The Feminist Crystal Ball Was Accurate, As Usual

So, you might remember me getting hugely fucked off  a week or so ago because of the whole ha-ha-Roman-Polanski-rapes-children thing on Have I Got News For You. If you’ve got a very good memory, or if you scroll down to the post before this one, you might also remember that I complained, and that I was taking bets as to what kind of response I’d get. It turns out, in fact, that the email I got was less full of bingo-squares than I expected, but there has to be a winner in the what-the-BBC-said competition, and that winner is Cim, who suggested a variant on “the show caters to a broad audience and so not everything will appeal to everyone”.

For a bit of perspective, I’m posting up the complaint I wrote.

“The “joke”, a throwaway comment – which appeared to be scripted – was made by Alexander Armstrong in relation to Roman Polanski’s new film. Aparently, “it comes out with a fifteen rating but Polanski swears it was an eighteen”.

There is nothing funny about the rape of a child. There’s nothing funny in knowing that as a girl, or a woman, you have over a 1 in 5 chance of being sexually assaulted. There’s nothing funny about knowing that if you are raped, you have only a 6% chance of seeing your rapist convicted for his crime, and there’s nothing funny about Roman Polanski being one of those men, and *still* evading punishment.

And there’s certainly nothing funny about being reminded of this while trying to relax in the evening by watching Have I Got News For You.

I expect better of the BBC.

I don’t expect to find all of the jokes made on HIGNFY funny. I *do* expect that they won’t normalise rape by diminishing its gravity. That’s harmful to everybody.”

It was a difficult thing to write, and I struggled to express the way I felt in terms that could be understood by somebody who hasn’t taken Feminism 101. But either I failed, or the BBC failed to engage with the problem I had with the “joke”, because the line that won Cim the bet, just after the pleasantries, was: “As the BBC is a public service financed by the licence fee it must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour.”

Would you like the whole email? I bet you would. Have the whole email:


“As the BBC is a public service financed by the licence fee it must provide programmes which cater for the whole range of tastes in humour. We believe that there is no single set of standards in this area on which the whole of society can agree, and it is inevitable that programmes which are funny to some will occasionally strike others as poor. The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they are catered for at least some of the time.

Nevertheless, feedback like your own helps to inform the discussion about a programme’s tone and content and the reactions of our audiences are closely studied by our producers and senior management to ensure the right judgement is being made about what is acceptable to the audience in general.

With your complaint in mind I can assure you that I’ve registered your comments on our audience log. This is the internal report of audience feedback which we compile daily for all programme makers and commissioning executives within the BBC, and also their senior management. It ensures that your points, and all other comments we receive, are circulated and considered across the BBC.”

I’m struggling now with how (or whether) to respond to this. I don’t want to leave it, really, because I feel as though they’ve ignored the important part – the part about how it’s really not nice to be reminded about how prevalent rape and rape culture is. If anybody has any advice about how (or whether) I should respond, please, let me know. I write a lot, but right now, I’m not sure I have the words.


5 Comments on “The Feminist Crystal Ball Was Accurate, As Usual”

  1. virescence says:

    Popped over here from Shakesville. I’m pretty certain that’s a standard form letter, if that helps colour your decisions about what to do next – I complained to them about a (different) rape joke a couple of weeks ago and got exactly the same response.

  2. Rachel says:

    Hmm. Perhaps I should keep needling them till I get a real person response, then.
    Thanks!

  3. Squoo says:

    Over from Shakesville, too.

    I totally love that the general tone of the standard reply letter ends up impying that rape jokes are just a matter of differing taste which the BBC is therefore honour bound to reflect.

    I doubt that anyone at the BBC who valued hir job would dare suggest that the level of casual racism that is all to easy to observe among the general population is therefore a legitimate ‘taste’ in humour which should be reflected in their programming at the expense of ethnic minority viewers.
    But rape and sexual assault survivors? Ehh. It’s far more important, it seems, to think about all the rape-joke-loving dudes who’d feel totally left out of BBC programming otherwise.

    I’m aware that this message may not have been the one [consciously] intended by whoever hit ‘send’ on the standard reply email, but I’d love to see you follow it up and try to get a more targeted reply because I think you make an important point.

  4. cim says:

    This bit of the letter terrifies me: “The only realistic and fair approach for us is to ensure that the range of comedy is broad enough for all viewers to feel that they are catered for at least some of the time.” – so, what, they intentionally include a proportion of ableist/racist/homophobic/sexist jokes to appeal to the rapists and other bigots in the audience? Is that what they’re implying?

  5. Rachel says:

    I knew something was wrong somewhere :)
    Thanks for giving me the words to tell them what it was. I’ll definitely be responding now that I can be more coherent, and I’ll make sure I post any updates here, too.


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