Free range speech by Trevor Plumbly

Nutter mutter

Gary Lineker BBC sports presenter

An English sports presenter’s been hauled over the coals for offering an opinion, as has the chair of Health NZ. It might be an age thing, but I’m beginning to believe that the freedom to say what you think is taking a dive; between racial sensitivity, gender identity and cultural protection, plus minority ‘add-ons’, it’s getting to be a bit of a minefield. Time was that, within reason, we were left to sort the harmless eccentrics from the dangerous loonies for ourselves, but these days social media aggrandises all misfits and now they’re collectively referred to as conspiracy theorists. Whilst most of us can recognise garbage, there are those who still believe that, if it’s delivered electronically, it must be true. As P T Barnum had it, ‘There’s one born every minute’ and, like most of the bewildered, they spend most of their mental energy hunting for a saviour.

Goodbye cruel world

Somehow in the ‘progressive’ search for all-embracing tolerance, we’ve lost the art of barbed wit along with the ability to laugh at patent cranks. The U S senator who described a school massacre as politically staged fiction should have been advised to continue medication and assured that the big yellow taxi was on its way. But we make them down under too! Like the ‘bishop’ who warned us some years ago that the Christchurch earthquake was God’s way of letting us know he didn’t approve of humans fiddling around with his sexual formula. Point being we didn’t treat those comments as a joke,  we discussed them and, in doing that, lent them credibility. Despite our best efforts, there’s a bit of bigotry in all of us and, as long as it isn’t weaponised, mockery must surely be healthier than enforced tolerance.

Stage frights

Gina Lollobrigida Italian film actress

Theatre critics were masters of verbal kneecapping: how about the two word review of the play I am a Camera ‘No Leica!’ or Dorothy Parker’s jibe at Katherine Hepburn, ‘The performance runs the gamut of human emotions from A to B’ or John Mason Brown’s classic, ‘He played the king as if expecting someone else to play the ace’, and Humphrey Bogart’s withering comment on Marilyn Monroe after a screen performance by the actress Gina Lollobrigada, ‘She makes Monroe look like Shirley Temple’.

They said it

Sometimes even politicians can’t resist it: Harry Truman’s brutal advice, ‘If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog!’ turned out to be more prophetic than cynical, while Jacinda Ardern’s gentle schoolmarm reply to a question from Simon Bridges was, ‘It’s really simple…Simon’. Paul Keating’s ‘He’s simply a shiver looking for a spine to run up’ takes some beating. Sadly it’s more sabre than foil these days: Trump’s latest marathon of waffle was more a tribute to stamina than political insight, but he got away with it, the media sucked up the one line sound bites, the faithful left fully recharged. Reaction was swift, Pence grew reflective, De Santos scrambled for common ground and Taylor-Greene capered like a fidgety groupie at a rock concert. It’s dark comedy politics at its very best; problem is, it goes on too long and not enough people find it funny.

Apple blight

Churchill and Eden colleagues and rivals

You don’t need to think about expressing your thoughts lately because they’ve got an app that’ll do most of that for you. My grandson demonstrated the latest piece of brain-fade last week: ask the thing a hypothetical question, it researches, plagiarises, collates and within seconds spits out enough info to allow you to convince others you’ve done it all yourself. The ‘put down’ seems to have been replaced by accusation which requires little thought or language skill. A lot of fun’s been taken out of free speech by enforced sensitivity. To close with, let’s turn to Churchill on Anthony Eden, ‘A modest man…with much to be modest about’. Free speech at its best! They haven’t created an app to conjure up stuff like that yet, thank God.

6 Comments on “Free range speech by Trevor Plumbly

    • I’ve always wondered whether he rehearsed that stuff and saved them up, or just ad-libbed on the spot; either way, he was world class. T.

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