This post contains discussion of a joke about disability and incestuous rape.
Katie Price, also known as Jordan, is a British TV personality and former model. I’m Australian, so I can’t claim to know much about her. The one solid thing I came into this piece knowing is that she is the subject of a lot of ire in the way only British tabloids can produce. Her eldest child, Harvey, was fathered by a former Trinidad and Tobago football player called Dwight Yorke, and is blind and autistic. You can see how this is going to go already.
In December, a comedian called Frankie Boyle performed a routine on the UK’s Channel 4 poking fun at Katie Price through Harvey. It was pretty awful in a number of ways, but the bit I want to focus on is the following joke, which refers to Katie’s former relationship with Alex Reid: “I have a theory about the reason Jordan married a cage-fighter: she needed a man strong enough to stop Harvey from fucking her.”
This isn’t the first joke about Harvey, even if it is the first one calling him a sexual predator, and it certainly isn’t the first about Katie. Harvey is so much in the spotlight as part and parcel of the usual potshots at his mother, whose sexualised image is the subject of a lot of media ire. He’s also a prominent subject simply because, fat, disabled, and black as he is, Harvey is far from the kind of “celebrity baby” the tabloid public like to fuss over and photograph.
I never thought I’d link to the likes of the Daily Mail, but that’s where Katie wrote a response to this, in her 30 June piece promoting her show Katie: Standing Up for Harvey. I’m really uncomfortable with this piece on a number of levels, particularly in that it’s promoting yet another campaign “on behalf of” disabled people, run by a parent, rather than, you know, in support of the activism we disabled folks do ourselves, thanks. In any case, from the piece:
Imagine if the reason Boyle gave for saying Harvey was capable of raping me was not because of his disability but because he is black. People would understand how discriminatory that is. It is just as discriminatory when the joke is based on someone’s disability.
Sad to say, lots of people can and do make that kind of joke. I’m not as sure as Katie that we can entirely separate out Harvey’s disability from his blackness here. Even though the focus is on his being disabled, there’s a silent and potent message about the scary black man. This joke was made in a context in which black male sexuality is seen as inherently threatening and violent. So uncontrollably so, in fact, that one’s own mother might be subject to the sexual violence one mindlessly inflicts. That idea of mindless aggression positions a marginalised and vulnerable person as the true threat, and it’s an idea that is common to both how blackness and disability are figured. And, on top of that, he’s just a kid, and he’s being sexualised in a really horrific way. Harvey, as a young black man of nine, is being subjected to a multiple whammy here, and, while his race didn’t explicitly come up, only one referent was necessary to spark a set of associations.
There’s a lot more to that joke. Katie needs a big strong (possibly white; I’m not sure of Reid’s identity) saviour to protect her from the scary black guy? Really? More than that, Katie Price is a survivor of sexual violence, and here her relationship with one of the people she loves best in the world is being painted with that. That’s completely unacceptable. You don’t get to use the relationship between a mother and son to inflict racist, ableist, horrible rubbish on them in the name of satirising celebrity. They’re human beings.
According to Mark Sweney at The Guardian, “The Channel 4 chief executive, David Abraham, has admitted that he personally signed off” on the joke. “We obviously recognise that in that particular case a piece of humour that was contextualised in the programme late at night was then passed on in the media and out of context and did cause a reaction we had not intended,” said Abraham. I don’t think there’s a context that makes that right, buddy.