When you earn at least a part of your living as that bizarre thing, a satirist, you get accustomed to being taken out of context, so that the ironic becomes literal and the sarcastic becomes sincere. Doubtless this was always so.
Animal Farm was rejected by Faber and Faber because “animal stories don’t sell”; Donald Horne’s phrase for a land lulled into complacency became the dopey triumphal “lucky country” cry of a thousand margarine ads; and quite possibly Jonathan Swift, after publishing “a modest proposal”, had inquiries from publishers asking if he had sufficient baby recipes to make a book for the lucrative Christmas market.
Nevertheless, I thought I was on solid ground when I concluded a piece on the exchange of gifts between Barack Obama and Gordon Brown — universally seen as comical — with the sentence:
It’s a funny old world … unless you’re a fuzzy-wuzzy.
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After all, I had preceded this with a tale of how Brown’s gift to Obama of a Churchill biography seemed designed to insult the President with the hagiography of a man whose racist imperialism plunged Kenya into a decade of bloody war, which saw the death of 50,000 African Kenyans, many of them in concentration camps — where Obama’s grandad spent some time. Crystal, no?
No. Not for Poison Pen in any case. In an entry yesterday, Jeremy Sear was bemused as to why I was reviving this archaic term, which apparently applied to the Hadoendoa tribe of Eastern Africa. He can only conclude:
It appears that Guy is using the term because of Obama’s heritage (although it doesn’t really fit, since the Hadendoa were not from Kenya), but I can’t quite see why.
And heads the post “What next — golliwog?”.
As the first commenter remarked — “It seems fairly obvious in context, Jeremy” — but apparently not, so let’s explain it for the remedial kids (you’re being kept in because of them).
The term “fuzzy-wuzzy” was less from East African field studies than from that searching post-colonial reflection ’70s sitcom It Ain’t Half Hot Mum, where the term was used, as it was by many British soldiers, for anyone east or south of Suez.
By using it, I was suggesting that the thoughtlessness of the Churchill biography gift made the gift-giving thing less funny for people who felt that their history was being ignored; i.e. that they were being treated with patronising disdain; i.e. IN THE SAME WAY AS THEY WOULD HAVE BEEN TREATED BY THE PEOPLE WHO CALLED THEM FUZZY-WUZZIES.
So the word applied to both the Africans, who had been oppressed, and to Obama insofar as Brown couldn’t recognise that Churchill wasn’t a hero to everyone.
To be fair, Jeremy contacted me to get my side of the story, effectively asking me to justify myself without offering an opinion of his own. My reply is irrelevant, except that the word “commissar” is in it. If Jeremy’s going to set himself up as Crikey ombudsman, he needs counselling about his role.
There’s a more general point here, of greater importance than irritation at the terminally obtuse. It’s the habit, whether from left or right, of “gotcha” quoting, landing on a specific sentence or phrase entirely out of any context or style.
Since 9-11, the Right have done this with any remark on terrorism that is less than a hymn to the superior virtues of western civilisation, and the Zionist lobby do it with the “anti-semitism” tag. The Left used to be champions at it, killing meetings with endless discussions of whether the word “oppressed” was oppressive, etc etc, but I thought we’d mostly got out of this. Not the liberal-left it appears.