Monday 30 January 2012

Cinderella, you shall go to the ball. But you can't speak or sing at it. But you can give the organisers your money and they'll make sure to help some guys' careers so don't worry and calm down.

Updated on Wednesday 22nd February 2012. Current tally: 30 men, 3 women, blindingly white.

Last year I wrote a long report about Amnesty TV, the global human rights charity's online TV project, which aimed to highlight international human rights issues and was launched to coincide with Amnesty International's 50th anniversary. Amnesty TV was produced by 11 white British men from the telly comedy world and 0 women. Of the 11 men, only one had any human rights work experience. It was this man, Chris Atkins, who told me that "positive discrimination harms the very people it seeks to support," blissfully unaware that the boys' club is and always has been one massive act of positive discrimination.

Every few years Amnesty holds an extremely popular fundraising event called the Secret Policeman's Ball. It was started by John Cleese of Monty Python fame in the seventies and combines comedy and music across several hours of entertainment, performed live but also broadcast. This year's Ball is happening in America for the first time, on 4th March at Radio City Music Hall in New York. Organisers can draw from the UK's and the US's great wealth of talent across comedy and music. Here's a secret detail for fact fans: America is a large country with many people of both sexes and all colours. Of the names announced by the Huffington Post in its report today there are three white chaps (Stephen Colbert, Jon Stewart, Russell Brand), 1 non-white man (Reggie Watts, let's hope you have some company soon) and zero women on the comedy side and two all-male all-white bands (Coldplay and Mumford and Sons) and zero women on the music side. Britboy comedians Armstrong and Miller have voiced an animation to promote the event, as reported by a British comedy web site. Total comedian tally: 5 white men, 1 non-white male, 0 women. That sliding scale always makes me laugh. Total musician tally: breaking it down, 8 white men, 0 women. Total gender tally: 13 men, 0 women.

[UPDATED on 22.2.12. According to The Velvet Onion comedy web site, more names have been added, and anyone who gives a damn about women or indeed about anyone 'of colour', will be outraged that this is happening (laughably) in the name of international freedom of speech. Amnesty International are making it extremely clear to global dictators everywhere that...white men are the overwhelming majority of people who deserve the freedom to speak, sing, act, play or perform? They have made damn sure that as few women as humanly possible are speaking. The names added are Noel Fielding, Fred Armisen, Hannibal Buress, David Cross, Micky Flanagan, Bill Hader, Seth Myers, Matt Berry, Chris O'Down, Seth Meyers, Bob Odenkirk, Andy Samberg, Peter Serafinowicz, Jason Sudeikis, Jack Whitehall, Sarah Silverman, actress Rashida Jones and Kristen Wiig. And... Channel 4 have announced that Jimmy Carr will also be joining the lineup. David Walliams has also confirmed that he will be performing. Total gender tally: 30 men, 3 women.]

I have now been contacted by a very high up charity world insider who initially got in touch with me immediately after the writing of my previous piece. They told me that there was tremendous internal concern and opposition not only to Amnesty TV but to the general outsourcing of cultural, fundraising and marketing projects by charities seeking to make alliances with apolitical and ignorant celebrity, fashion and pop-culture agencies/bodies/brands/institutions, which often replicate the misogynistic and racist discrimination the charities are seeking to fight. This person, who I have never met or spoken to and is not a friend, now writes:
The head of brand and events says it’s a line up of the world’s best talent. No women – and I don’t  think anything other than white [Not the case - Reggie Watts wins the Token Prize 2012, that's one prize you'd be relieved to share]. And Russell Brand – after phoning someone’s grandfather to publicly say I Fucked your granddaughter ………
Not the first time – in addition to Amnesty TV, Imran Khan several years ago criticised Amnesty for a disproportionately white western line up of journalists at the media awards. Last secret policeman’s ball [in 2008] was Frank Skinner, Alan Carr, Jonathon Ross, Russell Brand, Mighty Boosh, Ed Byrne, Eddie Izzard. There were some women – Shappi Khorsandi, Sarah Millican and weirdly Germaine Greer but even they recognised their token-ness as part of their routine. They don’t learn from their mistakes – or perhaps they don’t think it was a mistake – they have been known to rely on such sayings as “it’s not about political correctness it’s about quality." It’s a shame but basically Amnesty is not standing up for everyone.
I'm not pursuing this story any more as I know a dead duck when I see one. I have more constructive things to do, like eat broken glass and punch myself in the face. I have said it all before and it made no difference to how much women were ignored. People who don't like women much don't involve them much or help their careers or public profile much. They don't want to promote them or raise them up but they do want to use women as exploitable labour behind the scenes. Bet I can guess the sex of the people who'll be wrangling the stars, booking flights, cabs and hotels, ushering people into their seats on the night, writing the press releases, adminning the event from first to last, milling around making sure everything's okay and coming in to clean the place when everything's over. Meanwhile, I bet around half the audience paying to attend the event will be women, who are the major donors to and the vast majority of volunteers in all charities. Ladies, remember what events like this are saying to you: we don't like you, we'll never help you, but we want your money and your labour. They will take this money (earned by you in glass-ceilinged, pay-gapped jobs of your own) and while some of it will go towards very worthy campaigns, some of it will be used to fund yet more cultural projects in which there are no women.

Oh - according to Amnesty the Secret Policeman's Ball has been set up specifically to celebrate free speech. So far 3 women are speaking and 0 are singing or playing an instrument, but 30 men are participating. Of those 30 men, 1 is non-white... give it up for Reggie Watts! You have a great weight of representation expectation on you, sir.

Incidentally, for anyone who reads Amnesty magazine - a clear and well-designed paper publication whose issue no 171 for January/February 2012 is out now - you can see just how hard the charity are pushing the Secret Policeman's Ball. The cartoon policeman who's the logo of the event is on the cover, with Guess Who's Back as the cover line. The cartoon was initially designed by Colin Wheeler and is given the occasional makeover: by James Jarvis in 2006 and McBess this year. Keeps the jobs for the boys rolling, boys.

Inside the magazine, the bottom two inches of every page from page 4 to page 27 are given over to a running history of the event with the repeated strapline "Amnesty International 50 YEARS FREEDOM OF EXPRESSION", despite the fact that at the Ball freedom of expression has been given to 30 men, of whom only 1 is non-white, and just 3 women. In addition, a double page spread entitled The Power of Mockery is given to David Javerbaum, the head writer of Amnesty's Secret Policeman's Ball. Javerbaum has "spent the biggest part of [his] career on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart"  - yup, the chaps all know each other and they all help each other - and he believes that "there is no principle of human freedom more important for a comedian than freedom of expression." In the last paragraph of his piece about the power of laughter he says that comedy "keeps you in a spirit of remembering that we're seven billion people here on Earth, for no particular reason, in a variety of circumstances..." and we should all get along. Unfortunately the oppression of one half of those seven billion is perpetrated by many representatives of the other half, some of whom work for Amnesty International and have booked a very high profile event which virtually ignores anyone who isn't a white man. In doing so, they have made it completely clear whom they consider to be culturally important and whose jokes, songs and scripts are not worth listening to.

Looking through the magazine's 23 pages of Secret Policeman's Ball history I have to congratulate them, through my disgust. As ever, bigotry and bias are obvious - one only needs to count. Yet they have tried desperately to mention as many of the women involved in the event during its history (less than 10%) to try and make it look as if there were, er, more than 10%.  The Ball began when John Cleese, an Amnesty donor, promised to "get a few pals together" for a comedy benefit gig. That, in sum, after many thousands of years of socio-political analysis, is a brisk encapsulation of the boys' club employment methodology. Amnesty magazine writes that the pals "included most of the Monty Python team...Peter Cook and Alan Bennett, Dame Edna Everage (a white man, not a dame called Edna), Neil Innes, Eleanor Bron, the Goodies and more." Pretty sure the "and more" didn't secretly cover 10-odd women.

A small image of the poster advertising the musical performances for the third Secret Policeman's Ball shows just two solo women - Kate Bush and Joan Armatrading - and 10 male solo or all-male group acts (Duran Duran, Lou Reed, Peter Gabriel. Mark Knopfler, Erasure, Jackson Browne, Bob Geldof, Nik Kershaw, David Gilmour and Chet Aitkens). The extreme sex and race marginalisation, for an event and a charity purporting to be about global human rights, is shocking. Amnesty are demonstrating with typical conviction and more than 30 years' countable commitment to cultural femicide that when putting together an event in support of global human rights and free speech, you must get as many white men to perform as humanly, globally, rightfully possible.

I have counted up the other namechecks of Policeman's Ball participants on the subsequent magazine pages, making sure there are no duplicate mentions. On the comedy and acting side Amnesty namechecks 31 men: Russell Howard, Jason Manford, Russell Peters, Russell Brand, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Darvid Armand, Peter Ustinov, The Mighty Boosh (2 men), Terry Jones, Al Murray, Rowan Atkinson, Harry Enfield, Stephen Fry, Sean Lock, Nigel Tufnel, Vic Reeves, Alexei Sayle, Billy Connolly, Jasper Carrot, Phil Cool, Lenny Henry, Emo Philips, Fry and Laurie, Richard E Grant, Jeremy Irons, Tim Minchin, Lou Reed, Richard Branson. They also mention the cast of Goodness Gracious Me but don't name them. It mentions just 8 solo women comedians: Connie Booth, Jennifer Saunders, Shappi Khorsandi, Ruby Wax, Victoria Wood, Sarah Millican, Sarah Silverman and Kristin Schaal.

On the music side, in addition to the 2 women/10 male acts poster I mentioned earlier, the magazine joyfully namechecks 13 all-male or solo male, pretty much all white acts: Bono, Sting, Donovan, Badly Drawn Boy, Stereophonics, Eric Clapton, Peter Gabriel, John Williams, Razorlight, child abuse image downloader Pete Townsend, Bryan Adams, Jeff Beck and the Neville Brothers. It mentions just 2 women: Julie Korvington (from 1977) and Natalie Imbruglia, who was actually part of a skit in which comedian David Armand performed an interpretive dance to Imbruglia's hit single Torn. Yep, why celebrate a woman's success when you can laugh at it?

Even the special tearjerker hero-victim-fighter-survivor mentions are all male, except one. Femi Kuti mentions the persecution of his father, Fela Kuti; and Turkish musician Sanar Yurdatapan is mentioned. The Burmese comedian Zarganar is mentioned for his political activities but the great thing is that even his persecution helps the boys' club: a German comedian called Michael Mittermeier gets the opportunity to have an adventure by travelling to Burma with another guy, director Rex Bloomstein, to make a film about Zarganar. Mittermeier is photographed with the caption: "As a comedian the right to freedom of expression is precious to me, I simply couldn't exist without it."

Well, lucky, lucky you, to be part of such a wonderful and giving society, in which others' suffering is a chance to help your public profile and an event put on by an international human rights charity, in a large and diverse country like America, with a global audience, spanning the worlds of music, acting and comedy talent, will still make damn sure that 90% of its roster gives the biggest career, reputation and publicity props to gents just like yourself.

The token woman hero-victim-fighter-survivor is Aayat Al-Qormozi, who was "detained, tortured, given an unfair trial and sentenced to a year in prison after reading out a poem critical of the Bahraini king at a pro-reform rally."

I wonder how many women were on the roster at that rally in Bahrain. Be funny if it was the same proportion as at Amnesty International's Secret Policeman's Ball.

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