It is that time of the year again when tinsel and tat are dredged up and festooned around the wards and departments to appease the pagan gods of Yuletide.
Normally sensible staff appear wearing ridiculous antlers on their head covered in twinkly LED lights, and the hospital managers fling fiduciary caution to the winds and purchase a Christmas tree, its height inversely proportional the size of the budgetary overspend.
When I was a medical student back in the late sixties my alma mater, The London Hospital, had a peculiar tradition on Christmas day. Members of the rugby club would don tutus and fairy wings over their kit and visit all the wards scattering fairy dust and good tidings. They presented all the nurses on duty with a bunch of violets (and probably a few kisses under the mistletoe), and undoubtedly consumed a fair few tinctures from discrete bottles labelled “poison” which would emerge from under the nurses stations.
It was all rather innocent, and provided a bit of old fashioned cheer for those sentenced to spend Christmas day at the shop.
However I doubt that this tradition has survived. In these deeply PC days when feelings trump common sense no doubt there will be some who will take deep offence at the idea of a bunch of butch guys parodying, well, fairies! Also giving bunches of flowers and kisses to females is obviously the objectification of women, and liable to give offence.
And what about the male nurses – do they also get kissed by the rugger team? If not then this is must be discriminatory and sexist. No, I am sure that this particular tradition has now been consigned to the dustbin of history lest it spark outrage and offend modern sensitivities.
Indeed I suspect that the rugby club itself must be under threat since it belongs to the “laddite” culture and, in consequence, is definitely a threat.
And then the whole Christmas thing – how objectionable to inflict the religious practices of Christians on those of differing faiths or indeed no faith, especially if they are confined to a hospital bed and are unable to avoid the offence.
All this came to mind recently when I heard that Digital Cinema Media (DCM), which handles advertising for a number of major cinema chains, has banned the showing of a sixty second advert featuring The Lord’s Prayer being recited by a number of different individuals. The advert was put together by the Church of England, the aim being simply to remind people that there is a connection between Christmas (the clue is in the name) and the birth of Christ.
DCM states it has a policy of not accepting political or religious content: “Some advertisements – unintentionally or otherwise – could cause offence to those of differing political persuasions, as well as to those of differing faiths and indeed of no faith. In this regard, DCM treats all political or religious beliefs equally.”
So it has no problem in showing multiple adverts which display all the traditional paraphernalia of Christmas, but a humble little advert about its origins is potentially offensive and the public must be protected.
Now as it happens, although I am a committed Christian, I take Christmas with a pinch of salt. I enjoy a party as much as anyone to cheer up the gloom of winter, but nowhere in the bible are we required to celebrate Christ’s birth, and certainly not in the “over the top” way it happens worldwide. Indeed perversely it is not his birth, but rather his death which we are to commemorate in the communion bread and wine as taught by Christ himself at The Last Supper.
But two things about the DCM decision concern me. Firstly the arrogant assumption that they are qualified to decide what the British public may or may not hear; that the public must be protected from any views which DCM deem might be offensive. But people are, by and large, sensible and do not need to be infantilised in this way. Followers of other faiths, and many secularists are perfectly happy to join in with Christmas celebrations without finding it offensive.
But more serious is the creeping censorship which is invading western society. Ideas which do not conform to the views of our increasingly secular and intolerant culture are to be supressed and the proponents “no platformed” and vilified on social media, or “twitch-hunted” as Germaine Greer recently discovered. At least she had the courage not to deliver a grovelling apology as most do in similar situations.
Mick Hume, in his book Trigger Warning (William Collins, 2015) asks the question, “Is the fear of being offensive killing free speech”. In a tightly argued case he highlights the “creeping culture of conformism” and the hounding of those who express “the wrong opinion”.
These are serious issues and we ignore them at our peril. The banning of The Lord’s Prayer advert may seem a small insignificant thing, but the underlying attitudes are highly disturbing. As a society we need to be sure that we are not sleep walking into an oppressive anti-libertarian culture where the only views to be discussed are those deemed “acceptable”. Any and all views should be on the table and available for open discussion no matter how objectionable or challenging some will find them.
So, rugger fairies notwithstanding, my warmest seasonal wishes go to all those who will be on duty over the holiday period, and I hope it is not too manic.