With the newspapers still attempting to stir up controversy over presenters like Jonathan Ross, let’s remind ourselves of what edgy actually means. I’m going to try to be quite brief.
A couple of other people are also pondering this subject. Well, loads really. Frank Skinner has made a special edition of Panorama about swearing and has shared his views with The Independent. There was also a dreadful attempt by ITV’s Tonight programme to examine what offends people on TV on Friday. (Where did ITV find the guy with the glasses and the comb-over for this panel? Was he chryonically frozen in the mid-1960s and specially defrosted for the show?)
Here’s my take on the whole edgy thing. Edgy means being close to the edge, the edge of that point or line or whatever metaphor you want, that line between comfort and discomfort.
In entertainment, specifically on chat shows, that line lies somewhere between being obseqious and being an arse. It’s a line between sucking up to people simply because they are famous (leaving aside for the moment the issue of whether they have any talent which has made them famous) or being offensive, either to famous people or to those watching.
In my humble opinion, Jonathan Ross has always trodden the line between sycophancy and busting a few celebrity bubbles quite well. I still recall his Radio 2 interview with Bob Geldof, who I’ll admit is a sort of guilty pleasure hero of mine. (I’ll even admit to having seen The Boom Town Rats live.) Ross worried away at how Geldof styles himself on his passport. Is it ‘musician’ or ‘fund-raiser’? Thus he got to the heart of Geldof’s celebrity: a musician who was good for few Boom Town Rats numbers but who is much more widely known for his Band Aid/Live Aid-inspired charitable works.
Yet in that and in most interviews Ross does he manages to soothe the celebrity ego to the point that they invariably part friends. It doesn’t work with everyone. George Michael (another guilty pleasure) famously plumped for an interview with Chris Evans rather than Ross. But generally, Ross treads that line between star worship and ego puncturing.
That’s what we mean by being an edgy presenter and, in our celebrity-obsessed culture, it’s what “the kids” (those under the age of about 60) want.
Finally, finally (oh dear, I said I would be brief), where in the whole debate about taste and decency that followed the Ross/Brand row has anyone talked about British prudery around sex? Surely the concepts of sex, grand-daughters and swearing only have power over us if we let them? If we accept that people do have sex, grand-daughters are invariably the product of that act and people use shocking words to, erm, shock then swearing and sex are already a lot less fraught and a lot less liable to upset people.