The power of words

I have been observing the aftermath of Barry Hall’s recent disgusting on-air comments with a building fury. It was not just what he said that has made me so enraged and disgusted, but also the bystander laughter of the other commentators, and the fact that in that moment, not one man in that room called him out and shut him down. And not just on that day.  It is every similar depersonalising and dehumanising comment that is made by so many on air “personalities” on so many television and radio programs over so many years that has fuelled my rage.  And since his sacking, it has been the excuses and the distinction that it wasn’t a suitable thing “to say on air”.

Let’s be clear, what he said (and all of those other comments that have been made on so many occasions bu so many people) was something that should not be said, anywhere, anytime, not even “in a locker room”.  Those comments are everyday examples of the ways in which that people are reduced and debased – and then permitted by the gentle reframing of this humiliation and debasement by minimising it and calling it “humour”. Because once it is minimised and labelled humour… well then we have our right to criticise it removed.  Because it we criticise it, we are being “too sensitive”.  Because we “don’t get the joke”.  Because “we are “taking it too seriously”.  Because we refuse to normalise the humiliation and debasement of other people we ourselves are at risk of criticism and reduction.   And that has made me so angry.

Then last night I watched Hannah Gadsby’s “Nannette”. Her show is breathtakingly honest and erudite. She bravely discusses terrible things that have occurred in her life, but does it without succumbing to being a victim. She has made a decision to be strong, to get strong and to reject debasement and humiliation.  Some of what she talks about is tough to listen to and I suspect that the enormous live audience who attended to see Hannah’s “comedy” got something rather different to what they expected when they bought their tickets.  They got so much more than comedy.  She gave them the gift of reality and understanding. Of what it means to be reduced and humiliated so often, to such a degree that you believe with certainty that you deserve that humiliation.  Watch “Nanette” and you will know with certainty that the one thing Hannah does not deserve is further humiliation.  She deserves kindness, and compassion and gentleness, and because she seems to really like it, I think she probably deserves a really good cup of tea.

I hope that Barry Hall and his colleagues take the time to sit down and watch Hannah’s show and maybe take a glimpse at the damage they do each time they say or think revolting, debasing, humiliating words, then excuse them by calling it humour.  I think it is time they accept Hannah’s gift of reality.