Monday, 15 December 2014

Mantel's 'Assassination of Margaret Thatcher' remains a work of utter bigotry - and the BBC should know this...


When there was an earlier brouhaha about Hilary Mantel's deliberately egregious story, 'The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher' I wrote how it revealed more about Mantel's bigotry than about the character of Maggie:

What we see here from Ms Mantel is something that, in truth, is foreign to those of us who share Margaret Thatcher's lower middle class background. Taking the trouble to construct a fiction based entirely on your hatred of a caricature of a women you have never met is something peculiar to the bien pensant left. What this short story tells us about Hilary Mantel - bitter, bigoted, ignorant - is far more important than any flicker of insight into the motives of the Provisional IRA or the character of Margaret Thatcher.

The kerfuffle has return as the BBC chose this (to be fair the Thatcher story is just one in a series of short pieces) for broadcast as 'Book at Bedtime'. Again, in and of itself, there's no problem with this except that the BBC will have known exactly what the response would be. This is the 'official' response (I gather):

“Book at Bedtime offers the best of modern and classic literature and, in doing so, presents a wide range of perspectives from around the world. The work of Hilary Mantel – a double Booker prize-winning author – is of significant interest to the public and we will not shy away from the controversial subject matter that features in one of the four stories read across the week.”

Here we see 'Booker prize-winning author' being used in the same manner that the tern 'Nobel prize winning scientist' is sometimes used. Mantel didn't win (and isn't going to win) the Booker prize for 'The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher' - any more that Sir Paul Judge got his nobel prize for stuff about climate change - yet the fact of her winning said prize for a different book is presented as some sort of defence by the BBC.

The BBC chose this book in order to provoke. It really is as simple as that - rather than any one of a thousand other books of great merit (including some by celebrated winners of book prizes) that could have been chosen, they chose this rather second-rate story; a thing of shallow stereotype, bias and bigotry rather than something bringing insight or understanding.

If, dear reader, you can suspend disbelief for a paragraph or two imagine this. I'm an award-winning writer and I write a brief polemic masquerading as literature about a conversation between a lawyer and a politician, a conversation leading to the execution of Nelson Mandela for terrorism. And a conversation that is sympathetic to those who held - or hold - the view that Mandela was indeed a terrorist. Do you think that any newspaper would publish such a story in full? And would there be any chance of it being chosen - from all the literature available - for broadcast on a national broadcaster's flagship speech radio channel?

This wouldn't happen. Yet we're told by the BBC that:

"...our audience is sophisticated enough to accept a broad range of viewpoints, and we are loth to censor or avoid significant works of literature because they might be controversial.”

What we know - from the discussion of climate change, from the manner in which some people are given sainthood and from the presentation of the arts in general - is that the BBC will only entertain controversial views if they either attack the BBC's cultural enemires or conform to the rather snide and certainly bigoted world view of the bien pensant left.

The BBC knew exactly what is was doing when it chose this book. That is exactly why it made that choice. And exactly why the decision reveals the corporation's bigotry.


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