Tuesday, December 01, 2009


Paul Henry's latest controverisal utterance on TV One's Breakfast has created a bit of a storm. The Human Rights Commission has received nearly 200 complaints concerning his comments on a magazine article on Susan Boyle, the singer.

The big issue seems to the use of the word "retard" which many are comparing to "nigger".

You should watch it for yourself if you feel driven to hold an opinion.

The curious thing for me is that he doesn't call Susan Boyle "a retard". What he actually says is, "She is in fact retarded." Now I'm aware its not considered appropriate to use the expression "retarded" these days, I assume because the root meaning "slow" is not considered a helpful connotation. For me, I'm not sure I find the alternatives "disability" or "special needs" to be any less patronising. But right off the bat he at least seems to use the word properly and not as a slur.

The real problem with what Henry does is that he seems to find the situation amusing, including the revelations about suffering beatings at home and school. When I saw this I assumed he thought the article was ironic. In other words, its relatively common knowledge (isn't it?) that Susan Boyle's talent is more compelling because of the wider life challenges she faces. So, the stating of the obvious as "revelations" got him to giggling. Hugely unfortunate, somewhat unprofessional and no doubt offensive to people, but I don't quite "get" the response some people have had to it. I don't think this was anything like someone being called a "nigger" on national TV.


Rhett said...

I hadn't seen the footage until watching the link you provided. I reckon if he had just said "retarded" the uproar - while still being there - would have been much smaller.

I think the outrage is more over the fact that he appeared to find it all very amusing. For me, the part that made me do a double take was when he laughed at the idea of Boyle being starved of oxygen at birth. Maybe there was something behind the scenes going on, but it did appear very off.

Frank said...

I have a problem where I get the giggles at some of the most inappropriate times. It doesn't happen all the time, but happens enough for it to have offended from time to time. It's not that I actually find whatever it is funny... it just happens.

I'm guessing that Paul might be the same and if that's the case, I actually feel for him. There's nothing like knowing you're coming across like an insensitive prick when you're not actually finding the thing being talk about, funny.

BJ said...

"Paul Henry's employers have upheld a complaint against him over comments he made about singer Susan Boyle.

The Breakfast presenter made comments on his show about Boyle, describing her as "retarded". Boyle was born with minor brain damage and has learning difficulties.

TVNZ has upheld the complaints on the grounds of "good taste and decency".

Henry said he never intended to cause offence.

"It upsets me greatly that anyone would imagine I had intended to cause offence or hurt over this or any issue.

"I am sorry that some people have taken what I said in a way that I never intended," he said in a statement.

The TVNZ complaints committee found that although Henry meant his comments to be "humorous", they found that the language and manner of Henry would have offended a "significant number of viewers"."