By now, even the microscopic life outside of our solar system has heard about the Jo Brand acid joke controversy.
Claims and counter-claims surrounding freedom of expression, incitement to violence, political correctness and media hypocrisy have been churning around editorial pages for several days now.
The BBC have defended Brand’s statement, although she herself has since issued a public apology. It seems that BBC editors have no problem with what she said, even though she herself wishes that she hadn’t said it. How much of that public contrition is genuine is anybody’s guess and irrelevant anyhow.
The fact that the BBC saw fit to broadcast Brand’s words on a pre-recorded show has been highlighted as proof positive of the Corporation’s double standards when it comes to policing the speech of its staff and presenters. Piers Morgan, among among many others, has been loudly pointing out that the beeb didn’t hesitate to axe Danny Baker for sending a crass tweet about the Duke & Duchess of Sussex’s newly born son, yet actively defended a presenter who, at the very least, finds some comedic value in the idea of those she disagrees with suffering life changing injuries.
Brand herself has been quick to point out that unlike Danny Baker, she is not employed by the BBC and thus cannot be fired.
So the question is…is Jo Brand’s attempt at humour any worse than Danny Baker’s?
Firstly, there’s as much evidence that Danny Baker’s poorly considered joke was motivated by racism as there is that Brand’s ill judged wisecrack about battery acid is a genuine call to political violence. There is no evidence of malicious intent in either case. Despite that, Baker was fired while Brand was defended.
Leaving subjective motivations and speculative intentions aside, Baker’s career-ending error was to tweet an image that could be interpreted as racist if the observer was minded to do so. However, there are competing interpretations, such as references to Royal inbreeding or a comment on the intelligence and manners of the ruling establishment. Whatever the case, there is at least some room for differing interpretations of Baker’s message, regardless of what his subjective motivation may have been.
Contrast that to when Brand said, “why bother with a milkshake when you could get some battery acid?” Again, leaving aside her true feelings and motivations, there cannot be any other interpretation of the words she said. To put it another way, there was no possible ambiguity in her statement that she would prefer to see certain politicians doused in battery acid rather than milkshake.
It’s also worth remembering that Danny Baker sent his ill-fated tweet in a private capacity. He did not use the BBC brand or logo when he did so, and yet the BBC had no hesitation in terminating his contract and made no attempt to defend him.
In contrast, although not directly employed by the BBC, Jo Brand nevertheless spoke her words on a pre-recorded BBC broadcast, using their resources and benefiting from the strength of its branding. Despite the potential damage to their image, the BBC and several of Brand’s colleagues in the entertainment industry have rushed to her defence. It’s very telling how a significant section of the entertainment establishment seems to have suddenly realised that we’re living in an increasingly intolerant and puritanical age, where nobody can tell a joke without a risk to their livelihoods. That may be true, but I don’t recall seeing such a principled and high-minded defence of free speech and artistic integrity when Jim Davidson was declared off-limits.
To sum up, yes, Jo Brand’s social sin was worse than Danny Baker’s, and the hypocrisy of the entertainment industry in attempting to shield her has only deepened suspicions that a huge double standard exists in this sphere of public life, depending on what your political opinions might be.
Let’s be honest; it’s not like that was a big secret, but it’s good to finally see it writ large across the airwaves.