This whole debacle makes Twisted Blood want to smash his forehead against a wall until the blood covers it like paint
Andi Thomas is a man of letters.
I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, or if anybody’s ever mentioned it, but Roy Hodgson, England’s next former manager, pronounces the letter “r” differently to some other people. More like a “w”. This is hilarious, right, because his name has an “r” right at the beginning, and so you can do a clever little switch-a-roo and instantly generate a nickname: WOY!!!
How we lolled.
Cleverer men than I have suggested that this pronunciation tic, commonly labelled a speech impediment, is in fact nothing more than a perfectly normal alternative, and that the insistence on “correct” and “incorrect” ways of speaking is just another subconscious reinforcement of class hierarchies. We should, of course, all aspire to speak the Queen’s English. But I suspect that a cheeky bit of class warfare wasn’t quite what the Sun had in mind when it ran with the headline: BWING ON THE EUWOS (We’ll See You In Ukwaine Against Fwance).
Clearly, it was a slow news day, and it wasn’t as though the paper had a vested interest in not reporting that a notable media mogul had been declared unfit to run a business by a Parliamentary Committee. Nor should it be any news to anybody that the Sun is a vile, contemptible organ, actively working to increase the sum total of human misery. But plenty of people call him “Woy”, don’t they? You couldn’t move for comically-inserted “w”s on Twitter yesterday, and no matter what it sometimes feels like, not everybody is vile and/or contemptible. So what’s the difference?
It’s about power. Think about the relevant scene from Monty Python’s Life of Brian: a plaza filled with Roman citizenry cackle and howl, along with the audience, at two Roman nobles with differing speech impediments (or whatever). The first asks “Who is the ‘Wodewick’ to whom you wefer?”; the second, attempting to bail out his colleague, offers the crowd “theveral theditiouth thcribth from Thaetharea”. Eventually, to much cheering, they agree to “welease Bwian”, and the plot rolls on.
The reason this doesn’t inspire the revulsion that the Sun’s headline does is down to the power relations of those involved. The target of the laughter is not the mispronounced words themselves — there’s nothing inherently funny about an “r” being pronounced as a “w” — but the people that are exposed by it; in this case, the strutting and self-important nobles, made to look foolish in front of the plebs for reasons they simply don’t understand. (“He wanks as high as any in Wome!” works on its own merits, yes, but the scene’s already rolling by that point.) Were you to invert the scene, and have a crowd of nobles laughing at the speech impediments of two ordinary people, it’d be a thinner, more sinister joke, and at risk of tipping into
a Ricky Gervais vehicle simple bullying.
This is the fundamental rule of decent, non-twattish comedy: don’t punch down. It’s not about the words themselves, because the offensive valency of any term shifts depending on who says them, to who, and why. The Sun, bravely, tried to give themselves a weaselly backdoor by pointing out that “he is affectionately known as ‘Woy’”, but one of the crucial components of affection is that it should be, well, affectionate. Words change meanings from mouth to mouth. It’s vaguely similar to those weird right-wingers that bleat: “well, they all use the n-word to each other in their hip-hop music, if you can call it music. Why can’t we racially abuse black people?” Besides, people may affectionately call him “Woy”. That’s not what you were doing.
Naturally, the Sun would like to think of itself as some kind of sparky, satirical vehicle, irreverently tweaking the noses of those in power with bawdy wink. The editorial staff may even have convinced themselves this is the case. But that isn’t how it looks from the outside. From here, it looks like a behemoth of a newspaper, whose business model explicitly thrives on and profits from misogyny, bigotry, fear and contempt, has decided that straightforward abuse is the best course of action. And if precisely why they are mocking Hodgson is mysterious — rage at having called it wrong? irritation that their own columnist was passed over for the role? simple malice? — the consequences are obvious. Now it’s just a question of counting down the days until Roy Hodgson becomes Elmer Fudd.