Tuesday 12 December 2017

Hypocrisy of the worst kind

Eamonn Sweeney

Tremendous news. BSkyB chief executive Jeremy Darroch has described the various sexist comments made by the departed duo of Andy Gray and Richard Keys as "totally unacceptable . . . against everything Sky Sports stands for." Hurray for Jeremy. And hurray for Sky Sports.

Now that these two bad apples have been banished, sexism will never again rear its ugly head in the world of sports broadcasting.

I wonder what else is going on at Sky Sports. For example, at their popular magazine programme Soccer AM. Let's check the website. Hello, what's this? "Are you a fox? Do you like football? Have you got a party trick which will make the nation sit up and take notice." Hmm, perhaps by fox they mean the well known chicken-slaughtering woodland creature, or even a fan of Leicester City.

Or perhaps not. Because according to the site, Sky are "scouring the land for lovely ladies to add a bit of glamour to the gossip, guests and goals we've got coming our way." Beside this touching appeal we have a picture of a group of young ladies in T-shirts and shorts which seem to have shrunk in the wash. And there's even a table where you can rank the 'soccerettes' in order of preference.

What do you reckon Jeremy would make of that? Perhaps he would echo the words of Nigel Tufnell in This Is Spinal Tap who, on being informed that the record company find the cover of the 'Smell The Glove' album to be sexist, replies, "Well, so what, what's wrong with being sexy?"

Looking at the furore surrounding the departure of Gray and Keys last week it was hard not to be reminded of the time a few years back when the late Jade Goody was caught disparaging her fellow reality show contestant Shilpa Shetty. Among the voices howling in outrage at Goody's racism were those of newspapers who regularly ran stories about sponging asylum seekers, rapacious refugees and mad Muslims. Everyone enjoyed the feeling of briefly being united in self-righteousness and then got back to behaving exactly as they had in the past.

It made me think of the song 'National Brotherhood Week' by the American satirist Tom Lehrer which concludes, "be nice to people who are inferior to you. It's only for a week, so have no fear. Be grateful that it doesn't last all year."

Similarly, some very strange people have been taking up the cudgels on behalf of feminism. Thursday's Sun, which I picked up with the tongs normally reserved for this task, condemned Keys for referring to a woman as 'it,' and using a 'vile term' for sex. The Sun's bona fides in taking offence at the objectification of women are perhaps slightly tarnished by the fact that its website provides an extensive selection of topless Page 3 girls. Elsewhere, you can read about, 'Prem star's four in a bed orgy filmed,' 'Kim's sex tape humiliation' and 'when it comes to teenage kicks they don't get any hotter than the girls from The Inbetweeners'. Personally, I'd find The Sun's orgy of hypocrisy far more disturbing than anything 'Prem star' got up to.

One line being peddled about the disgraced duo is that they are 'dinosaurs', men in their 50s who didn't realise that this kind of sexism doesn't belong in the brave new 21st century world. That particular theory doesn't bear more than a second's scrutiny. Because contemporary culture is awash with sexism, far more so than it was a couple of decades back. Twenty years ago, for example, you didn't have magazines like Loaded, Nuts and Zoo with their softcore photos of young women and their lionisation of sexism and general male ignorance. These magazines enjoy huge circulations and it's not men in their 50s who are buying them.

Their audience is by and large the same as that which Sky target with programmes like Soccer AM, young men like those who people the audience of that wretched show and greet the arrival of the soccerettes with the troglodytic enthusiasm of travelling salesmen watching a sixties stag show.

This kind of casual sexism is everywhere. Look at the number of pop videos where girl bands are decked out in stripper chic and male stars are surrounded by a bevy of semi-naked 'lovely ladies' in a boneheaded recreation of the Playboy Mansion. Look at the idea of the landlord of that mansion, Hugh Hefner, as a kind of hero. Look at the notion that the pimp is also a pop culture icon to be admired.

Look at the apparent acceptability of internet porn and lap dancing to a new generation of men. The culture is getting more rather than less sexist. Is it any wonder that old fogeys like Andy Gray and Richard Keys are confused as to what is acceptable?

Because, for all the chat about Gray and Keys representing some older, less enlightened version of masculinity, you didn't have programmes like Soccer AM back in those supposedly darker days. Sky has led the plunge downmarket into lad mag territory but the other stations have followed. The old Match of the Day would never have countenanced a presenter like the witless Adrian Chiles, neither would it have included anything in the vein of Kevin Day's excruciatingly bloky inserts. And the contributions of the likes of David Baddiel, Frank Skinner and James Corden to BBC's football coverage has also added to the notion that supporting

football comes as part of a package which requires you to check your brain in at the turnstiles.

Old-fashioned sexism was at least honestly come by. Its modern cousin is all the more pernicious because it's perpetrated in the name of 'irony' or as a reaction against a fictitious 'political correctness'. It wasn't surprising to see that one of the first people to spring to the defence of Gray and Keys was Jeremy Clarkson who, along with his two accident-prone upper class twit sidekicks, has made a living out of peddling a more polished version of the Loaded worldview.

It's mean-spirited, mind-numbing stuff. But it has a huge audience. And so did Gray and Keys before they were sacrificed to the tabloid gods. Will TV sports coverage be less laddish and sexist as a result? Not at all. But we've all got to boo the pantomime baddies for a few days and that is all that matters.

I suppose it gave Jonathan Ross, Lindsay Lohan, Tiger Woods and the woman who put the cat in the wheelie bin a rest.

backpage@independent.ie

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