“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,” said Evelyn Beatrice Hall, an English writer of the 19th and 20th centuries. It’s a nice summary of the principle of freedom of speech – i.e. we’re all free to say what we like and anything that curbs that freedom is a form of censorship and an abuse of our rights.
Well, I disapprove of what Quentin Letts had to say about the latest series of The Great British Bake Off, and whilst I’m probably not going to risk my life so he can repeat it I do wish to explain exactly why I disapprove in the hope that he’ll be less likely to say it again. To clarify, I am most certainly not advocating censorship, far from it, I think it better that the views of Letts are aired precisely so we can challenge them and in doing so maybe even inspire him to be a little less of a bigot.
He begins by describing the different contestants that have been chosen for the sixth series of Bake Off. He notes that one of them is Muslim and wears a headscarf, one is a house husband, another is a female vegan bodybuilder from Lithuania, one of the men has tattoos and wears a hat, one of them is Afro-Caribbean, there’s one on a gap year, at least one of the contestants lives in the north of England, there’s a British-Asian male and another man originally from the Philippines.
This might sound like an exciting and interesting group of people who we can look forward to getting to know as the series progresses but not for Letts. What he takes umbrage with is the very diversity that the contestants represent. He considers this part of a grand political conspiracy as perpetrated by the BBC, in his own (far too easily parodied) words: “a leaning to modernity, to fashion, to ‘the alternative’, the ‘different’, sometimes for reasons of group-think, sometimes out of a desire to jack up the ratings in the manner of a commercial TV station. It is in keeping with the creed of egalitarianism. It is deeply unconservative.” No doubt it’s political correctness gone mad, something he writes about in his book Bog Standard Britain as crushing “the individualism from our nation of once indignant eccentrics.”
Of course, Letts’ version of individualism (and conservatism) is of a particular hue: namely white. He makes it pretty clear that in his world it’s not Muslims or Lithuanians that bake but homosexual men or older, white, middle-aged women (“mum-next-doorish” types as he describes). As a white, middle class male Letts has the privilege of being one of the most represented groups in mainstream culture (and history in general), so it’s no surprise that he gets a bit uppity when suddenly there are fewer people like him appearing on his favourite television shows. He wants to see more “humdrum, plain-as-white-flour, Middle-English bumblers” (nice to see him appealing to the casual bigotry of equally insecure Middle-Englanders, that infamous squeezed middle beset upon by socialist loons, crafty immigrants and vicious feminists). His privilege is being undermined and whilst this is a good thing because it represents power being more equally distributed and an increase in equality all Letts wants to do is get angry. He expresses his anger (and deep set insecurity) by cracking racist, sexist, homophobic and Islamophobic jokes in his article, no doubt scoffing into his favourite suitably middle class and white supremacist breakfast cereal as he does so. For all his life Letts will have found positive discrimination working in his favour but because it’s so ingrained and commonplace he never will have questioned it, let alone give it a second thought. But now’s it not working in his favour he’s going to kick up a fuss.
“I just wish I didn’t feel, as I looked at the contestants yesterday, that I was being preached at – that the BBC’s social engineers were up to their transparently political tricks again.” Some unintentional comedy gold from Letts here who has just spent a whole article preaching bigotry and narrow-mindedness at us. He accuses the Beeb of having a political agenda whilst clearly forgetting that white, heteronormative, androcentric patriarchy fired at us on a daily basis is itself just drenched in politics. But it doesn’t suit Letts to acknowledge this so instead he’ll deride the “sinister” politics of the BBC, one that favours equality, diversity and representation – you know, those really sinister values. He’s scared these values depart so far from the mainstream “that they often fail to represent adequately that very mainstream” – but Letts doesn’t really care about these people, his article has shown such a lack of compassion that it’s hard to think he cares about anyone, no, he cares about himself and wants more men just like him on TV (he wont’ be happy until Mary Berry’s been replaced by Jeremy Clarkson and Sue Perkins has been ousted for someone overtly heterosexual, such as Katie Hopkins).
So no I don’t approve of what Letts has to say and whilst I won’t risk my life in defence of him saying it I still won’t call for its censorship. His argument is as floppy as a failed souffle and has the soggiest of soggy bottoms. Whilst the BBC’s sinister world of equality and diversity is just brimming with creamy Victoria sponges and rolling Swiss Rolls. He’ll figure it out one day – that a more equal and fair society works out better for everyone, even people like him, but in the meantime we’ll just have to tolerate the bitter aftertaste of his bigotry.