So the thoughtcrimers have finally come for Basil Fawlty, the man whose very existence was designed to poke fun at the thick, the hateful, the bigoted and the wrong. You’d have to be mentally deficient to think that this ineffectual and puffed-up obvious idiot was anything to be frightened of, but it appears the BBC believes we need shielding from his “racial slurs” and “outdated language”.
The episode of Fawlty Towers in which Basil is lightly rude to some German guests and the bumbling old Major reveals his racist tendencies was temporarily struck from one of its platforms while the BBC decided how to culturally cleanse the very national treasure it created. Yeah, that’s right: black men die, statues are toppled and thousands riot in flaming end-of-days cataclysms across the globe, but the real debate for some oxygen thieves is whether or not John Cleese ought to have said “you stupid Kraut” in 1975.
It’s funny, isn’t it, how quickly important stuff descends into stupidity the moment the lightweights, PR people and corporate arse-coverers start muscling in. In my view, any hope of serious change for Black Lives Matter evaporated the moment the Instagrammers opened their chaffering, labneh-encrusted faces two weeks ago. Of all the vapid, soul-emptying experiences, there is little to match being angrily told to “educate yourself” by some hashtagging 23-year-old yogarexic from Hackney.
At a rally on Wednesday, I’m told, a speaker lamented the fact that a serious political moment had been hijacked by white people posting black squares on social media to feel better about themselves. It is true that last week we spent more time watching self-obsessed Hollywood bedwetters such as Julianne Moore and Aaron Paul saying they would “stand against hate in love” than we did asking proper questions about why black and Asian people are constantly being brutalised and/or failed by the justice system, education and healthcare. It is as if one cultural movement is cannibalising another.
We’re never going to come to any meaningful conclusions about Basil Fawlty, or the other “racist” show recently erased from streaming services, Little Britain. But perhaps that is the point. You could debate the “appropriateness” of either show for a thousand years and still not get any clarity.
Meanwhile, that’s a thousand fewer years spent debating things that really matter. For example: the episode about the Germans is deemed unacceptable because the n-word and w-word are used in a scene where Basil talks to the Major. But if you excise those scenes, as some platforms do, are you going to remove 98% of rap music, too? Or ban the John Lennon song Woman Is the N***** of the World? Or trawl through Desmond’s to see if anything grates in ancient black sitcoms the way it does in ancient white ones?
Of all the soul-emptying experiences, there is little to match being angrily told to “educate yourself” by some hashtagging 23-year-old yogarexic from Hackney.
And are you going to launder Basil’s further crimes, his appalling abuse of his wife and hatred of women? What about his sickening disrespect for doctors and nurses, the heroes of “our” NHS? No one who clapped for 10 weeks should have to put up with his despicable lack of faith in the hospital’s ability to treat Sybil’s ingrown toenail.
Then there’s his love of violence, the butchered moose mounted on his wall — so boomer. He’s no fan of men in silky shirts with slightly girly hair, either, is he? Perhaps he hates trans people too? No one wants to look transphobic now, not after what happened to JK Rowling.
On Wednesday she published an essay saying sex was a biological reality and was slaughtered by the very people she made famous. Emma Watson wrote, “Trans people are who they say they are,” before suggesting people donate to charity. My question to Watson is: does she actually believe in this? I don’t believe she has any serious political thoughts on anything, any more than the Tinseltown bloater Eddie Redmayne, who instantly surfaced from the hadal zone to cravenly head off criticism, saying he “disagrees with Jo” in a statement. We haven’t heard from Redmayne in decades, but now he’s some frontline trans warrior again?
It is strange to see profound issues of race, class and privilege reduced to an infantile circus of Maoist blood-letting and faux white guilt: a bonfire of the comedies and all-round worthless cultural event driven by narcissistic fear and self-interest rather than true compassion or curiosity about artistic merit. If the BBC didn’t feel guilty about Basil Fawlty a fortnight ago, why does it feel guilty now? The programme is back up, not out of integrity or principle, but because Cleese called the Beeb stupid.