'Pull the other one! Christmas cracker gags to keep the PC brigade happy' is a story that has been picked up by the Express, Telegraph and Sun. According to the Mail, this is what happened:
In a sign of the times, others [jokes] have been axed because they are now considered politically incorrect - such as one about transvestites.So, the day before this article, Swantex announced that all the Christmas cracker jokes in it had been axed? Not likely. The day before, the Telegraph published this story 'Shoppers find their festive cheer as sales of crackers and wrapping paper rise'. It's a less sensationalised story, which only mentions changing cracker jokes in the context of improving them.
Mother-in-law jokes and schoolboys' favourites involving cruelty to animals of the 'frog in a liquidiser' variety have also been dropped.
The changes were announced yesterday by Britain's biggest cracker maker, Swantex, after its research showed an overhaul was needed to make Christmas go with a bang.
That's probably because it's based on this press release from Swantex 'Festive cheer is back with a bang according to annual Swantex cracker index', which is a pretty dry release, focusing on the increase in Swantex's sales. All except for this bit:
All cracker specifications are personally checked by Swantex managing director David Byk, third generation head of the firm that has been based at Swanley in the South East since before WWII. Checks include comprehensive tests of joke and toy quality. Jokes are phased out each year if they are deemed to be insensitive or it is felt they will not get a belly laugh or the all-important groan. This year’s jokes include: “Where do astronauts park their cars?”, “What do angry mice send each other at Christmas?” and “What do you get when you cross a Hen with a Clock?”What has happened here is that someone has seized on the seven words 'if they are deemed to be insensitive' and turned them into an entire story. The original Telegraph story does include three examples of jokes that have been axed, and by the time this story hits the Mail this list has been expanded to nine, but it's unclear where these examples come from since they're not in the original press release. Did hacks phone Swantex for examples, or did they make them up? Unfortunately, Swantex weren't forthcoming when I asked them, but someone from Swantex did turn up on that day's Radio 4 PM show to deny the whole thing had anything to do with political correctness.
So, a pretty innocent story about rising sales of Christmas crackers and improving the jokes in them doesn't get much interest when reported straight but when a hack spots the word 'insensitive' - POW! It's a PC Brigade gorn mayyd story that makes four national newspapers.
Christmas is also under attack from nannying idiots who over-react to the threat of paedophilia because, er, because of the moral panic invented by papers like the Mail. 'Parents vetted to check they're not paedophiles before being allowed to Christmas carol services with their children' is a story about how parents across the country are being forced to undergo humiliating vetting procedures before they're allowed to go to Christmas carol services with their own children.
Actually, it isn't. It's a story about how one school has asked 20 parents who have volunteered to walk 330 children to carol services to give their name and address on the morning of the service so the school can make a couple of phone calls. That's it. In the Mail, this becomes:
Graham McArthur, headmaster of Somersham primary school in Cambridgeshire, said that criminal checks were being carried out on more than 20 parents volunteering to walk his 330 pupils to a carol service at nearby St John's church later this month.Gah! Run for your lives! Nanny state gone bonkers!
What these stories - and the column covered by MacGuffin over at TabloidWatch about how the BBC have ignored the Nativity, despite funding a film about it and having several children's programmes devoted to it - show is exactly how desperate tabloids can be to fill their rubbish 'Christmas is under attack' narrative. Real examples of authorities censoring, or worse, banning Christmas so as not to offend people of other faiths are so rare as to be virtually non-existent.
This leads tabloids to scrabble round for anything that even vaguely fits the idea of Christmas being attacked - whether it's parents in one school having to give their name and address before being able to supervise children, zeroing in on a few words in a press release from a cracker company that suggests that one reason they might reject jokes is because of insensitivity or pretending that police providing cards to put of carol singers for those who want them is actually the police banning carol singers. It's desperate stuff.
The Sun discovered just how desperate in 2006 and 2007. In those years, the paper offered readers payment for stories about how Christmas was being phased out because of people of other faiths in two kinds of institution.
In 2006, an Employment Law firm managed a masterful piece of PR placement by coming up with a shady poll that suggested that three quarters of firms had banned Christmas decorations so as not to offend people. On the back of it, the Sun offered readers payment to shop their own workplaces for banning decorations in the hilariously titled 'Kick 'em in the baubles' campaign. The grand total of examples the paper got of firms who had banned the tinsel so as not to offend people was a great fat zero. It managed a branch of Greggs that banned decorations for health & safety reasons, a factory that didn't want workers sticking cotton-wool its newly-painted walls and a Job Centre that had no decorations so as not to make people who couldn't afford them feel bad. It responded by selectively quoting a comment from Tony Blair where he said he was sceptical about the whole idea that anyone was banning Christmas decorations to make it look as though he agreed with the Sun.
In 2007, the paper shifted its target to schools. Again, the response was a big fat zero. There was a school that had stopped the angels in their nativity from wearing wings because they were also using real candles that could set them on fire, and that was about it. The paper responded with two 'hilarious' versions of what PC nativity plays might look like - forgetting that the PC Brigade were supposed to be banning the things outright.
Last year, it dropped the idea, rather sensibly.
This year, the 'they're banning Christmas' stories have already started to roll in. It's kind of fun to see the lengths the papers will go to in order to prop up their annual myth. Wonder if the Sun will offer people money and get nothing back. Hope so.