Why the left is wrong on Jeremy Clarkson

Clarkson's call for strikers to be "shot" was an unfunny joke that required no comment from anyone.

Jeremy Clarkson's call for strikers to be "executed in front of their families" was an unfunny joke that required no comment from anyone. If you don't like Clarkson's brand of populist right-wing humour (I don't), switch over. But few chose that option. The Twittersphere erupted in outrage and Labour rushed out a late night press release calling on David Cameron to "condemn" Clarkson's remarks (Cameron has since said it was "a silly thing to say"). Now, remarkably, Unison, one of the country's biggest trade unions, is taking "urgent legal advice" over whether the Top Gear presenter could be prosecuted for his "I'd have them all shot" comment.

I've embedded the clip from The One Show above, so you can judge for yourself, but it was entirely clear to me that Clarkson's comments were made in jest. Indeed, immediately before the remarks, he joked that he supported the strike (the roads were clear for once) but needed to give the other side since he was on the BBC. The literal minded response of most liberals only panders to Clarkson's depiction of the left as sour, humourless and boring.

Those on the left "outraged" by Clarkson's comments are the mirror image of those on the right who cry foul when Ken Livingstone jokes about hanging Osborne or compares Boris to Hitler. The divide, in this instance, is not between the left and the right but between the ironic mind and the literal mind. We can either live in a censorious society where individuals are free to use only the blandest language possible, or one in which we tolerate bad jokes and make them in return. I know which I prefer.

The irony is that Clarkson's joke about strikers distracted attention from a remark that was genuinely offensive. "I do sometimes use the train to come to London but it always stops in Reading," he said. "It's always because somebody has jumped in front of it and somebody has burst."

"You just think, why have we stopped because we've hit somebody? What's the point of stopping? It won't make them better."

Where, I have been meaning to ask, was the outrage over that?

P.S. For my own take on the strike, see my blog from yesterday "The myth of "unaffordable" public sector pensions"

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Ann Summers can’t claim to empower women when it is teaming up with Pornhub

This is not about mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

I can’t understand why erotic retailers like Ann Summers have persisted into the twenty-first century. The store claims to be “sexy, daring, provocative and naughty”, and somewhat predictably positions itself as empowering for women. As a feminist of the unfashionable type, I can’t help but be suspicious of any form of sexual liberation that can be bought or sold.

And yet, I’d never really thought of Ann Summers as being particularly threatening to the rights of women, more just a faintly depressing reflection of heteronormativity. This changed when I saw they’d teamed-up with Pornhub. The website is reputedly the largest purveyor of online pornography in the world. Pornhub guidelines state that content flagged as  “illegal, unlawful, harassing, harmful, offensive” will be removed. Nonetheless, the site still contains simulated incest and rape with some of the more easily published film titles including “Exploited Teen Asia” (236 million views) and “How to sexually harass your secretary properly” (10.5 million views.)  With campaigns such as #metoo and #timesup are sweeping social media, it seems bizarre that a high street brand would not consider Pornhub merchandise as toxic.

Society is still bound by taboos: our hyper-sexual society glossy magazines like Teen Vogue offer girls tips on receiving anal sex, while advice on pleasuring women is notably rare. As an unabashed wanker, I find it baffling that in the year that largely female audiences queued to watch Fifty Shades Darker, a survey revealed that 20 per cent of U.S. women have never masturbated. It is an odd truth that in our apparently open society, any criticism of pornography or sexual practices is shut down as illiberal. 

Guardian-reading men who wring their hands about Fair Trade coffee will passionately defend the right to view women being abused on film. Conservative men who make claims about morals and marriage are aroused by images that in any other setting would be considered abuse. Pornography is not only misogynistic, but the tropes and language are often also racist. In what other context would racist slurs and scenarios be acceptable?

I have no doubt that some reading this will be burning to point out that feminist pornography exists. In name of course it does, but then again, Theresa May calls herself a feminist when it suits. Whether you believe feminist pornography is either possible or desirable, it is worth remembering that what is marketed as such comprises a tiny portion of the market. This won’t make me popular, but it is worth remembering feminism is not about celebrating every choice a woman makes – it is about analysing the social context in which choices are made. Furthermore, that some women also watch porn is evidence of how patriarchy shapes our desire, not that pornography is woman-friendly.  

Ann Summers parts the net curtains of nation’s suburban bedrooms and offers a glimpse into our peccadillos and preferences. That a mainstream high street retailer blithely offers guidance on hair-pulling, whipping and clamps, as well as a full range of Pornhub branded products is disturbing. This is not about women’s empowerment or mutual sexual fulfilment, it is about eroticising women’s pain. 

We are living in a world saturated with images of women and girls suffering; to pretend that there is no connection between pornography and the four-in-ten teenage girls who say they have been coerced into sex acts is naive in the extreme. For too long the state claimed that violence in the home was a domestic matter. Women and girls are now facing an epidemic of sexual violence behind bedroom doors and it is not a private matter. We need to ask ourselves which matters more: the sexual rights of men or the human rights of women?