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Posted by on Jan 30, 2013 in Culture, Debate, In the news | 7 comments

First bloke in joke furor

Tim Mathieson, the partner, boyfriend, bloke – or whatever the appropriate term may be – of Australia’s prime minister, Julia Gillard, got into trouble yesterday at a reception for the West Indian cricket team. Alas, Mr Mathieson made an “inappropriate” (what the hell does that mean?) joke about prostate examinations.

Mathieson apparently said: “We can get a blood test for (prostate cancer), but the digital examination is the only true way to get a correct reading on your prostate, so make sure you go and do that, and perhaps look for a small Asian female doctor is probably the best way.”

I’ve seen the clip on television, and can testify that this does not do justice to the first bloke’s comic timing, which was actually quite good. It got a laugh, and seemed to me quite appropriate as a joke about male anxieties over rectal probing.

So now the whole country is talking about whether Gillard looked embarrassed as her bloke was speaking (perhaps a little bit, but it’s hard to tell, and I love the way everyone is suddenly a goddamn expert on the prime minister’s facial expressions and body language); whether the joke was somehow sexist or racist (is it saying something bad about women or Asians? or maybe about burly white male doctors with fat fingers? who knows?); whether the comments were a product of nerves (he didn’t sound especially nervous to me, but again who knows?); whether they were “tasteful” (whatever, exactly, that means); and so on, and so forth.

Give me a break!

As far as I’m concerned, the first bloke’s witticism was perfectly legitimate, non-sexist, non-racist humour on a blokey subject, addressed specifically to blokes, by a bloke who, as well as being the country’s semi-official first bloke, is also a healthcare ambassador. I’m not even sure whether his advice is good (a lot of doctors and reports seem to be questioning the usefulness of prostate examinations, but who knows… and I damn sure don’t want to get into that (as it were)).

What I mainly take from the episode is that we have yet another example of how we now live in a culture where every even vaguely public sentence is likely to be scrutinised for whatever it might contain that is, if you squint at it hard enough, offensive to someone. Ours is becoming a surveillance culture and a “calling out” culture (I hate that expression, “calling out”, so redolent of the censorious pastor up in his pulpit, pointing his fat, white, male index finger at hell-bound sinners in the congregation… publicly naming, blaming, and shaming them).

Enough with all this moralism over trifles. This is exactly the sort of cultural development that we don’t need and should be resisting every centimetre of the way. Enough with all the micro-surveillance, the pious expressions of offence, and the sanctimonious critiques from self-important, self-righteous windbags. Enough already!