This week is UN Climate Summat Week, which is why it’s also ‘James Randi and Johnny Ball say stuff about global warming and cause controversy’ week. I am not going to ask you about the Randi stuff, firstly because it’s covered elsewhere and secondly because I’m still thinking about it. Instead, I am going to ask you about an important aspect of the Johnny Ball debacle. As Rebecca said yesterday, for those non-Brits, a good comparison is the USA’s Mr Wizard. Johnny Ball hosted maths and science-themed kids shows in the 1980s, and he was an inspiration to just about every geek in the country over 25. He disappeared from TV for most of the last few decades, butÂ occasionallyÂ pops up doing things like drumming for the Chemical Brothers. Can YOUR dad do this? He’s just cool. And clever. And one of us…
Except for his views on Global Warming, which could be described as “eccentric” were they not shared with a whole movement of people branded “climate change denialists/skeptics”. Well, his go a bit further and blame farting spiders, but he always was one for a quirky perspective. So when he took the stage on Monday night in London at Robin Ince’s ‘Godless’ Nine Lessons and Carols show, the audience were staggered to hear him espouse these views rather than what they were presumably expecting (something they agreed with, or at least something that wasn’t demonstrably wrong in places). If you want to hear his views for yourself before commenting, please listen to Rebecca’s interview with him here.
Some of the audience started heckling and booing. Some started a slow-hand clap. Johnny Ball left the stage. This was widely reported by the media as him having been “booed off stage”. I took exception to that description – he left the stage because he was running 13 minutes over time – he confirmed this to me himself. If he says he didn’t leave the stage because he was booed, then he wasn’t booed off stage. Just a semantic issue, but one I felt important enough to correct. Nonetheless, some members of the audience take credit for having ‘shut him up’ with their behaviour, so I think we should discuss whether or not it’s OK to heckle. Spiked makes an interesting point, asking what’s liberal about yelling at someone til they stop saying things you don’t like. But then again, the audience had paid for tickets and Robin’s event has a reputation for speakers of sound science and entertainment, so maybe they felt ripped off and wanted to express their feelings. Then again again, there were acts at last year’s show which also overran, and were not to the audience’s taste (for example Ricky Gervais told a rape joke which many of the audience hated), but those acts weren’t booed. So I do believe that what Ball was saying was as much a factor in the booing in as how long he said it for. Which does then make me think that the audience simply didn’t want to hear something they didn’t agree with. Not sure if that’s fair enough (they were paying for a particular type of show) or not (this same crowd are furious that Simon Singh is being sued for libel, for example).
Is it OK to heckle or boo to express your dislike of something? Should the paying audience get to ‘censor’ acts they don’t like? Is there a hypocrisy in what happened? Can your dad drum like Johnny Ball?
The Afternoon Inquisition (or AI) is a question posed to you, the Skepchick community. Look for it to appear daily at 3pm ET.