Poor Auld George: A Victim In The Age Of Apology

It’s difficult to express an opinion on George Hook without feeling a crushing sense of tedium. This is, after all, a man who has built an entire career on being obnoxious, and knowing a bit about rugby. Hook has been let loose on the radio as a self-appointed “voice of the people” for years now, his sense of absolute correctness being unfettered by shallow considerations like “knowledge” and “research” and “neutrality.” Instead, he has spent a decade-and-a-half throwing boorish insults and half-baked criticism at people who commit life’s only important transgression, that of Not Being George Hook.

Maybe we should show more empathy. Life must be very difficult for George Hook; he is literally surrounded by People Who Aren’t George Hook. The irony is that, while most of us consider that a tiny day-to-day blessing, it’s a hellish ongoing nightmare for George. Perhaps it’s heroic of him to take to the airwaves to help people be more like George Hook – and yet with strange predictability, he keeps meeting Other People, and he finds that their misfortune can usually be traced back to a key point in their lives when they failed to do What George Would Do.

Recently, and very publicly, George Hook was confronted with one of these stories: that of a young woman who went to a man’s hotel room, and was then raped by a second man who entered the room. Hook gave a lengthy monologue about this, in which he said “Why does a girl who just meets a fella in a bar go back to a hotel room? She’s only just barely met him. She has no idea of his health conditions; she has no idea who he is; she has no idea of what dangers he might pose. But modern day social activity means that she goes back with him, then is surprised when somebody else comes into the room and rapes her.” He then asked “is there no blame now for the person who puts themselves in danger?”

Bloody hell.

Since then, all sorts of predictable people (e.g. Eddie “Fucking” Hobbs) have leapt to his defence. Most recently, Pat Kenny has said that George is a decent man with children (his children are relevant, somehow) who feels terribly bad about everything and we should leave him alone. Poor George. He doesn’t deserve this. On twitter, Dr Ciara Kelly described him as being the victim of a lynching.

Some of the imbeciles who’ve defended Hook’s words – as opposed to defending Hook, with the line that “he’s a nice guy and he feels bad and let’s all forgive him now” – have claimed that George was just pointing out personal responsibility, he wasn’t excusing the rapist or implying that a young woman was in some way morally deficient for liking sex. It was just that she hadn’t thought enough about her own personal safety, that’s all, same way as if she’d – say – left her house unlocked, or walked out onto the motorway without looking.

(Arguments to the contrary are widely available and really not that difficult to make in your own head, so I won’t waste my word count on refuting that idiocy. There are also many intelligent opinions about the nature of victim-blaming and rape culture, so I won’t remake those arguments here either.)

Thing is, even if you accept this argument without any quibbles, Hook’s monologue was still entirely pointless and needlessly cruel. This ‘it’s-the-equivalent-of’ game is deeply flawed from the start – there simply isn’t an equivalent to being raped. But if someone was killed because they wandered onto the motorway without looking, it would be deeply twattish to tell their family, at length, that they shouldn’t have wandered onto the motorway. Most people instinctively understand that anyone who suffers a horrific experience will be tormenting themselves forever about what they could have done to avoid it; most people know that the statistical-high, Vegas-casino odds are that the woman has wished a thousand times that she hadn’t gone to that man’s hotel room, wished that she hadn’t gone to the bar, wished that she hadn’t gone out at all. She will struggle, terribly, with what happened to her for a long, long time. So, at best, Hook’s monologue was like seeing someone drowning and throwing them a brick. It’s just… unforgivable.

‘Unforgivable’: there’s a word. Hook has apologised for what he said, first on Twitter (seriously. Twitter) and then on his own show. This is what the Pat Kenny defence amounts to: well look, he’s sorry.

Many people try to claim we live in the age of Digital Outrage, Twitter Mobs and Internet Fury. This statement isn’t complete wank, but wank makes up at least 85% of its composition. It’s truer to say that we live in an age of the All-Covering Apology, at least for those who form part of the establishment. For people in comfortable and privileged positions, the notion that we might say something unforgivable is anathema. Ultimately, we are all entitled to our opinion, and that means an Important Man On The Radio can say whatever he wants. If he says something that upsets people, well he says sorry and that should be that. If people don’t accept the apology and demand he faces the consequence of his words, well then he is the victim of a Mob.

Let’s not forget that – for the right kind of person – the threshold of forgiveness is pretty high. Danny Dyer’s column in Zoo Magazine quite literally advised a reader to cut a woman’s face, but he apologised, so he’s still worthy of a role in Eastenders and to be treated like a lovable cheeky chappy on Would I Lie To You. Jeremy Clarkson assaulted an employee because he couldn’t get a hot dinner, but had hundreds of thousands of people signing a petition against his sacking, and was hastily snapped up by Amazon for obscene money. It’s interesting to note that Munroe Bergdorf – a transgender black model – recently made the entirely reasonable point that white people’s entire culture is built on racism, and was fired by L’Oreal. You don’t have to be a white male to benefit from this high-level forgiveness, but it doesn’t hurt.

Hook’s monologue wasn’t a careless thought or some extemporising gone wrong. It wasn’t analogous to – say – Alan Hansen referring to “coloured players,” or Neil Francis getting himself into an utter mess when talking about gay men. Hook articulated his viewpoint at some length, quite in control of his words, and he obviously believes what he said. It builds on various views he’s expounded in the past about assumed consent, it fits in with the account of him asking a female guest what her bra size is and telling her that her queer hair was very unattractive. Notably, and unlike Hansen and Francis – who gave quick and fulsome apologies in which they completely disowned what they had said, and apologised for saying it – Hook hasn’t actually stated that he said anything wrong. He’s “ashamed” because it was “insensitive” and it was “inappropriate,” and he’s sorry for the “hurt and offence” it caused. None of that is an admission that he was talking dangerous bollocks. Looking at his conduct now, it’s remarkably similar to that of a cowardly man who doesn’t want to lose his job, and has therefore apologised for money.

Why the defence of Hook, from people who then stress that they don’t agree with his comments? In many cases, it’s because they know and like him, which is fair enough (I mean, I find him insufferable but privately he might be a quite different man). But there’s an unthinking privilege here: that People Like Us should never be fully accountable for their words or actions, that they shouldn’t have to think before they speak, that George’s guff should lead to “polite debate” but that’s it. He can disrespect his position as a broadcaster as much as he likes, but that position should on no account come under threat. The fact that Hook’s monologue will have hurt thousands of people, and emboldened a thousand more fuckwits to blather poisonous horseshit in braying voices, isn’t the point – he said he’s sorry, after all. It’s hard not to be reminded of the Monty Python sketch, in which Eric Idle gets away with the murder of twenty people by saying “I’m very sorry and it won’t happen again.”

So were George Hook’s words unforgivable? Maybe not. If he is genuinely contrite he could, perhaps, do a few things to show it.

  • He could describe his words, not as “inappropriate,” but as appallingly ignorant and simply wrong.
  • He could donate a significant sum from his not-inconsiderable income to the Rape Crisis Centre or other, similar, charities.
  • He could recognise that his position is untenable, and resign.

I don’t know about you, but I’m not holding my breath. He’s said he’s sorry, after all. What more can we expect?

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