Saturday, August 13, 2011

Starkey staring racist

I will have little to add to the commentary about David Starkey's racist outburst on television last night. By all accounts - watch it below, if you must satisfy your curiosity - Starkey began by vindicating Enoch Powell, then alleged that 'whites' had become 'black' (ie internalised 'black culture' which he claimed was violent - this is the social image that the idiotologeme of 'chavs' has been about progenerating), then launched into an imitation of West Indian patois.  Starkey is a seasoned 'contrarian', which is to say a slightly better groomed version of a shock jock, whose vulgar, diminutive provocations on race have thrilled television and radio producers for years.  He has now taken his carefully developed media persona, and concentrated it in a single, kamikaze attack on the country's hysterical psyche.  This he was allowed to do at great, uninterrupted length, while talking over his opponents in a haughty, aggressive fashion. Good old BBC. As a result, the happiest person in Britain today is Nick Griffin, BNP leader, who suggested on his Twitter account that Starkey could be an honorary gold star member of the fascist party.

The plaudits of fascists and racists, as well as the tortuous apologias of well-wishers, are predictable. But this raises the question of what Starkey was trying to do. Clearly, he earnestly expressed his own views as a High Tory historian with a monarchist, nationalist bent. Yet, he evidently went farther than the political establishment, including the mainstream right, is prepared to go at the moment, and may well have gambled with his future television career. In fact, there would be a strong case for his being arrested and charged with incitement to racial hatred.  There are two answers that make sense.  The first is that is that the entire aggressively offensive performance was a calculated attempt to injure and smear the targets of its racialised invective.  It was malice.  And it was intended that racists should enjoy this degradation, uttered with relish as it was.  The second is that the presentation, in its deliberately excessive way, invited the disgust and disorientation of the audience, such that, amid a generalised moral panic, he would recalibrate the scales of what is publicly acceptable in a radical way.  The pathfinders of the racist right often seek the "chorus of execration", as Powell put it, revelling in the temporary ex-communication, enjoying the ambiguous status of the heretic and the prophetic.  This is both because they expect to be vindicated, and because they can enjoy the spectacle of their execrators making use of the space of relative 'respectability' that their provocation has created.