Christopher Biggins and the Fall of Civilisation

The barbarians are through the gates. If you ignore this controversy as too vulgar to care about, you’re giving them aid.

Suppose you’d invited me round to dinner to celebrate my engagement to your daughter, which do you think would be more offensive? If a) I got violently drunk, threatened all the male guests, abused the women doing the catering, shoved my tongue in my hostess’s ear, hurled a bottle through the window, felt up all the bridesmaids under the table, then retreated to the jacuzzi to shag your daughter’s best friend? Or b) if I made a mildly tasteless quip about the Holocaust?

There’s only one correct answer and it is, of course, b). We know this thanks to the latest series of Celebrity Big Brother, whose makers have peremptorily evicted the former favourite contestant — panto dame, national treasure and now sainted martyr Christopher Biggins — because of an unconscionable thing he did to a house-mate who happened to be Jewish. He made a shower joke.

Meanwhile, another house-mate who has behaved at least as badly as the one in example a) continues to strut his repellant stuff unhindered. He is Stephen Bear, a rude, bullying, sexually voracious, two-timing, double-dealing, manipulative, cynical, ignorant lout so loathed by his fellow house-mates that they’ve voted to place him on a permanent evictions nomination list. Unfortunately the decision is not up to them but to the viewers, who may yet choose to keep Bear there, partly for the cruel laughs and partly because if they’re girls they’d like to sleep with him and if they’re boys they’d like to be him.

‘But why do you even care about this crap?’ people sometimes ask me. They’re the same sort of people who, were they living in Rome circa 476, would be congratulating themselves on how bloody marvellous aqueducts and hypocausts and testudo formations are. Yes indeed. But that was then and unfortunately we’re living in now. The barbarians are through the gates, imposing their weird, alien values, but the forces of civilisation are holding their noses and looking the other way because they find modern culture so vulgar, ugly and incomprehensible.

What I think should trouble us most about the Biggins eviction is the perverse moral inversion it represents. Instead of inhabiting a universe where sticks and stones may break our bones but words can never hurt us, we’ve been ushered into one where the language you use carries more weight than the way you behave. As a writer and English literature graduate I ought to be delighted by this — except that the new rule seems to have been invented by incredibly thick people with no sense of tone, nuance or context.

Read the rest at the Spectator.