Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Where Do You Draw The Line?

Swimming star Stephanie Rice caused considerable consternation over the weekend when she posted a message on social networking site Twitter in response to the dramatic Wallabies victory in the rugby union match against South Africa. In her exuberance she posted “Suck on that, faggots!” Stephanie immediately came under fire for using what was described as a homophobic insult, and was widely condemned. She responded with an apology, and deleted the twitter message, but it hasn’t been enough to stop the fall out. Today, the motor car company Jaguar has ended its sponsorship deal with the swimmer and asked for their car to be returned. Some might say that it is something of an over reaction, but of course Jaguar is entitled to make decisions about what they believe will reflect on the image and reputation of their brand.

At the same time, it has been reported that well known, some would say notorious, AFL and Channel Nine identity Sam Newman has been found by the Australian Communication and Media Authority to have breached the commercial television code of practice with a joke comparing a man with a monkey. In discussing a story about a young Malaysian man who had married a 107 year old woman, Sam suggested that the man was “not long out of the forest”. A complaint was upheld by the Authority which found that the remark compared the man to a sub-human primate and was likely to provoke severe ridicule on the basis of race. Channel Nine stuck by their man and argued that the observation was a satirical reference to the man’s behaviour, not his race. ACMA disagreed and upheld the complaint.

Is this political correctness gone mad? Is there now a law against having a sense of humour? After all, Sam’s monkey man joke could well be directed at the man’s behaviour as he claimed, just as it is common to refer to naughty children as cheeky monkeys. For that matter, I am reasonably confident that Stephanie Rice probably didn’t mean to suggest that the South African Rugby Union players are necessarily homosexual, nor to imply, as Jerry Seinfeld would have said, “that there is anything wrong with that”. And where do you draw the line? What about those old Toyota ads that used the word bugger? Shouldn’t that be offensive to gays? And isn’t there a double standard when Sam Newman is to all intents and purposes paid to act like a crude and vulgar boofhead, but when somebody else does it they get penalised?

It can be incredibly difficult to keep track of where the line is currently drawn.

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