Going down

12 May 2018, 21:03 | Updated: 12 May 2018, 21:07


Have you heard the one about the professor who got into a lift? Well, it’s not funny, I can tell you that.

OK, maybe it is a little funny, as in: weird.

Richard Ned Lebow is the 76 year old professor of international political theory at King's College London.

He made a fateful trip to a convention of the International Studies Association (ISA) in San Francisco, last month.

In a packed lift at the event, he found his inner Mrs. Slocombe, and in the manner of Are You Being Served, when asked by the person next to buttons which floor everyone wanted, he asked to get out at the ladies' lingerie department.

You know – “Ground floor perfumery, stationary and leather goods, wigs and haberdashery, kitchenware and food ...going up”.

It's not like he made a crack about having to rush home to feed his pussy, yet his life caved in because his comment was overheard and reported by an American Professor Simona Sharoni,
who I'm pretty sure was not the inspiration for a song by The Knack.

Simona Sharoni is, however, a professor of women's and gender studies at an institution called Merrimack College in Massachusetts.

The college's website, which states that it is a Catholic organisation, says: “The women’s and gender studies program at Merrimack College equips students with the analytic skills to integrate insights from a variety of fields, enabling them to become conversant with a variety of theoretical and methodological approaches and apply these approaches to the study of gender.”

That sounds a very worthwhile way to spend the $60,055 per year that its website states the course would cost.

All that learning doesn't appear to equip the professors at the college with a sense of proportion, though.

Simona Sharoni says she was too shocked to confront Richard Lebow at the time of the crime, so she reported him to the ISA ethics committee, who took the complaint very seriously and deemed the comments in the lift “offensive and inappropriate”.

Lebow sent an email of apology to Sharoni saying he meant no insult and that this seemed a bit frivolous and would take time from the ethics committee that they could be spending on real offences that trouble them both.

That comment was deemed to be an even more serious transgression than the original joke.

The ISA has instructed Professor Lebow to write a further “unequivocal apology”.

He refused to do so. He said it would be an acknowledgement that 'an innocent remark in an elevator is somehow wrong.'

The indicator gauge of what is acceptable was pretty much straining the stops at the wrong end of the dial for decades but to swing this far in the opposite direction does not seem to be a positive development.

If all humour that offends is eliminated, then you can say goodbye to laughing.

Everything that is funny can offend someone, if they try hard enough to be offended.

The only truly funny bit about this story is that Professor Lebow lists conflict management as among his interests.

See, we can still laugh about some things, but only if they are about white middle-class men.