In the past two weeks Britain has seen two men attempt to travel back in time.
First there was Steven Fry, who gave an interview to a gay magazine in which he said:
"I feel sorry for straight men. The only reason women will have sex with them is that sex is the price they are willing to pay for a relationship with a man... Of course, a lot of women will deny this and say, 'Oh no, but I love sex, I love it!' But do they go around having it the way that gay men do?"
amongst other variations on that theme. People got annoyed, although it's not exactly a new idea, and as soon as it all kicked off, Fry twittered
So some fucking paper misquotes a humorous interview I gave, which itself misquoted me and now I'm the Antichrist. I give up.
Fortunately for his 1.9 million followers he came back to Twitter a week later and blogged in his defence.
Now, as noted by Private Eye magazine, Fry never offered any support for his Tweet that he'd been doubly misquoted. Rather he claimed that, although he had indeed said the words in question, he didn't believe them.
the keenest disappointment...is the idea that there are people out there who actually swallow the notion that I am so stupid as to believe that women don’t enjoy sex. That I am dense, dotty and suicidally deluded enough to make a public declaration of such a crazed belief... I entertain no such notion... I can truly report that I [am] quite assured of the fact that women do indeed enjoy sex.
I chatted to [the interviewer], we had a pleasant, relaxed and easy conversation. That’s the word, a conversation... At some point we chatted about gay sexuality – well, you would wouldn’t you, for a gay magazine? – and as part of that conversation I repeated the old canard about how men, unlike women, were cursed with their uniquely pressing and annoying libidos.
...I do not believe it as some kind of eternal gender truth, I was simply taking a thought for a walk, I was “playing gracefully with ideas” to repeat Oscar’s great phrase, or at least attempting to do so.But what does this mean, exactly? Why would he repeat that old canard, if he didn't think there was at least something in it? It's not like the statement is so obviously crazy that that goes without saying that he doesn't believe it: hence why it's an old canard.
It's true that the nuances of speech get flattened out in print. But when he said it, he evidently didn't make it clear that he thought the idea was"stupid ... dense, dotty and suicidally deluded... crazed"- as he later claimed.
Then it happened again. Lord Young (who ironically is 78), a government advisor, said that Britain's economy was strong, that many British people had profited from the "so-called recession" due to low interest rates, and that current government spending cuts were no big deal in the grand scheme of things.
People got annoyed, and he quickly retracted his words saying that his comments were "insensitive and inaccurate", though he still had to resign in the end. Why he'd suddenly revised his analysis of the economic situation, or what was wrong with his earlier statements, he didn't bother to explain...
Fry and Young obviously misjudged how socially acceptable their words would be. They made a faux-pas. We've all done it: you say something and then realize, to your horror, that everyone's jaw just dropped a little. You wish you could un-say that.
But the point is you can't.
Unless, it appears, you're in the media. Fry and Young tried to do just that. But why on earth is that acceptable? Are we so touchy that we'd rather have someone insult our intelligence by trying to convince us that they don't believe something we all heard them say, than have someone believe something we don't agree with?