Monday, February 10, 2014

Waters Under the Bridge

One odd thing about the coverage of the recent Iona/John Waters controversy is that it has been, pretty much entirely, Internet-led. Each new development has made the rounds of the blogs, Twitter, Broadsheet and maybe The Journal, before being grudgingly, if at all, picked up by the major media outlets.

Witness the horrifying John Waters tape released by Broadsheet. As far as I can see, none of the traditional media outlets have gone near it, but it's all over the Internet; there's a lot of public interest. Of course, a certain amount of this is "haw, haw, John Waters is even more terrible than we thought", but it really is quite important. This is a man who has a tremendous platform to talk about society, who is referred to as a 'public intellectual', who has a column in the Irish Times, who is a go-to whenever a right-wing opinion on a social issue is required. Until very recently, he was a government appointee to the Broadcasting Authority of Ireland. His views on gay people, and on women, as revealed on the tape, are absolutely relevant to these roles. The question of what words it is proper to use when discussing these opinions is also, it seems to me, fairly important.

He also, really, is entitled to a reply on this. It's so awful that if there's any extenuating circumstance, that needs to be made plain. Has anyone even asked him about it, at this point? It's really very strange.

Of course, there are conflicts of interest. The RTE is engaged in a dispute with their former regulator over the question of which apologies and settlements were and weren't offered, and Waters writes for the Irish Times (though, he has at time of writing vanished from their columnists page; Iona's Breda O'Brien also briefly disappeared, before returning triumphant with a lovely piece on stifling of dissent through unkind descriptions, finishing with a bit about "commissioned" children, presumably to emphasise that the stifling isn't working very well). I'm not sure what the Independent's excuse is, though.

Perhaps, the media hopes that this will all blow over, and that they can have him back writing his reactionary columns and ruminating pretentiously on other peoples' rights. I can see why they might want this. It is convenient to have someone to take on unpopular positions; we used to have great trouble getting prominent speakers to argue against gay rights in college debates, back in the day. I can't really see it working out for them, though, if that's what they want.

I may be being too optimistic, though. It's not like Waters' prior dubious opinions have torpedoed his public role; this is a man who has used the term 'feminazis', in the paper. Note the date, by the way; in 2002, Dermot Ahern appointed someone who uses the term 'feminazis' to the BCI, the predecessor of the BAI. Perhaps there's just something badly broken in how we handle our media in this country...