It is absurd to divide people into good and bad. People are either charming or tedious,’ says Lord Darlington in Oscar Wilde’s Lady Windemere’s Fan first performed in 1892. A century later, a pandemic of tediosity has followed in the wake of the Wuhan virus that shows no signs of abating. Like a hideous hybrid, cooked up in a left-wing laboratory by woke social scientists, its DNA reveals snippets of everything toxic in what passes for intellectual discourse today — race, class, gender — isms as far as the eye can see, mutating with alarming alacrity, spawning ever more absurd dictates.
The most common symptom of the scourge is a complete loss of a sense of humour. In the early stages, the afflicted are unable to take a joke but as the virus takes hold they develop a deadly intolerance to the mere existence of mockery —requiring a radical excision of anything amusing from daily life. No sitcom is too old or too obscure to be safe. A 1988 episode of The Golden Girls in which the ageing stars get a facial and quip, ‘This is mud on our faces, we’re not really black,’ had to be expunged.
Wary of being exposed, the dismal dictators huffily claimed they weren’t cancelling Blazing Saddles but director Mel Brooks has already said his spoof about a black sheriff in the Wild West, could never be made today. Woody Allen’s hilarious autobiography, Apropos of Nothing, had to be pulped to assuage a florid outburst of me-tooist hashtaggery.
Everyday the world awakens to new, fantastical claims of offensiveness that seek to outdo each other in outlandishness. Democrats criticised Trump this week for announcing a 4th of July celebration at Mount Rushmore claiming he was ‘glorifying white supremacy.’ For once, this was deemed to be going too far and the tweet was deleted but no doubt it would have pleased the Marx Sistas — the queer, black midwives of the Black Lives Matter movement — and their lawless followers who would blow up the monument as happily as the Taleban demolished the Buddha of Bamiyan.
Incubated in the intersectional swamp of our universities, where the pathogen was first identified, the virus has infected almost everyone in the media, entertainment and corporate worlds, nurtured by human resource enforcers. Yet it is on campuses where it flourishes. Take this cautionary tale of three professors. Mike Adams, professor of criminology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington horrified his employers by tweeting, ‘This evening I ate pizza and drank beer with six guys at a six seat table top. I almost felt like a free man who was not living in the slave state of North Carolina. Massa Cooper let my people go!’ Cooper is the Democratic governor of the state and likening him to a slave owner was deemed ‘vile and inexcusable,’ as was another tweet in which Adams said, ‘Don’t shut down the universities. Shut down the non-essential majors. Like Women’s Studies.’ By the end of the month, a petition with 88,000 signatures howled for his removal. The university told CNN that they were not just ‘listening to the outrage being expressed,’ they could confirm that they were very carefully and assertively reviewing their options in terms of how to proceed. By June 29 Adams had ‘decided to retire,’ the university triumphantly proclaimed. As Wilde found out when he was sentenced to hard labour in Reading jail, hell hath no fury like a puritan scorned.
Compare and contrast Dr Priyamvada Gopal, an expert in post-colonial literature and theory, gender, feminism, Marxism and critical race studies at Cambridge University, the quintessence of crusading blackademia, a star of social media who has published 17,000 tweets, every one of them outraged. Like Captain Louis Renault in Casablanca, Gopal was shocked, shocked to find that her tweet, ‘White Lives Don’t Matter. As white lives’ and ‘Abolish whiteness,’ caused a stir. She shared the ‘hate speech’ she received in response, anxious to prove that just because she was a senior academic, she could still be a victim. She was horrified at ‘racist’ posters tied to bicycles in Cambridge bearing the inflammatory question, ‘Is it okay to be white?’ Nish Kumar, who, according to the UK Telegraph, delivered the 13th funniest joke at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year — racism is like cricket; it was invented here but perfected in Australia — rushed to Gopal’s defence, calling her the ‘best and brightest.’ Gopal had been responding to a banner flown above a Burnley football stadium which read, ‘White Lives Matter Burnley.’ Naturally, the young man who flew that banner was sacked. Gopal, despite an online petition calling for her removal, was promoted to a full professorship.
Meanwhile, at the University of Queensland, Chinese consul-general, Xu Jie, who was made a visiting professor of language and culture in July last year, has been stoutly defended by the university despite being investigated by police for inciting violent threats against Drew Pavlou, a 20-year-old student at UQ. Pavlou had organised a small peaceful protest against Beijing’s threats to democracy in Hong Kong and its persecution of the Uyghur and Tibetan people. The rally was broken up by 200 pro-Beijing thugs who arrived with speakers blaring Chinese propaganda songs, allegedly assaulted Pavlou and the pro-Hong Kong students, bit a security guard and demanded that ‘UQ apologise’ or they wouldn’t leave. Xu praised this merry band as ‘patriotic’ as did China’s Global Times and branded Pavlou a ’separatist,’ which unleashed a wave of online death threats from CCP loyalists who threatened to murder the young man after raping his mother before his eyes as a demonstration of love for the motherland. In a display of support for Xu that Adams could only dream of, UQ suspended Pavlou and is paying for Xu’s legal defence, courtesy of the Australian taxpayer.
This week Carl Reiner died, the comic genius who among other things co-wrote and directed The Jerk, a film that begins with a filthy, white Steve Martin uttering the immortal line, ‘It was never easy for me; I was born a poor black child.’ The film has not been cancelled — yet. For the moment, the jackboots of the joke squad are content that such a movie would be aborted before it could be born.
Why is comedy verboten? As Mel Brooks said, it has to take risks. ‘It’s the lecherous little elf whispering in the king’s ear, telling the truth about human behaviour.’ Comics imagine that humour gives them licence. But only up to a point. Wilde wrote in The Picture of Dorian Grey, ‘If you want to tell people the truth, make them laugh, otherwise they’ll kill you,’ but look what happened to him.
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