Honour, shame and the cross-dressing potter

by - 11th December 2011


Watching BBC World TV’s trailer for its current affairs strand Hard Talk where I’m staying in Amman, Jordan tonight, and cringeing at how weird and out of touch the BBC’s world is

Grayson Perry, the transvestite potter is tonight’s subject.  Hard Talk wants to find out ‘how a transvestite potter has talked the British Museum into exhibiting his work’, meaning oceans of air-time commenting on and explaining a perversion that used to be considered too extreme even for policemen to discuss with me, when I was a young reporter.

Anyone can google transvestism and enter into a discussion about whether or not Perry cross-dresses for a stunt, is mentally ill, or getting some sexual kick out of it; all three may apparently be the case, as I’ve now unfortunately discovered from google. 

Perry may be a truly great potter, and I believe that he is.  He won the Turner Prize in 2003. By turning up in a frock he guaranteed fame in perpetuity.  Now the British Museum is celebrating him, and the whole world must go down this manhole into the often revolting world of London culture.  Is this beacon institution really a fitting platform from which to promote weirdness?  Is this really what the world with all its current travails needs right now?  From where I’m sitting, such a move beggars description.

What possible benefit can this be for British interests abroad, or for anyone else’s for that matter, except the odd exhibitionist?

Jordan where I’m doing some research on religion and the scandalous plight of Palestinian and Iraqi religious refugees here, which the West would largely forget, is an honour-based culture.  It matters to people here how the community and the world perceive them.  Britain today appears to care no longer about any such thing.  If you don’t care what people think of you, you don’t care full stop.  The moral continuum is plain to see from the vantage point of the poor.

There is a cultural death wish, a compulsion in Britain to dishonour ourselves and forget the effect we might be having on others.  The British diaspora, and particularly the church agencies, somehow have to answer for the impression created by the so-called 'home' country.  It’s as if absolutely nothing much matters to it any more. 

Yes, it feels frankly humiliating. For sure, Britain disgraced itself here in the past - at Suez; during the Mandate and elsewhere, and the era of its greatness is long gone.  But that is no reason for the British Museum and the British Broadcasting Corporation to revel in self-loathing.  Where I’m sitting tonight, Britain is a laughing stock.

I’m in a country founded by the British; Glubb Pasha was the soldier whose brilliant, determined and courageous strategy to stop tribal raiding and end the Bedouin famine that was resulting from it paved the way for a new Hashemite nation, whose royal family is very much modelled on our own. 

I’ve just had lunch with the 81-year old Englishwoman whose integrity and charm were such that she was asked to become Guardian to Princess Basma during her sojourn at a boarding school in Kent.  Ann O’Neill still lives here on a modest retainer and macho Arab drivers give way meekly when they recognize the trademark shock of white hair behind the insouciantly resolute steering wheel.

To the Muslim world, the profiling of a cross-dressing potter represents the downfall of British civilization and character, not its liberal apogée.  We appear ridiculous and incomprehensible.

No wonder Islam is so keen to impose its own alternative worldview on us – and I predict that Perry’s triumph will only make it keener.