn’t seen the “joke” broadcast and could “only judge in the context of the programme,” there apparently being “contexts” in which the antiquity of Her Majesty’s vulva is an appropriate subject for quality programming requiring public funding by the British taxpayer.
Unfortunately, Ms. Maitlis is one of those somewhat severe anchorettes one finds in public broadcasting and, like so many of her BBC colleagues, seems to think an over-emphatic delivery communicates authority. So her forcefully enunciated reading of “I’m now so old my pussy is haunted” was set to some hip-hop urban-dance scratch-mix by an enterprising Internet wag. More larks!
In the current issue of the British magazine Standpoint, Nick Cohen writes that the Mock the Week lads have nary “a political idea in their heads.” So, if the Queen’s pussy isn’t to hand, their own wedding tackle will do. During a Jeopardy-esque round, Ó Briain asks: if the answer is “Forty years,” what’s the question?
“What is the youngest my balls have looked?” offers one panellist, before Frankie Boyle re-seizes the initiative: “Is it how long it takes me to knock one out to Loose Women?” Loose Women is the British version of The View with Barbara Walters, and “knock one out” is one of the many variants of Britspeak meaning to masturbate. Mock the Week’s token female then revealed that she would be appearing on Loose Women next week and didn’t want to be sitting there wondering whether Frankie Boyle would be masturbating over her. “Well, it’s a safe bet, Lucy,” Mr. Boyle offered. “Even if I’m not watching. It’s just that time of day.”
“The audience cheers,” notes Nick Cohen primly.
Just for the record, I’m no fan of The View, but the difference in the two shows’ preoccupations are discernible in the title of the British equivalent: Loose Women—i.e., women of a certain age talking about shagging and getting rat-arsed, in the local parlance. Sample moment: a discussion on flatulence in which co-host Carol McGiffin reveals she “quite likes doing it . . . the louder the better” and would enjoy “pumping” in front of Brit celebrity Russell Brand. Mr. Brand then appears on set and he and Carol discuss her willingness to pay him for sex.
Russell Brand, by the way, is the celeb who called Andrew Sachs to say he’d rogered his granddaughter.
And the granddaughter performs with a dance group called Satanic Sluts Extreme.
So just to delineate the Dantean circles of contemporary Brit celebrity: a BBC comedian says he masturbates to a show in which a woman says she’d enjoy farting in front of a man who calls up the grandfathers of nubile terpsichoreans and says he’s shagged ’em senseless in between their shifts as Satanic Sluts. Thank goodness Britain doesn’t have that debauched crass lowest-common-denominator Yank-style TV culture, eh? Wank wank pussy fart fuck fuck slut. Very Noël Coward.
Two years ago Martin Newland did a cover story for this magazine headlined “Why England Is Rotting.” He cited many statistics: Britain has the highest proportion of single mothers in Europe; the highest cocaine use; the highest rate of sexually transmitted disease; London has more violent crime than New York and Istanbul. From personal observation, an alarming number of the men on its streets seem to affect the appearance of the bad guys’ crew in Pirates of the Caribbean. At about 2 p.m. on a recent Wednesday afternoon, in order to enter a convenience store, I was obliged to step over a 13-year-old dressed like a trollop and collapsed in her own vomit. But don’t worry, the government is taking action: in order to facilitate safer binge drinking, police recently announced that they would be handing out free flip-flops outside nightclubs in order to help paralytic dolly birds stagger home without stumbling in their high heels and falling into the gutter. Every day Fleet Street generates a bewildering number of foot-of-page-37 news items that seem to belong to some vast ongoing dystopian satire: stabbings are so rampant in British schoolyards that a company that specializes in military body armour is now manufacturing school blazers lined with stab-resistant Kevlar.
It’s hardly surprising that a coarsened world produces a coarsened culture, or even that the fruits of heavy-handed feminism and political correctness should be a nation of 12-year- old booze-sodden tarts and middle-aged blokes jerking off at BBC licence-payer expense. I wrote a few weeks back that an increase in sexual liberty had provided a cover for the shrinking of all other kinds. Likewise, if you can make jokes about the Queen’s pussy, why surely you are freer than your forebears. And it’s true that, say, a North Korean stand-up would be ill-advised to proffer jests about Kim Jong-Il’s meat-and-two-veg. But licence is not the same as liberty. And the British nanny state’s rearing of a generation of snarling, brutish, eternally arrested adolescents slumped in Hogarthian depravity seems not an unfortunate side effect but an all too foreseeable consequence. The BBC’s motto is “Nation shall speak peace unto nation.” Not in prime time. As David Cameron might say, nation shall speak pissed unto nation.