Should We Humour the Humourists?

In another case of a radio shock jock saying something, well, shocking, BBC Radio1 DJ Chris Moyles seemed to imply that Poles make good prostitutes. His exact statement, said on his morning radio show, was, “I just find if you’re Polish you’re just very good at ironing – and prostitutes [they’re] very good also at fixing cars.” This resulted in a petition by Polish groups in the UK demanding an apology from the BBC, and a general media furore on the issue. This month, Robert Szmigielski and Michal Nowakowski debate, respectively, whether mountains are being made out of molehills or whether the vast attention being paid to such statements is fully justified.

For:Recently I was sifting through the letters that my late father sent to his family during his stay at Herr Hitler’s pleasure in Gross-Rosen concentration camp, and I found myself engrossed by his words and astonished at how the simple graphic symbol of a swastika stamped on the envelope could provoke such disgust in my heart.

During that fleeting moment I realised that my mere existence was proof of the bravery and resilience of millions of Poles like my father and a feeling of enormous pride surged through my veins. Our ancestors have been through a lot over the course of history, I thought. My reflection did, among other things, lead me to wonder what that courageous generation of Poles, those who witnessed the brutal destruction of their country, would have made of the furore surrounding an overpaid English shock-jock whose comments were greeted with outrage amongst their descendants.

The comments – the sort of which are commonly associated with excited children in the school playground – were indeed ignorant and lacked judgement, but I suspect those who fought for Poland’s independence would dismiss them without so much as an afterthought. Those ramblings of an idiot, insignificant at best, are not even worthy of being compared to what Poles have been through in the last century; a drop in the ocean. Nevertheless, the fallout from the “outrage” was swift, with the Federation of Poles in Great Britain issuing statements and demanding action. The BBC duly obliged, forced Moyles to apologise, and one would have thought, that would be that.

However there have been calls for further action and more punishment – which seems unnecessary. There was no malice, no poisonous tongue, unlike the Giles Coren article that profoundly angered and upset Poles around the world. It was a silly joke from a man who, like an incoherent and excited schoolboy on a sugar-rush, simply got carried away during a boisterous breakfast radio show that thrives on controversy – and which, as a result, has been lavished with free advertising. As the saying goes, “any publicity is good publicity…”

But should people like Coren and Moyles be gagged and silenced, like many have suggested? Absolutely not. Controversial comments, no matter how offensive and inaccurate, trigger discussion and reflection that is crucial to a society based on free speech. Naturally, if some cross the line, they should be warned, but to shut them up by force (as some have suggested) would border on fascism and achieve nothing. The way to defeat such ignorance is to challenge it with debate ? and nothing can be more satisfying than ridiculing men like Coren and Moyles with rational and intelligent arguments. However, the moment we allow them to upset us with their ignorance, they gain the upper hand.

But ultimately, their idiocy needs to be put into perspective. We live in a world where conflicts rage, tyrannical regimes abuse the rights of their citizens, starving human beings die on a daily basis, and an irreversible man-made environmental disaster looms over us all. Therefore, a crass, loud-mouthed DJ, and a rude, arrogant prat who just never got that hug from his infinitely more respected father, come very low on my list of concerns.

With regards to Moyles’ actual comments, however, I have stumbled upon a theory. Polish women are undoubtedly some of the most beautiful in the world – which must frustrate a man like Moyles, and which perhaps explains his Freudian slip. For if any of you have seen his photograph, listened to his moronic humour or suffered through his irritating voice, you would understand that in order to ever meet such a girl, he would probably have to pay for it.

No offence, Chris…

Against:A lot can be said and even admired about the British sense of humour. On a bad day, a dollop of their dry wit can be a perfect antidote to the absurdities of life. However, when it comes to “race jokes,” we immediately enter murky territory. Few Englishmen these days would make jokes about “the stupid Irish.” Likewise, Americans are no longer queuing up to make “dirty Mexican” quips. In short, we’ve finally come to realise that branding an entire nation as untermenschen is not exactly in the best taste. The vast majority of these “jokes” are now met with a condemning silence.

Therefore, why is it still acceptable that Poles continue to be targeted by z-list celebrities in the UK – by those who will say anything to get their name into the spotlight? It’s true that you might say that by even having this debate we are giving those individuals the exposure that they so desperately and pathetically crave, but why should it be at the expense of the Polish people and their culture?

Many comments have been made about the Poles who jumped aboard the coaches and headed off in the hope of a better life in the UK. However, those comments are often far from being positive. Very little is ever said about the contribution they have made to the British economy. The constant barrage of abuse is instead based on absurd concepts that they are contributing to unemployment, putting a strain on public services and are only capable of doing menial tasks.

The fact remains that the vast majority of Poles are hard workers and headed to the UK in the hope that they could find a job in their profession, which would be better paid than it is in Poland. However, they discovered that it’s not that easy. Qualified doctors, accountants, lawyers etc., all struggled and still do to find work in their prospective fields in the UK. Their degrees are often deemed inferior compared to the supposed high quality of those handed out by the hundreds by British educational institutes.

It is for this reason that many of them turn to manual labour jobs where they are still able to earn more than they would back home. Of course things are now changing, with many returning home based partly on the fact that the average wage in Poland has doubled as well as the pound being weaker against the z?oty. Yet instead of thanking them for their considerable contribution to British society over the past decade, it seems it is far easier and apparently amusing to ridicule and insult this nation.

It has long been unacceptable to say something even slightly derogatory about any other ethnic minority in the UK, so why should it be any different for Poles? I agree that those who are so narrow-minded and xenophobic to say such things about the Polish nation should not be given the time of day, but if it is just accepted then it will never stop. Groups such as the far right-wing British National Party are always quick to jump in and stoke the flames, generating more hatred and negativity towards the Polish community.

Comments such as Chris Moyles’ should be as unacceptable as those about Indian or African people as they are an incitement of racial hatred. Will this attitude towards the Polish nation ever change? I hope so. In the meantime, I just wonder if those “jokes” will still be so funny if the trusty Polish workforce – many of whom have masters degrees – returns home.

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