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Historian David Starkey is a big stupid stupid-head
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August 15, 2011, 04:47 AM
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Have you noticed how the smarter the offender against political correctness, the more the establishment denounces him for stupidity? A few nights ago, English historian David Starkey intellectually mopped the floor with the other three participants on a BBC talk show about the riots. Slowly the outraged losers in the debate are trying to gather their wits and respond.
Dreda Say Mitchell writes in The Guardian:

David Starkey’s ethnic year zero

The historian’s views on race and rioting are ignorant and confused. Thankfully most people realise this

Invited by BBC2’s Newsnight last Friday for a discussion about the rioting, I was looking forward to an interesting debate. Fellow guests were Owen Jones, whose recent book on the white working class was widely admired, and historian David Starkey, whose perspective should have been a plus.

But, instead of that debate, the viewers were treated to Starkey’s random and confused thoughts on British youth culture. … It is, as anyone who’s tried it will know, very difficult to argue with crass stupidity. What do you make of someone who thinks using “Jamaican” slang encourages youth to torch buildings? You may as well argue that speaking with an upper-class accent encourages people to hunt foxes.

Of course speaking with an upper-class English accent encourages people to hunt foxes. If you speak with an upper-class accent, you are vastly more likely to be invited to a fox hunt or to otherwise be invited to socialize with foxhunters or with people who approve of foxhunters than if you speak like Liza Doolittle’s dad.


This isn’t a particularly novel concept. G.B. Shaw wrote a play about the social and behavioral implications of English accents a century ago, Pygmalion. From Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady:

Look at her, a prisoner of the gutter,
Condemned by every syllable she ever uttered. …
Why can’t the English teach their children how to speak?
This verbal class distinction, by now,
Should be antique.
If you spoke as she does, sir,
Instead of the way you do,
Why, you might be selling flowers, too!

Conversely, if you think it’s cool to speak like Ali G all the time, you are more likely to get invited along by other people who talk like Ali G to a looting. And if more people in your society start to think its cooler to speak like Ali G than like Henry Higgins, that means, to a somewhat lesser but still positive extent, that more people will think its cool to behave like Ali G than like Henry Higgins.

The host, Emily Maitlis, Jones and I had a go at challenging Starkey’s views. But it’s difficult to challenge someone who offers you no evidence apart from someone’s text message and a spell teaching in Jamie Oliver’s Dream School.

As a former teacher I was tempted to suggest that Starkey go out into the corridor and think about what he’d said. Do intelligent and well-educated people in Britain really believe this nonsense? Are the debates about “race” and criminality that were supposed to have been fought and won decades ago going to have to be rehashed? Do we really need to compare gangsta rap with other forms of “outlaw” music, like country and western? Again?

Mercifully the response to Starkey’s remarks was overwhelmingly negative. I’ve been bombarded with emails and tweets from across the globe, 99% of which found him either ludicrous or comical. One tweeter was reminded of the 1970s character Eddie Booth from Love Thy Neighbour, the British sitcom. …

But the central problem with Starkey’s comments is that they were based on complete ignorance about the social dynamics of urban life in Britain.

In sum, everybody I know knows that I’m smart and David Starkey is stupid, for reasons that I can’t quite put my finger on at the moment, but, obviously, I’m smart and he’s a big stupid-head.