Well, Soil is Sort of Brown
August 06, 2014
Worthy of the Guardian, but found in the Telegraph:
It is the softly spoken radio show that provides good-natured help and advice to thousands of gardeners every week. So regular listeners to Gardeners’ Question Time may be horrified to discover it has been accused of peddling racial stereotypes. According to an academic, the sedate Radio 4 panel show is riddled with “racial meanings” disguised as horticultural advice.
Dr Ben Pitcher, a senior lecturer in sociology at the University of Westminster…
…claimed the programme’s regular discussions on soil purity and non-native species promoted nationalist and fascist beliefs. Speaking on another Radio 4 programme, Thinking Allowed, the academic said: “Gardeners’ Question Time is not the most controversial show on Radio 4, and yet it is layered with, saturated with, racial meanings.”
“The context here is the rise of nationalism. The rise of racist and fascist parties across Europe. Nationalism is about shoring up a fantasy of national integrity. My question is, what feeds nationalism? What makes nationalism powerful?” Dr Pitcher said the “crisis in white identity in multicultural Britain” meant people felt unable to express their views for fear of being called racist, so expressed their racial identity in other ways, such as talking about gardening.
Remember, folks. For academics in the Clown Quarter, it pays to be unobvious.
When not hearing racism in discussions of soil acidity - and seeing it in Scandinavian furniture, which is “all about race” - Dr Pitcher writes about “how the meanings of race are made and remade in acts of creative consumption.” And, obviously, “the relationship between race and neoliberal capitalism.” He is, in fact, “setting out a framework for thinking about race in the twenty-first century.” Our senior lecturer in sociology also ruminates deeply on “Top Gear and postfeminist media culture.” Yes, a giant walks among us. Let’s all follow him.
Here’s the Gardeners’ Question Time website, in case any of you want to comb through the content for those hidden racial messages with which it’s apparently “saturated.” The episodes on the National Botanic Garden of Wales and the Chelsea Flower Show look particularly suspicious.
Given the Guardian’s intense gravitational pull on certain kinds of stupid, it was perhaps inevitable that Dr Pitcher would find a welcome there. Now it turns out that squirrels are yet another proxy for “our” unspoken racial sentiment. Our esteemed intellectual, who divines hidden racism by means of his third eye, is hurt by the avalanche of mockery aimed at his earlier pronouncements, claiming his words have been misconstrued, while also claiming that same derision proves him right, and while repeating the very claims that resulted in laughter. He does, however, concede that “the uprooting of… Japanese knotweed is... not necessarily motivated by racist intent.”
Dr Pitcher’s problem - one he shares, as we’ve seen, with many of his peers in academia’s Clown Quarter - is that he takes a very slim and unremarkable idea and then extrapolates wildly, based on nothing much, in order to make it sound credible as the basis for a book, and by extension his career. And so, is it possible that at some point someone has consciously or otherwise used gardening, or squirrels, as a personal symbol of racial sentiment, or racial antipathy - or some other, entirely different and unrelated thing? Well, I suppose so. But this rather slim and negligible idea isn’t the stuff of books and scholarly pole-climbing. And so, instead, he insinuates that such mental manoeuvres are widespread, commonplace – that’s it’s some kind of phenomenon - without ever establishing that any of this is the case, or even plausible.
And when the Radio 4 programme in which these strange things were said reached a wider, less credulous audience and Dr Pitcher faced an appropriate level of ridicule – from which his academic environment has apparently shielded him for years – he then blamed this public reaction on the idiocy and mischief of “little Englanders,” while affirming precisely the sentiments he now claims he didn’t air. Those of us who don’t regard squirrels and IKEA as being racially totemic or “saturated” with nationalistic sublimation may note just how often our statusful academic uses the words “we” and “our” when talking about things that, despite casual presumption and great efforts to project, may not in fact be happening outside of his own head. At least not with a frequency sufficient to justify Dr Pitcher’s claims, or indeed his career.
Such is the arse-end of academia.
Via Pablito in the comments here.