Content-free language and Eddie McGuire

Scarra Blog’s newest contributor nails down the Eddie McGuire affair.

By David Daintree*

To be honest I’m not all that keen on any code of football, and the recent shenanigans over AFL drug involvement have usually just driven me to change channels out of irritation and boredom, but I do feel moved by poor Eddie McGuire’s plight.  To hear him actually sobbing and choking on his words as he pronounced the obligatory apology was stark evidence of how far we’ve strayed down the path to Thought Dictatorship.  Real men may not have cried once, but they sure do now.

Did I say Thought Dictatorship?  That’s not really the mot juste.  Thought doesn’t come into it.   It’s the Words that offend.  The thought behind them doesn’t matter for language has no content: it can mean anything you want it to mean, or fear it might mean, or hope it does mean. 

Did you hear the man who gave Eddie the coup de grace?  Some other big-time footballer, I can’t remember his name, pronounced judgement in the following terms:  ‘Eddie shouldn’t have said what he did.  It was wrong, wrong, wrong’.  That was it.  That was the verdict of the court.  The judge was no mental giant, perhaps, but even he should have been able to come up with another adjective or two, and maybe even a reason other than that unconvincing charge of racism. 

Yes I said unconvincing.  That probably damns me in the eyes of many people who would think that I am being too precious for insisting on some evidence, some proof other than the feeling that someone has been insulted or abused.  

Word police

Let’s try to look at what actually happened.  First of all a young teenage girl called Mr Adam Goodes an ‘ape’.  Everybody agrees that occurred and there’s no denying it.  Then Mr Goodes, I believe I quote him exactly, said that he was ‘shattered’.  Universally the kid’s utterance was interpreted as racist, and the girl herself (the ‘perp’ as she would be called in law-enforcement circles) has been sentenced to endure the horrors of re-education and even (gasp) counseling.  Serves her right.

Now that’s all very well, but is ‘ape’ a racist slur?  I’ve heard many people called apes, sometimes even sporting gurus like Mr McGuire, Rex Mossop and others like them, but in my experience the term has been applied only to people who were perceived to be (a) big and/or (b) dumb.  I can’t recall ever having heard a suggestion that apes are thicker on the ground in coloured communities.  So it seems to me that the girl who offended might justly be charged with being a sizest, or even a brainest.  But a racist?  I just can’t see it. 

What happened next?  Eddie unguardedly and, frankly, wittily mentioned King Kong.  That settled it once and for all.  Not only was ‘ape’ a racist slur, because everybody said it was, but Eddie had waded in with the same sort of thing.  Eddie from whom so much was expected had let down the side.  Eddie was wrong, wrong, wrong. 

.. nobody has done more to advance the cause of indigenous people in sport than Eddie McGuire.  But the masters of PC aren’t interested in any of that.  It’s only his words that matter.

But was he?  King Kong was an ape, that’s true, he was certainly big, and he wasn’t very bright.  Of course the original film was in black and white, so it’s hard to be definite about his race, but I didn’t think his racial origin came into it.  So in my opinion to liken somebody to King Kong might reflect adversely on his size or his intelligence, but not on his race.  However Mr Goodes and others think it was racist, they felt it was racist, and who am I to spoil a good line by bleating for evidence?  

I want to put in a word for Eddie McGuire.  He is a decent man.  He probably doesn’t have a racist bone in his body, and nobody has done more to advance the cause of indigenous people in sport.  But the masters of PC aren’t interested in any of that.  It’s only his words that matter.  I honestly don’t blame Mr Goodes for feeling offended by the original slur – as an indigenous player he has had a lot to contend with – but I do mightily condemn those who should have known better, who jumped on the bandwagon, who used the occasion to settle old scores, who preferred to look at McGuire’s words than his deeds, who cravenly caved in to the strictures of political correctness.  The whole affair has been disgraceful, but those who have disgraced themselves are those who cast stones at Eddie McGuire. 

Tyranny

This was not a once-off incident.  Every day nowadays people are being condemned not only by strangers but by erstwhile friends for words they have spoken in innocence or folly, even when their own backgrounds are unblemished.  This sort of tyranny, let’s call it the tyranny of PC Language, is lazy, cowardly and dishonest.  Lazy, because you can take someone at his word, even if it’s just a slip of the tongue, and condemn him for it without bothering to look for evidence; cowardly, because friends betray friends to keep on the good side of accepted opinion; dishonest, because you know in your heart that your victim is better than that but see an advantage for your team or whatever in condemning him. 

So powerful is this tyranny that it has driven poor Eddie to choke with remorse on the air.  I wish that he had stood up to his critics and pointed to his own good record.  But I can understand why he broke down.

It is deeply regrettable, though.  Cry-babies in public life are common enough:  Julia and Nicola, Kevin Rudd, Bob Hawke, a handful of American presidents and the late Chancellor of the Third Reich have all had a crack at it at various times, but it’s sad to see McGuire driven to join their company.

* David Daintree is a Sydney-born, Tasmania-dwelling classicist, wit and writer. He served as President of Campion College, Australia’s only Liberal Arts college, from 2008 to 2012. 

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