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Tyson Fury, Boy George and BBC double standards

By Fionola Meredith

Published 08/01/2016

Boy George
Boy George

I don't get it. One man with a serious criminal conviction gets a leading role on a primetime BBC show and everyone applauds. Another man who is merely guilty of airing some obnoxious opinions is widely damned and vast numbers of people sign a petition calling for his exclusion from a different BBC show. It just doesn't make any sense.

I'm talking about Boy George, the new judge on BBC talent show The Voice, and Tyson Fury, the boxer who caused so much public outrage by saying stupid stuff about women and gay people.

In 2009 Boy George - real name George O'Dowd - was convicted and jailed for assaulting and falsely imprisoning a male escort by handcuffing him to a wall and beating him with a metal chain. The judge told the former Culture Club frontman that he had left escort Audun Carlsen "shocked, degraded and traumatised" by the ordeal, as well as "deprived of his liberty and his human dignity".

O'Dowd received a 15-month sentence for this crime, but was given early release after four months for good behaviour. Now he's going to earn a rumoured £300,000 a year for appearing every week on the BBC's cuddly, ostentatiously non-nasty talent show mentoring eager youngsters with stars in their eyes. What gives?

It's not the rehabilitation of Boy George to which I object. I don't believe in lifelong demonisation of convicts, and he has served his time. It's the weird double standards that trouble me.

What if it had been a woman O'Dowd beat and chained to the wall? Would he be sitting quite so comfortably in Sir Tom Jones's vacated seat right now?

Of course not. It's unthinkable. Which leaves the rather distasteful assumption that gay-on-gay violence is something we find acceptable, or at least find possible to ignore.

Or is it the fact that Carlsen was an escort that makes us so willing to disregard his dreadful experience? Is there a submerged belief that violence against sex workers doesn't really count? That's an equally indefensible stance.

According to Carlsen, O'Dowd has ruined his life. In the years following the attack, and despite extensive counselling, he says he has been unable to hold down a job or keep up a relationship. He told a Sunday newspaper: "The BBC should be ashamed of themselves for employing Boy George after everything he did to me. He shouldn't be allowed to be a mentor - they should axe him. He is a criminal who has been to prison... it's outrageous."

The BBC certainly has serious questions to answer. It booted out Jeremy Clarkson for punching a Top Gear producer in the face. Yet it employs O'Dowd in a far more prominent, influential and glamorous job after a much more serious assault for which he served time in jail.

The main issue with Tyson Fury taking part in the Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) competition was the claim that the title was not merely about sporting achievement, but about conferring status on a sportsman or woman as a role model, someone for young people to look up to and emulate.

By the very fact of being on the SPOTY shortlist it was argued that the BBC was endorsing, or at least tacitly tolerating, Fury's anti-gay and misogynistic remarks.

I don't buy that line, but it seems pretty inarguable that the BBC is happy to confer role model status on O'Dowd.

Judging The Voice is a national treasure role, imbuing the occupant of the spinning chair with enormous confidence, admiration and affection. Oh, and Fury was to appear only once on SPOTY. Yet we'll see Boy George in his big hat and lavish eye-liner every week.

Nobody apart from Audun Carlsen seems particularly bothered about this.

An online petition calling for O'Dowd's removal has generated at the time of writing a paltry 96 signatures. Compare that with the almost 140,000 people who signed the petition to exclude Fury from SPOTY.

Public opinion, in determining victims and champions, is notoriously fickle and often arbitrary. But the elevation of Boy George - the original Karma Chameleon, now engaged in presenting a new face to the public - points to a deeper ambivalence about whose voices matter in this society, and whose don't. O'Dowd has never apologised for the attack on Carlsen. In the 1982 Culture Club hit he sang Do You Really Want To Hurt Me? The answer, sadly enough, seems to be yes.

Belfast Telegraph

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