Last week, AM980 conservative radio host Andrew Lawton had an epically bad week. Inflammatory comments made both online and on the air by Lawton have dominated the attention of Londoners, with some demanding AM980 fire him immediately while others promise said action will only make Lawton a martyr for free speech. Obviously, AM980 is in a tough position, where no matter what they do someone will be upset. But in this post, I would like to suggest that we’ve missed the forest for the trees here and aren’t actually talking about what really matters.
In case you have missed what happened a week or two ago, Lawton’s terrible no good very bad week began with a misguided post on Facebook that criticized an Emerging Leaders poll which indicated many in the LGBT community in London do not feel safe because of rampant homophobia. Lawton insisted that this gives London a bad name and the LGBT community should be more concerned about HIV/AIDs. Lawton then followed this up on air during a segment around a TVDSB campaign to encourage students to critically engage with the words they use, and the harm those terms can cause, by questioning if there was really a difference between the terms “deaf people” and “people who are deaf,” making a joke about how the deaf can’t hear what you say so it doesn’t matter. He then doubled down on this joke on Twitter, saying anyone who would have been offended by the joke couldn’t hear it anyway. The cherry atop this pile of poor choices occurred a day later, when Lawton accused several councillors on air of voting on an issue while in a position of conflict of interest, a claim that was later refuted by councillor Stephen Turner, who explained there was no pecuniary interest and, therefore, no conflict. For obvious reasons, people were upset and AM980 decided it was best to suspend Lawton for the time being, leaving Londoners to begin picking sides on whether or not Lawton should be dismissed for these indiscretions.
As I watch the vitriolic discourse unfold online, with people lining up on either side of the Fire Lawton hashtag, I’m reminded of Jean Baudrillard’s interrogation of the Watergate scandal in his text Simulacra and Simulation (1981). In this text, Baudrillard begs us to stop calling Watergate a scandal because saying such relies on the idea that what Nixon did was outside the norm. Our horror at this transgression validates the otherwise symbolic position of the “President,” aligning the position with notions of purity and justice. By inference, Nixon’s behaviour betrayed these beliefs and therefore must be ousted to protect the sanctity of the position. The problem is that Nixon’s behaviour was not particularly exceptional and to make such claims ignores the reality that politics have long been a messy game with actors interested more in personal gain than public good. But by asserting Watergate was a scandal, an aberrance, we absolved ourselves of any responsibility in enabling Nixon’s behaviour, placing the blame squarely on his shoulders and ignoring the very real need for radical change in the way we do politics.
The same thing is happening now with Lawton, because instead of talking about the very real problems of homophobia and ableism in our community, we absolve ourselves by blaming him rather than acknowledging all the ways we are complicit in these problems. The anti-Lawton crowd subsumes Lawton in the issue, making him the exception to the prevailing rule of acceptance, implying that if only we can jettison him, we would live in a wonderful world of tolerance and equality. Of course, that is simply not the case and while Lawton’s removal may change the tenor of the AM980 afternoon programming, it will not magically make our streets safer or our community more accepting. Similarly, those in the pro-Lawton camp claim that Lawton is simply demystifying the great ruse of “equality,” pulling their blinders to hate on a little tighter and clinging to the belief that fighting for their right to be jerks to other humans is a great stand against some sort of tyranny. This group ignores the very real threat faced by those in the LGBT and disabled communities, both figurative and literal, and manufactures the oppression of political correctness as the real enemy to society and progress.
What we need to do is stop talking about Andrew Lawton. I know it is hard; it’s really fun talking about him! Lawton gives us so much to talk about, but I think that’s kind of his whole point—making us so paralyzed by talk that we forget to act. Whether or not Andrew Lawton is fired, our streets will not be safer for marginalized people to walk, hobble or roll. We are wasting our time and energy arguing whether or not what Lawton said was inappropriate, whether or not the LGBT community actually feels safe here, or whether or not words can hurt. It is time for us to get out from behind our screens and do the real work necessary to make our community a safer place. Instead of bickering, let’s just commit to making our community more inclusive for others. Instead of chastising, let’s actively stand up for their right to be a part of our community. You may think that fighting on Twitter is part of this process and that taking down Andrew Lawton would be a symbolic victory for the progressive movement in London. But I’m not convinced it is. It’s merely the same old polarizing, divisive politics; us versus them, business as usual.
Andrew Lawton is not a scandal. Our collective intolerance of others is.