Friday, 4 February 2011

How not to apologise

The BBC has supposedly apologised for the Top Gear presenters' comments about Mexico.

In a letter to Mexico's ambassador in London, the BBC said it was sorry if it had offended some people, but said jokes based on national stereotyping were part of British national humour.
In a statement, the BBC said the comments may have been "rude" and "mischievous," but there was no "vindictiveness" behind them.
"Our own comedians make jokes about the British being terrible cooks and terrible romantics, and we in turn make jokes about the Italians being disorganised and over dramatic, the French being arrogant and the Germans being over-organised," the BBC said.
It added that stereotype-based comedy was allowed within BBC guidelines in programmes where the audience knew they could expect it, as was the case with Top Gear.
"Whilst it may appear offensive to those who have not watched the programme or who are unfamiliar with its humour, the executive producer has made it clear to the ambassador that that was absolutely not the show's intention," the BBC added.

I hate this. Possible even more than the original offence. It's not an apology. Instead, it's another in the long line of non-apologies. Read it carefully: the magic phrase is 'if it had offended some people', and the claim that something may 'appear offensive' to non-fans while not actually being offensive. So if the Mexican ambassador is offended, that's because he doesn't watch the show often enough? This moves the location of the offence from the speaker to the recipient.

That's not an apology - it's a conditional clause implying that anyone offended is frankly a bit pathetic. It moves the debate from what was said to the feelings of the target of what was said. The rest of the statement becomes a defence of Top Gear's unjustified attack on Mexicans. If 'stereotype-based comedy' is acceptable when the audience expects it, will we see the return of Irish jokes, Jim Davidson doing comedy 'black' accents and the like?

So here goes. All my readers are repugnant, lazy, smelly bastards.

You don't mind me saying this do you? After all, you're all familiar with my sense of humour. And I'm very sorry if I've offended you. These adjectives merely appear offensive because you're overly sensitive. No vindictiveness was implied. Now feck off and read my friend Mike's academic paper, 'Saying Sorry: The Politics of the Apology'.

Steve Coogan has a good take on this.


Benjamin Judge said...


I don't want to, and won't get drawn into this argument but please, please, go and watch an episode of Come Fly With Me on the BBC iplayer.

Now. THAT is racism.

Some Chilean Woman said...

The husband and I got in a huge argument over this last night. He thought what they said was 'just who they are', I was livid.

Mexicans are the complete opposite of this silly stereotype, I work with them on a daily basis, they are my customers.

I agree, that lousy passive aggressive apology just won't do it!