06 October 2009

Motoring offence

Yesterday the DVLA withdrew from sale two items from the upcoming auction of high-value licence plates. The grounds for doing so was the risk of causing offence, should they appear in public, and those incendiary combinations of letters and numbers were: F4GOT and D1KES.

I must say I struggled to make out what they "spelled" on a computer screen, never mind on the back of a 90 mph Subaru. And even now I can see the "words", I'm struggling to understand the point of the exercise. I suppose even the illiterate have the right not to be offended, but I do wonder quite what the real thinking behind it was.

Let's assume a homophobic driver wants a vanity plate to reflect his bigotry. I could understand if he were to buy F4G H8R (see, I'm getting into this lingo). But to suggest he would want to drive around with "Faggot" on his car as a bizarre badge of honour seems wrong headed, any more than I would covet a licence plate that read L1verp00L FC. If I saw F4GOT on a car registration (and managed to decode it in time) I would be inclined to think the owner of the car was gay, and proudly reclaiming the word, as hip-hop artists did with with word "nigga" in the 1990s.

Beyond this I worry about the broader implications of this posturing by the DVLA. Are we suggesting oppressed groups prowl the car parks of England looking for offence at knee height? Or, for that matter, trawl the DVLA auction site (a very dull thing to do at the best of times) to be outraged at badly spelled playground language? According to Stonewall, it is to make Britain "more equal", but to construe offence in the unlikeliest places seems to say more about Stonewalls sense of self-importance that taking action to protect gay people from the random violence of idiots.

Meanwhile I expect there are disappointed water defence engineers in the Fens who would have like the registration D1KES as a symbol of pride in their profession. Not to mention the faggot makers of Lancashire.

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