Should we laugh along with the gammon people?
PUBLISHED: 17:00 17 May 2018
Racist, sexist, ageist or just funny? Zoe Williams on the insult du jour
The controversy over the insult ‘gammon’ has nothing to do with what it means: everyone knows what it means. Men the colour of ham, who hold a variety of nostalgic, socially conservative views, often a bit brutishly expressed.
Their natural habitat is the audience of Question Time, and their Twitter handles more often than not contain the flag of St George. They love finality and telling people what’s what. ‘End. Of’ is their favourite winning manoeuvre. The ‘centrist dad’ is their socially liberal counterpart: also a man, also middle-aged, also anti-Corbyn, also utterly convinced that his way is the only way. But the centrist dad is more likely to have a beard, a bike as well as a car (the gammon wouldn’t be seen dead on a bike), and less likely to be the colour of, well, gammon. Anyway, that much – by anyone who has been at all exercised about the term, in either direction – is already agreed. The question, apparently spurred by the commentator and broadcaster Aaron Bastani calling the MP Mike Gapes “King Gammon of the Gammoni”, is just how insulting it is. Obviously everyone says mean things about each other – the pro-Corbyn lot are frequently called idiots and fanatics – but there are depths that pollute the political sphere. Racism; classism; misogyny; violence; these would all be toxic to an already pretty smoggy discursive environment.
Matt Zarb-Cousin, the leading expert on gammons (he wrote the first piece about it, in Huck magazine), explained succinctly that it couldn’t be racist because nobody was born a gammon; rather, you become one through a series of lifestyle choices. When he says this, it’s an ironic repurposing to mean they chose to be boorish bigots, every day, over a number of years. He’s not making a physical value-judgment, the way people do about the obese. Ben Davis, who coined the term, said he was talking about middle-class, golf-club types, and worried it was being repurposed to attack working class men. The word’s detractors do seem to think it classist (or sometimes ageist) because, variously, gammon is a working class dish, now rarely to be found on menus, and – hilariously – nobody’s calling anyone prosciutto. These people appear never to have been in a pub. Plainly, you can be a middle or working or upper class gammon, but you do have to be male, so ‘sexist against men’ is probably the worst you could level at it. The problem is, it’s very funny, when someone is the colour of processed pork, to remark upon it. It always has been – when Caitlin Moran said David Cameron looked like C3PO made of ham, it was possibly the funniest thing anyone had ever said. It is a ring-the-doorbell-and-run-away burst of mischief. If you object you just make yourself look – cruel irony! – more gammony.