Saturday 3 February 2018

A spot of controversy

Waterhouse's Pre-Raphaelite Hylas and the Nymphs. Degenerate art, some think.

Following up on comments on the Open Thread, particularly about the BBC's use of the word 'controversial', I've done a short study - using the indispensable TV Eyes tool - to track the BBC's use of the word so far this month (nearly three days of it so far!).  

Scanning for BBC One, BBC Two, BBC Four, the BBC News Channel and BBC World, the word 'controversial' brings up 139 results. The vast majority relate to the 'controversial Republican memo', though the conservative Polish government (bête noire of the EU) receives close to 20 results, with Donald Trump (in general) coming third with 5 results. 

The other uses are intriguing: Lord Tebbit (his 'cricket test'), the government's Prevent Strategy, a housing scheme at Haringey Council (the one Momentum used to get its Blairite Labour leader out), Bob Mugabe's land grab, and that art gallery's decision to remove that lovely Victorian painting with the topless nymphs.

Yes, the word 'controversial' can be used as a neutral descriptor for something that's widely regarded as controversial, but - just as typically - it can be used judgmentally to indicate something (or somebody) you don't like. 

It might be interesting to track the BBC's use of the word 'controversial' for a while. It might end up landing the BBC in a spot of controversy.

Incidentally, on the Hylas and the Nymphs row, the criticism of Manchester Art Gallery for removing the 1869 painting on PC/virtue-signalling grounds was so overwhelming that even the likes of the Guardian and The Conversation condemned the decision (now, apparently reversed).

Curiously (or maybe not!), the BBC News website published the most PC piece I've read about the controversy so far.


  1. The Manchester Evening News ran a poll on this: 93% of those who responded felt that the gallery was wrong to take the painting ďown. For a scathing, and entertaining, condemnation of the Contemporary Art Curator, Clare Gannaway, Google: 'revpetermullen 02 feb Manchester Art Gallery self-censorship.' - Don't be put off by the 'Rev' bit - this is a very earthy clergyman indeed!

  2. Well the fact the Guardian thought it controversial shows it was controversial in the BBC sense. :)My prediction: in 10 years' time the old 68 hippies will all be gone from the BBC and Guardian and such censorship will be common in galleries up and down the land.

    There is a corollary to "controversial" - or rather several - used by the BBC to describe proposals they approve of but they know are - truly - controversial, being strongly opposed by the majority of people...these are described as "radical", "challenging", "progressive", "new", "modernising" and "compassionate" etc whatever is required to neutralise the opposition.


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