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  Opinion   Columnists  30 Dec 2023  Farrukh Dhondy | Of ‘clowns’ and politics in UK: When a joke isn’t a joke any more

Farrukh Dhondy | Of ‘clowns’ and politics in UK: When a joke isn’t a joke any more

In his words: "I am just a professional writer, which means I don't do blogs and try and get money for whatever I write."
Published : Dec 30, 2023, 1:53 am IST
Updated : Dec 30, 2023, 1:53 am IST

Controversial Banter: UK Home Secretary's Ill-Advised Joke Sparks Outrage and Calls for Resignation

UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. (PTI File Image)
 UK Foreign Secretary James Cleverly. (PTI File Image)

“His son was an addict

His wife was a slut

The goats of the village

Danced in his hut

But the village wizard didn’t give way

To the tiniest fragment of dismay

He was a masochist if you must know

He really enjoyed the status quo”

From The Panga of Boond, by Bachchoo

A fierce row has broken out over a joke made in a speech at a dinner reception by a known clown. What this clown said was that he secretly gave his wife in her drink each day a small dose of the rape-drug Rohypnol. He went on to say it was the secret of a long marriage, as being drugged and doped she wouldn’t realise that there must be more attractive men out there.

The joke, though made at a private occasion, went what they call “viral”. Several women’s organisations objected in the strongest terms. Some of them called for the clown to be beheaded through the adoption of the French Revolution’s decapitation machine, the guillotine!

OK, OK -- by now, gentle reader, you may have guessed that the above paragraphs are a bit tongue-in-cheek. They are not the truth. Yes, all right, they are deceptive about calls for the guillotine… but my excuse is that it was a sort of metaphor. All the stuff about the joke and its purported “justification” is absolutely true, and the clown is an unwitting and not a professional one. And so, to the revelations (not of course for those who’ve followed UK media).

The clown is none other than a fellow called James Cleverly. He happens to be the present home secretary in the British government. He stupidly, actually, literally made that clumsy attempt at humour at a Downing Street gathering. I suppose he was fumbling around for something which he thought would amuse his Cabinet colleagues and their underlings and, of course, the rape-drug and its uses came to mind because the UK home office -- his home office -- is at this very time considering strong laws to criminalise the use of several of these rape-drugs, that charmless men use to knock women into a virtual state of unconsciousness in order to rape them. What a great subject for a spot of vile banter. What Mrs James Stupidly thought of her husband’s “joke” has not been reported in the press. Is she suing for divorce?

And the guillotine metaphor? Well, when this sordid piece of what Stupidly thought was funny (Did Hedgie and gang laugh?), there were widespread calls, from organisations which campaign against violence to women, and from the Opposition benches, for him to resign.

Perhaps he does believe that this rape-drug business and the proposed legislation is a bit of a joke. Oh -- as an appendix to the “joke”, this clown added that small quantities of the rape-drug were OK.

This Cleverly was foreign secretary before being moved to the home office and he is reputed, while there, to call the policy of sending asylum seekers to Rwanda “batshit”, or words to that effect. And now as home secretary he’s the Rwanda policy’s chief advocate!

Laugh? I could’ve cried!

Humour is subject to cultural convention. The stereotyping of national or gender characteristics were deemed legitimate targets of jokes: Scots were frugal, the Irish stupid… the West had jokes about blondes, mothers-in-law… That was then!

In India, the jokes were about different regions -- each supposed to have characteristics of intelligence or behaviour which set them apart. The most common was, of course, the Sardarji joke. In my short and happy life, as I grew up, I shared these with several of my Sikh friends. Khushwant Singh, the most prominent Sikh writer in English, actually compiled a book of Sardarji jokes. There was an ability to laugh at oneself and with it came an ironic ability to laugh at the stereotype that various cultures had constructed about oneself, however absurd. But alas, a wave of righteousness now invades these linguistic shores -- and I know many others. There has been born a culture of precociousness which puts a taboo -- an argumentative capital sentence -- on humour about race, class, nationality, gender, hair-colour, family status, sexual orientation… name it!

Of course, there are some attempts at humour which are deeply, deeply offensive as in the attempt of Stupidly. And yes, the insult to race and class, etc, in a joke ought to be assessed for its actually, or even probably, offensive connotations. That being emphatically asserted, the entire point of humour -- without which human existence is boring and stale -- is ironic criticism and an awakening to self-awareness.

I am, absolutely, aware that any statement about transgenders is bound to lead to social media assaults and cautionary dread. Even so, I venture an ironic joke: What would Karl Marx have said to the transgender community? He may have said: “Transgender people Unite! -- You have nothing to lose but your pronouns!”

I tried this “joke” on my 39-year-old son and my 42-year-old daughter. They said they found it offensive, but couldn’t say why. The conspiracy of fear of being morally on the wrong side seems to prevail in our time.

So here, then, in defiance of the conspiracy, as a born Parsi, I give you an old Parsi joke:

“One Parsi gentleman says to his friend: “My wife is pregnant!”

His friend replies: “Oh I’m so sorry! Whom do you suspect”?

Tags: farrukh dhondy column, james cleverly