Wednesday, 9 June 2010

Too Soon?

I've spent ages trying to find a clip of this particular incident and largely failed miserably.

However I have found a transcript of it courtesy of this marvellous website and that'll have to do.

This is quite an old joke from Mock the Week but I think it's indicative of a wider trend:

Dara Ó Briain: See, the last time Britain lost the Ashes in a white wash, it was in 1921. But at least that time they had a decent excuse - the first eleven had all been killed at the Somme... {audience groans) What, too soon?"

Now the website makes a very good starting point in regards to the audience who groaned at this joke

when moments earlier the audience had laughed merrily at jokes about Saddam Hussein's execution, which had happened that week

Now there are some fairly sacred cows in Britain regarding topics of humour. Anyone who even thinks about Princess Diana in a less than respectful manner can usually expect a fairly stern letter from the Daily Mail and a full page spread in the Daily Express.

But why this particular issue?

Well obviously making jokes about dead/injured British soldiers is a bit of a societal no-no in general, (see the furore - Daily Mail again - that sprung up from Jimmy Carr's joke a while back), but this is a bit different.

The joke doesn't actually tell us much we don't know; ie - men got killed on the Somme. That's not ground-breaking information. Certainly there were more than 11 casualties on the Somme so that makes the joke plausible. Everyone knows these things, so why the groan?

The joke wasn't even disrespectful, it didn't suggest in anyway that those men had died pointlessly etc.

So what is it? Is it possible that even the mention of the Somme in a situation that isn't entirely reverent is unacceptable at the moment? It seems a little odd on the sruface but perhaps it shouldn't be overlooked.

Consider that the Somme gives us a clear example of wasted life, pointless war and noble sacrifice for an ignoble cause. Should such men not be treated with respect?

The counter to this is clearly that by focusing in on this narrow image of the Somme (and the war in general) are we not already mistreating the memory of those men? By suggesting that their lives were little more than a moral guideline for us (whatever hopes, beliefs etc they may have held erased or rewritten).

This is one of the recurring issues I have with the memorialising of the war. In order to accept the 'lessons' of the war (as outlined by the general myth) there comes aa situation where the soldiers can only have been, essentially, too stupid to realise what was happening to them, and therefore we can 'learn' from all of their simple & naieve mistakes.

People and wars are too complicated for such labels to ever sit comfortably with me.

And besides, when it comes to humour at least, it probably is time now to be able to test the ground at least.

Having read enough diaries and snippets of trench newspapers, it probably is what they would have wanted.