Monty Python fans may remember the long sketch about the “lethal joke” that was so funny you would die from laughter, and which was weaponized for battlefield use in World War II. (If you have 10 minutes you can watch the sketch here.) The sketch culminates in the worldwide banning of jokes of mass destruction through the Geneva Convention, but it seems the University of Oregon takes the idea seriously. Get a load of this story:
An acclaimed British conductor has been fired from a prestigious American music festival after a seemingly innocent joke he made to a black friend was labelled racist.
Matthew Halls was removed as artistic director of the Oregon Bach Festival following an incident in which he imitated a southern American accent while talking to his longstanding friend, the African-American classical singer Reginald Mobley.
It is understood a white woman who overheard the joke reported it to officials at the University of Oregon, which runs the festival, claiming it amounted to a racial slur.
Shortly after Halls, who has worked with orchestras and opera houses across Europe and the US, was told by a university official his four year contract, which was to have run until 2020, was being terminated.
This sounds like a bad Title IX inquisition. Further down in the story, it is explained that the University of Oregon never spoke with Mobley, who is appalled at the University’s action.
Mobley, a countertenor who regularly performs in the UK, has now spoken out to defend his friend, saying there was nothing racist about the joke and describing the university’s apparent treatment of Halls as deeply unjust.
“He has been victimised and I’m very upset about it,” he told The Sunday Telegraph. ”It was an innocent joke that has been entirely taken out of context.” . . .
Halls and Mobley had been chatting at a reception held last month during this year’s Oregon Bach Festival, when the subject turned to a concert in London in which Mobley had performed.
The singer, who was born and raised in the southern state of Florida, said the concert had an “antebellum” feel to it, of the sort associated with Gone With the Wind and other rose-tinted representations of the pre-Civil War south.
In response Mobley says that Halls “apologised on behalf of England”, before putting on an exaggerated southern accent and joking: “Do you want some grits?”, in a reference to the ground corn dish popular in the south.
“I’m from the deep south and Matthew often makes fun of the southern accent just as I often make fun of his British accent,” said Mobley. “Race was not an issue. He was imitating a southern accent, not putting on a black accent, and there was nothing racist or malicious about it.”
But the singer suspects that a white woman who overheard their conversation and spoke to him moments later went on to report it to the university, alleging Halls had made a racist joke. . .
Mobley was not invited to give evidence and he says there is a deep irony in the fact the authorities appear to have assumed on his behalf that he would have objected to the joke.
“I’m the subject of a falsified story, without having the chance to have my say,” he said. “My voice has been taken away in a conversation about race that involved me, and technically that’s racist.”
At this point, maybe the best thing to do is just sit back and watch colleges and universities destroy themselves.
About time this film becomes mandatory viewing in college campuses: