Monthly Archives: October 2011

Don’t You Know About The Word?

A disability rights campaigner has written an article criticising comedian Ricky Gervais for his use of offensive language on his Twitter page. Personally I find it more offensive that someone of Gervais’s calibre has succumbed to this grammatically bereft conveyor belt of inanity from people who have unlearnt the art of the inner monologue. If texting has become the graveyard of the English language then surely Twitter is the all-consuming hellfire that expunges all manner of syntax, spelling and original thought with its demonic lust for poorly expressed clichés, unashamed product placement and the most profound abuse of the exclamation mark since it was fondled in the copy room by an over-zealous semi-colon at the punctuation Christmas party.

The word that drew the ire of the writer in question is ‘mong’, a word of which Gervais does seem to be quite fond. While the word is basically comparable to ‘idiot’ these days, it does have a history of use as a pejorative term for the disabled. It stems from the Mongoloid classification ascribed to sufferers of Down Syndrome, a term coined by John Langdon Down himself, after whom the condition is named. Down saw similarities in the facial features of his patients and those of the vast ethnic group of Asians labelled simply as Mongolians at the time. Given that the prevailing ethnic theory in those days was something in the region of “White man is God, everyone else is sub-human”, I suppose we can forgive John his appallingly racist choice of nomenclature. Political correctness has since seen the word relegated to a relic of a simpler time, until of course people like Gervais use a derivative of it and somebody takes offence.

The gradient of offence taken at the use of certain terms is interesting. In the above article the author cites the following question from a blogger as the most sensible reaction to Gervais’s use of the word: “Just a thought, but if you think ‘mong’ only means ‘idiot’, why not just use the word ‘idiot’?” I’m sure Ricky does use the word idiot, as we all do quite regularly. In fact one of his shows is called An Idiot Abroad, in which the eponymous idiot travels the globe and does idiotic things. Of course, anyone who is familiar with Dr. Henry H. Goddard’s classification system for mental retardation that was drawn up in the early 1900’s (and who isn’t?) will know that ‘idiot’ is also a term that was used to describe a mental disability. The word was used to describe a person with an IQ of less than 30; ‘imbecile’ and ‘moron’, other words used frequently today, were also terms included in the system.

So why are these words acceptable? Probably because they were used so often that their original connotations were forgotten, something that is likely to also happen with the word mong if it is allowed to proliferate and become part of an everyday lexicon. Censorship and labelling words as offensive do nothing but draw attention to their original meanings, which would otherwise become unimportant as the word evolves. People from older generations may be shocked to hear young people calling each other ‘retards’ or ‘faggots’ but the fact is that these insults are used in a completely new context, for the most part. It is only on the rare occasions that they are used vindictively in relation to disability or sexual orientation that the debate over their use becomes complicated, and any offence taken can be fully warranted.

Inevitably this episode has raised the issue of censorship of comedians, specifically the question of what, if anything, should be a taboo subject where comedy is concerned. I would be of the opinion that everything is available for parody as long as it’s more funny than it is offensive. Whether it’s religion, race, disability or whatever, by all means use the subject for comedy if you can make it funny. People don’t have a divine right not to be offended and they can simply ignore any comedy that doesn’t appeal to their sensibilities. Any hateful comments masquerading as comedy that simply target these groups or individuals won’t be funny, and are therefore just offensive. There’s a not-so-fine line between the brave, intelligent satire of someone like Louis CK, and the brazen, wilfully ignorant bleatings of the likes of Jim Davidson.

As for words like mong that still upset certain people, hopefully their original meanings will become obsolete with continued use. At this stage as a society we should have moved past the point of mere words being allowed to cause any kind of distress, no matter what their connotations are. Or maybe we’ll always have certain words whose ability to insult and injure is inescapable. Perhaps some of today’s nondescript words will one day be regarded as insults of the highest order. ‘Bieber’ may yet become an outrageously inappropriate slur hurled at simple young men with learning difficulties. The term ‘Glee’ will be used to taunt roving gangs of homosexuals. But worst of all, people whose opinions, and indeed existence, are deemed to be entirely irrelevant will forever be known as ‘Tweeters’. I’d take mong over that any day.


Friday Night Shite

This season of The Late Late Show has continued its recent trend of receiving poor viewing figures, with last Friday’s programme coming sixth in the weekly ratings. RTÉ’s flagship show usually tops the ratings, but this season has seen a dramatic fall in viewers. An RTÉ spokeswoman cited last Friday’s clash with the international football match between Ireland and Andorra as a reason for the decreased figures. Although the fact that people would rather watch such a tedious game is probably more of an indictment of The Late Late than anything.

The lack of interest in last Friday’s show is particularly puzzling given the calibre of the guests involved on the night. Glamour model Jodie Marsh treated the audience to a display of her newly toned physique, and was so scantily clad and oiled up that people seemed surprised that a video camera and a Premiership footballer were nowhere to be seen. Apparently bodybuilding is her latest attempt at fame after years of failing to emulate the success of fellow Z-list famous tart, Jordan, in being a famous tart. To aim so stupendously low with your life’s ambition and still fall short is fairly pathetic. The woman is a waste of decent matter that could instead have been used to make a tree or a rock, or one of those lizards that can lick its own eyes. Those things are awesome.

After putting up with the aforementioned bronzed wretch, everyone in the studio seemed in need of a good laugh. Which is why it was so unfortunate that Des Bishop was invited onto the show. Des thought of one joke about a water heating system about eleven years ago and has failed to come up with a better one since. And the original joke wasn’t even that great. Instead he has since embarked on a crusade to save the Irish language, seemingly convinced he can do so primarily through shouting banal observational comedy about the Irish. Did you hear the one about Irish people loving the craic? It was shit and unfunny because Des Bishop told it.

Having somehow not surpassed its quota of excitement for the evening, The Late Late next unveiled not one, not two, but three completely irrelevant people. Paul Carberry is famous for not being allowed to do his job as a jockey because he’s always banned for being pissed. He was accompanied by his sister and a third individual who may have been a horse trainer, or possibly the owner and handler of Paul himself. His habit of getting out of his chair every thirty seconds to feed Paul a sugar lump was disconcerting to say the least. Perhaps this is the point at which the programme lost most of its viewers. Horseracing is something of a niche sport, seeing as it only arouses the interest of fat alcoholics from Meath and Kildare who run out of greyhounds and English football clubs to bet on during the week and need an even more boring way of gambling away their children’s inheritance while they stand around talking about the Fianna Fáil glory days and the inventive ways in which they like to beat their wives.

All in all then, an incredibly unimpressive collection of people to have to endure on a Friday night. However, no matter how entertaining the guests may be in a given week, there is one shrewlike, table-slapping, mincing common denominator that makes watching The Late Late only slightly preferable to peeling off your own skin with a butter knife, simply because the latter would take a bit longer. The fact that Tubs has managed to carve out a successful career in broadcasting is an unfathomable mystery akin to that of the disappearing planes in the Bermuda Triangle, or how Colin Farrell got that accent growing up in Castleknock.

His obsession with the 60’s and anachronistic mannerisms give him the air of a particularly snooty twelve year old who’s acting out an episode of Mad Men in his head while everyone else looks on and sees not a suave, debonair sophisticate but an officious, self-important little shit. Tubs’ stilted manner, forced geniality and awkward demeanor whenever anyone deviates slightly from the script is painful to watch. The longest running chat show in the world, and a veritable institution under the steady hand of the twinkly-eyed Gaybo, has become tired and turgid under Tubridy.

As an aside, given the current economic climate it’s hard to believe that the show is also sponsored by The Quinn Group, a bunch of mercenaries who made their Celtic Tiger billions through hawking cement, insurance and misery to the Irish people. It’s nice to see that despite being in debt to the tune of about €5 billion, Seanie still has a few quid to pour into this quagmire of trite, pointless conversation that we’re subjected to on a weekly basis.

It’s safe to assume that The Late Late won’t be cancelled any time soon, so maybe the best thing to do is look around for a more suitable host. Although the way this country’s going at the moment, in a year or two we might see The Late Late presented by Jedward. Brought to you by Anglo Irish Bank and filmed in front of a live studio audience of the four people who haven’t emigrated to Australia yet. “Like, OMG, please stand for our first guest, Uachtarán na hÉireann, Martin McGuinness!” That butter knife is beginning to sound pretty good after all.

Hmm, Needs More Seasons

It’s not often that a regular fixture on the RTÉ schedule is worth watching, given that the national broadcaster’s channels are usually overflowing with mediocrity. Having to sit through the likes of Nationwide, Fair City and Oireachtas Report makes you wish you had spent more of your life watching paint dry so that you’d have something more exciting to think about while trying to ignore the grey, lifeless droning coming from whatever Montrose octogenarian has been taken out of the cupboard and dusted off this week. RTÉ is like the opposite of Logan’s Run, where you seem to have to reach a certain age before you’re allowed in front of the camera, as well as a certain level of tedious monotony.

One welcome exception to this rule over the past few weeks has been the Irish edition of MasterChef, which has made for compelling viewing. Not because the show is an impressively polished, stylish showcase of cooking like its British equivalent, which it isn’t. It’s more to do with the fact that there’s nothing more hilarious than watching people attempt to do something difficult, particularly when those people are of the hapless and desperate variety. With one or two notable exceptions, the amateur chefs battling for the prize are woefully inadequate, and the mistakes they make each week are endlessly entertaining to watch.

There is also the added hilarity of the Irishness of the whole endeavour. We really are woeful at producing these kinds of reality shows. When the likes of The Apprentice and Come Dine With Me come across the water we manage to turn successful formats into litanies of cringeworthy moments. Of course it doesn’t help that the kind of people that apply to be contestants aren’t exactly of a high calibre. The shows quickly descend into a farcical and pathetic race to see who manages to be the least awful at being a person. Added to this is the fact that they are usually shoddily edited, and with an amateur feel that gives the impression that the production team gleaned most of their film knowledge from watching YouTube videos of animals getting stuck in things.

Unfortunately the Irish version of the programme is also missing the most important ingredient (see what I did there?) of the British show, the inimitable judges, Gregg Wallace and John Torode. Whether it was waiting for Gregg to come across a dessert that didn’t make him moan orgasmically, or listening to John’s ridiculously elongated vowels as he told someone their soufflé was a piece of shit, the judges were by far the most entertaining element of the competition.

Compared to their counterparts, the Irish judges are a bit of a disappointment. Nick Munier is a pleasant enough fellow, but doesn’t have much in the way of cooking credentials. He became known as the maitre d’ in Marco Pierre White’s Hell’s Kitchen, in which he was renowned for tripping over himself and dropping food on the ground. Apparently he continued to do so regularly because he couldn’t decipher from Marco Pierre’s one facial expression whether he was angry, confused, or trying to sell him Knorr Stock Cubes. Nick would be perfect if this was a competition to find the clumsiest arsehole, but despite much evidence to the contrary, it’s supposedly about being able to cook.

The other judge is the perennially sour-faced Dylan McGrath. Like most people from the North, he seems vaguely annoyed that he’s alive most of the time. Dylan is famous for running his overpriced restaurant, Mint in Ranelagh, into the ground. McGrath has had a number of complaints made against him by staff for his abusive attitude in the kitchen, a sadly ubiquitous feature of the celebrity chef culture for which we have Gordon “This fucking pasta’s overcooked you prick” Ramsay to thank. McGrath’s restaurant was highly regarded by critics however, with The Sunday Business Post’s food critic declaring,

“It is a long, long time since a meal actually haunted me in the way a beautiful painting or a thoughtful book might.”

The writer has sadly since passed away due to an irreversible case of being an unbelievably pretentious twat.

Pretentiousness is not exactly thin on the ground in culinary circles. When chefs, critics and connoisseurs are judging dishes the food seems to take on remarkably unfoodlike qualities. Quotes like “This salad is a bit haughty”, or “Your risotto doesn’t quite have enough pathos for me” wouldn’t seem out of place. These traditionalists also sometimes seem to forget that taste is subjective. Expert criticism of technique is one thing but certain elements just come down to personal preference. One cliché often rolled out is “Hmm, needs more seasoning.” Oh, does it really? Well maybe I just thought you could do with a little less sodium in your diet you bloated cretin. I’m convinced that food, wine and art critics get together every month to get pissed and have money fights, all the while laughing maniacally at how they’ve duped people into thinking that they actually serve a purpose.

As for MasterChef Ireland, hopefully future seasons will provide a little more in the way of talent and excitement. At the moment it’s a bit like watching one of those episodes of Ready Steady Cook where some bloke thought it would be hilarious to just bring a massive potato, or a ten kilo bag of peas. Which it always was, in fairness. I know I’ll keep tuning in anyway, if only to wait with bated breath for the day that Nick tries to carry something heavy across the kitchen. Now that’s the kind of excitement you just don’t get with Oireachtas Report these days.