Friday, December 02, 2011

When the left could still laugh, or when a New Statesman article endorsed cannibalism

In my possession I have a reprinted copy of article* taken from the New Statesman arguing that as part of a programme of national recovery:
Surplus 'students' of both sexes should be sold to Arab sheikhs for their harems, thus preserving our university art treasures...
Surplus car-workers, politicians, steel-workers etc. should be eaten on a 'natural wastage' basis.
So far as I know no one from the New Statesman apologised for what might be considered a deeply offensive article that is at once racist, homophobic and insulting to students and members of the working class.

It's a bit late for an apology, actually, since the article was published in 1975 and both its author, Auberon Waugh, and the editor who published it, Anthony Howard, are sadly no longer with us. It was clearly intended to by funny - indeed it was part of an extended joke whereby Waugh, whose satire was based on expressing outrageous reactionary views for comic effect, wrote articles for a magazine largely known for its earnest high-minded socialism. Waugh's views were, even in 1975, clearly beyond the pale and meant to be so. They were intended to wind up the magazine's lefty readers.

Of course I mention this in the light of today's controversy over Jeremy Clarkson's use of offensive reactionary views as a humorous device. (Clarkson, though, is nowhere near in Waugh's league as a satirist). My New Statesman example suggests it is not merely dew-eyed nostalgia to think that there was once a time when the liberal left could recognise that views expressed by a humorist might be intended to amuse, and not attract po-faced condemnation and demands for apologies.

* The article is from the New Statesman 23 May 1975 and reprinted in In the lion's den, a collection of Auberon Waugh's New Statesman articles.

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