Controversy over British politician’s joke blaming Swine Flu on Susan Boyle


Humor is a fickle thing. Often it needs to be heard in person to truly get why something’s funny. So much can be lost without the help of intonation. Then there’s the whole issue of propriety. Personally I’m a fan of most off-color and inappropriate jokes, though there’s obviously a line. And the line is always changing, especially when it comes to current events.

Yesterday a British junior minister named Sion Simon made a joke on his Twitter page about Swine Flu and Susan Boyle.

‘I’m not saying Susan Boyle caused swine flu. I’m just saying that nobody had swine flu, she sang on TV, people got swine flu.’

[From the Daily Mail]

And the Brits are sort of up in arms over it.

Just as Gordon Brown was gravely announcing that two more Britons had been diagnosed with the virus, one government figure, I can disclose, decided that the potential pandemic was a great opportunity for a joke.

In a bizarre attempt at humour, junior minister Sion Simon suggested that unlikely Britain’s Got Talent singing sensation Susan Boyle is to blame.

Tories were horrified by what were seen as ‘insensitive’ remarks.

Even fellow Labour MPs were aghast. ‘It’s infantile, isn’t it,’ one says. ‘Hasn’t he got enough to do?’

For Simon, the minister for further education, was posting what he thought was a witty aside on the crisis just as it was confirmed a 12-year-old Devon girl had contracted the virus.

[From the Daily Mail]

Simon did remove the joke and apologized when contacted by the Daily Mail. It’s not the first time he’s gotten in trouble for his humor. Three years ago he posted a spoof of leader of the Conservative Party David Cameron’s video blog. As Cameron, he “offered people one of his children and the opportunity to sleep with his wife,” according to the Daily Mail. So he’s obviously got an edgy sense of humor, especially for a politician.

Like I said, I like inappropriate humor, but I can certainly understand why this particular joke would offend a lot of people. In the last few days I’ve heard at least ten Swine Flu jokes, and this was certainly no more offensive than the rest of them. Though to be fair, most of the others played on pigs as the theme. And while Simon’s was based on Susan Boyle – and was really more of a humorous observation than a joke – it wasn’t actually mocking her, and that’s obviously not why people were offended. It was due to making fun of something so serious.

I’ll let the commenters weigh in on the propriety of the joke.


Sion Simon

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57 Responses to “Controversy over British politician’s joke blaming Swine Flu on Susan Boyle”

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  1. OXA says:

    If that is his picture, he has some nerve. Off with his head and leave Susan Boyle alone.

  2. Lori says:

    You suck Sion Simon!

  3. Annie says:

    I giggled a little.

  4. Orangejulius says:

    Oh, for pete’s sake. It’s smile-worthy at least and asinine to get so worked up about it.

  5. geronimo says:

    I think it’s more that while the premise is funny, Simon is an elected MP and is being criticised for inappropriateness. Had a comedian made the joke, no one would have batted an eye. And it is funny. This is as much about party politics as anything else. Simon has a history of winding up the right and they’re the ones screaming loudest here.

  6. KansasRefugee says:

    I think this man’s joke is very crude and revealing of a certain sort-of primitive wish. I read the meaning as saying Susan Boyle is a like a swine and her performance catching such fire in the world is like a swine flu. This man appears to be seeing the rise of inner strength in the common or everyday person, especially a woman, as a type of malady. I suspect he’s quite an elitist (despite being Labour) and a narcissistic male who wants to see himself as holding the top spot in a male heirarchy (i.e. the Alpha male spot) where women are objects for consumption. Public admiration of women like Susan Boyle is very damaging to this fantasy. Perhaps he’s even a member of Labour in a sort of vain attempt to master his inability to see himself as equal to other human beings.

    The joke is funny because it’s true, but in a very crude, primitive way, not a way that we should be behaving as 20th century adults.

    More power to you, Susan – make the most of your gifts and don’t let these jerks get you down.

  7. geronimo says:

    Dear God @ KansasRefuge. You clearly are not a fan of whimsy. You are SO off in your interpretation, it’s just not true. Someone else will have to guide you back to a place of safety, you’re too far out of reach for me. 🙄

  8. Wench. says:

    Haha – I liked it! I’ve not yet heard a swine flu joke, so we’re off to a great start.

  9. ash says:

    *grabs popcorn and watches discussion on wall*

  10. Mairead says:

    I’ve seen funnier pieces of bellybutton fluff than that joke, but you’re analysing it way too much KansasRefugee. Although when I read the headline I assumed that he was insulting her directly (aka calling her a pig), but the joke itself doesn’t suggest that in the slightest. It’s still not that great a joke though.

  11. Jones says:

    “pssst Ash, move over and pass the popcorn”

  12. KansasRefugee says:


    Sorry I lost you – you don’t look to be the audience I was looking to connect with anyway.

    In case you are still reading, ridicule and whimsy are not the same thing.

    Ridicule = humor at another’s expense

    Whimsy = fanciful humor

    I see Susan Boyle as overweight and so calling her a “swine” is not an innocent coincidence, I suspect. Doesn’t sound too “fanciful” too me. Sounds instead like a very brutal, crude humor.

    Maybe you and this Labour Minister should go hang together? Sounds like you could admire his narcissism and he consume your naivete? Please don’t reproduce though.

  13. Codzilla says:

    Kansas: LOL! I think you might have left this one in the oven a little too long. Save your strength.

  14. KansasRefugee says:

    Alas, women can be fools.

    Codzilla – I wish I could save my strength. But I am too worried about the future of our world when women are naive and indulge this kind of cruelty in men as somehow admirable.

    See “The Broken American Male” for how we keep producing men (and women) in our country like this. Also, you might want to read “The Moral Animal” to get a better understanding of base human biology.

    This might be a very skilled ironic political joke where Labour steals Tory thunder IF it were not at the expense of a human being (and a talented one at that – do you really want to lose the talent of people like Susan Boyle?)

  15. AnAmericanthatVoted says:

    It has been said that the United States would have a black president when pigs flew, so now we have Obama and swine flu.

  16. geronimo says:

    “This might be a very skilled ironic political joke”

    😆 It’s nothing of the kind! Kansas, you are WAY off in your interpretation. Some things just don’t translate and this little piece of whimsy is plainly one of them. There is no underlying malice or insult to anyone, it’s just a silly little joke. You are getting upset over nothing.

  17. ChristinaT says:

    this came from a politician? can you imagine obama or the like making a joke like this? i think that’s the REAL issue here… why would he go there? and why is this jackass twittering? doesn’t he have a job to do for which he should be taken seriously? twitter doesn’t exactly connote dignity and class to me… especially using it to make stupid jokes. you’re in public office for chrissake…

    i’m going to sound like an old fart here at 29 hehe but twitter is ruining the next generation of kids… it’s the devil i tell ya :p

  18. Lori says:

    Kansas some of the hags that post on this website seem to feel like they are better and smarter than everyone.

    News Flash, Blogs are so we can all voice our opinions!

    Kansas I see your point of view, and I am entirely inclined to believe that this man basically called Susan a Pig. I don’t know why GermO does not see it that way, probably because GermO is a total DB.

    Keep posting here, the bitch posse can not make us all go away.

  19. j. ferber says:

    I agree with Kansas that the underlying, core assumption the guy has is that Susan Boyle looks like a swine. Naturally he doesn’t say it outright, but it is implicit, and thus nasty. I’m not sure that it’s downright ridicule, more like a snicker of contempt and it’s not funny. I also don’t see that it’s whimsy. It’s just not witty or imaginative enough to qualify (and I say that as a fan of Laurence Sterne, the master of whimsy). So what we do have is a jerk with too much time on his hands. Or maybe he’s spending too much time with 12 year old boys or girls as a junior minister of education and picked up on their puerile sense of humor. And yes, there’s a nasty assumption in there. And yes, I am ridiculing him.

  20. aury says:

    how friggin ignorant can you get?

  21. KansasRefugee says:

    Lori- Thanks for your kind words.

    Geronimo – You’re entitled to your opinion. Your tone does appear to me to be self-righteous, disrespectful and not reflective so I’m done talking to you today – bye.

    Anyone who is interested – Please see “AnAmerican”‘s post for what appears to me to be the type of shallow cruelty that I am trying to illustrate we are all capable of. Is this really what America is about? Is this kind of talk really going to get us out of the recession?

  22. ChristinaT says:

    Kansas, sounds like you’ve either taken some women’s studies courses or possibly majored in it? am i way off base?

  23. Meimei says:


    I certainly didn’t read it that way. People have troubles with correlation and causation, and that’s why we get these jokes. What he is saying is in essence the same as me saying that I got a hay fever for reading about Miss Opposite-Marriage: both occurred roughly at the same time, but the first did not cause the second.

    Mind boggles.

  24. KansasRefugee says:

    MeiMei –

    I follow you.

    I would like to know, though: if this was the intent, i.e., to to make this point about effect sometimes causing people to infer a false cause, isn’t he a smart enough man to make the joke about something else? And I would like to know why he was trying to illustrate this point.

    I’d be more understanding of him if she weren’t overweight and it wasn’t about “swine” flu and he wasn’t a male.

  25. ChristinaT says:

    i’m pretty sure he was calling her a pig… how is there any doubt in that?

  26. boo says:

    kansasrefuge – Lighten up. You seem like a very insecure person.

  27. Meimei says:

    My guess? He wasn’t really thinking, just making a stupid joke (based on the idea I tried to explain).

    The fact is that Susan Boyle is quite a phenomenon: some random, not particularly attractive woman, who is revealed to have a great voice. Suddenly everyone loves her, media is all over her and the clip from the programme is (afaik) the most watched in YouTube. In a way the Susan Boyle fever is a virus – and then comes the other one…

    Perhaps I’m weird, but I hadn’t even thought about her being overweight, just kind of “stout”. He might have made a similar joke if it was still the avian flu, and then people would find other meanings.

  28. KansasRefugee says:


    Yes, I am an insecure person but I have never met a person who did not appear to me to have some insecurity about him or her. How they handle their insecurity is an entirely different matter.

    I can understand I am coming across as intense. I am spending the time and energy to stay in this dialogue because I get very disturbed when people in power lack self-awareness (including awareness of their own insecurity), and I want us to stop empowering them. It costs us an enormous amount to have folks carrying on like this.

  29. Meimei says:

    But seriously, I think people should be more concerned about Berlusconi and his “Barbie politicians” – he has a chance to do real harm with that.

    And (before anyone complains), no, I’m not saying that women who are considered good-looking couldn’t also be smart.

  30. geronimo says:

    kansas – my apologies for my initial response to you. It was an instinctive one to what I felt was an extraordinary take on this story. My intention wasn’t to be rude but I see that it came across that way and I’m sorry for that. Meimei has provided a much more measured and helpful response, one that I wholly agree with.

    But I have to reiterate, this was not a joke at Susan’s expense, and I’m a little bit thrown by your take on it, seeing Susan as somehow being compared to a pig because you think of her as an overweight woman. That would never have occurred to me.

  31. KansasRefugee says:

    Geronimo – Thanks very much for your comment.

    MeiMei – Yes, people in power who carry on in this way is pervasive. It is actually admired in many cultures. I would like to see us move to a more productive, more creative, and more responsive type of system, though.

    I am glad so many women appear not to be worried that excess weight makes them less acceptable to men – more power to you. I guess I have a ways to go on that.

    I still have not heard any explanation for why he told this “joke” though? If there was some intent to expose some false syllogism going on in governing, where is it?

  32. Meimei says:

    “I still have not heard any explanation for why he told this “joke” though?”

    He thinks he’s funny? I seriously doubt there’s much more to it than that.

  33. Orangejulius says:

    Is there a new rule somewhere that politicians are forbidden to make jokes? I must have missed that one. I don’t find it all inappropriate, just silly.

  34. ChristinaT says:

    no it’s not a new rule, it’s probably a pretty old rule that public officials probably shouldnn’t make references to people as pigs… unless you’re a real moron…

  35. Rebecca says:

    I think that was a very tasteless, offensive ‘joke’ to make…not amused.

  36. j. ferber says:

    The cause? The man is an ass, pure and simple. He needs a lot more work dumped on his desk. A lot more.

  37. BiggieShortie says:

    Okay, admittedly I did NOT even read this post yet…but I’mma go out on a limb and say it was PROBABLY JUST A JOKE.

  38. Ling says:

    I think it’s a hilarious joke.

    But Colbert did it last night, and funnier. Well, it was actually that he showed the clip, did a few seconds of mock-weeping about how beautiful it was, and then said, “It’s sad that she has swine flu.”

  39. eternalcanadian says:

    not impressed. he’s one to talk. calling susan a pig, yeah, he’s one himself.

  40. Christina Viering says:

    Not really funny.

  41. Orangejulius says:

    You really, seriously believe that he was calling her a pig? And I thought I was overly sensitive.

  42. Some disclaimers first:
    1. I’m on pain meds so I might be missing some very crucial yet subtle element.
    2. I don’t know this guy from Adam, so ditto – maybe he has a history of making veiled remarks, whatever.
    3. I skimmed the comments, so someone may have already said that.

    Now. It seems to me that he wasn’t making a joke about swine flu, per se, OR about Susan Boyle. It seems to ME that he was skewering what seems to be a widespread practice of taking two random, unrelated events – at least one of them must be unpleasant – and hypothesizing that there is a link. IMO, he’s mocking the gullibility of the average person and their eagerness to mistake correlation for causation.

    I think he was also making a sly insight about the way things “go viral” nowadays – whether it’s the Susan Boyle phenomenon, the swine flu “news” hysteria, or the actual virus of H1N1 itself. There is a comparison to be drawn there… two weeks ago, the internet was buzzing with Susan Boyle this, Susan Boyle that. Now, it’s swine flu this, swine flu that.

    I suspect he was going for the message of “look how silly it is to say, ‘this happened on Monday, that happened on Tuesday, obviously one caused the other'” and the concept of events or information “going viral” on the web.

  43. Orangejulius says:

    Good points, bibliophibian. That was how I took it. It actually never even occurred to me that he was calling her a pig. I’d be pretty disgusted if I thought that was the case.

  44. K McFarlane says:

    I’m with Bibliophibian.

  45. zpup says:

    Why is it that when a woman objects to a joke in poor taste, it just because SHE doesn’t have a sense of humor? Why is it ok to compare a woman to a pig, and that’s funny? As women, we all need to just stop laughing and call it what it is… I’m with Kansas.

  46. geronimo says:

    Thank you, bibliophibian. Sanity at last.

  47. JohnnieR says:

    Oh people, come ON! Relax and chill out – twas a joke and meant in jest, and now everyone suddenly has a dill pickle up their ar*se about it. He MEANT for the joke and its contents to tie into the fact that Susan’s Youtube video when globally viral within a very short time of it being “unleashed”.

    Don’t take life so bloody seriously, folks. 🙂

  48. quid_iuris says:

    I don’t think it’s particularly funny. I don’t find it offensive (although I can see why some people would),it just feels like a somewhat “meh” attempt at borderline perversive humour. Try moar.

  49. ChristinaT says:

    i’m still dumbfounded how there’s any doubt he’s calling her a pig… ????????

    it’s an “if the shoe fits, wear it” type of joke…what if you replace the word swine with pig? will it be more obvious?

    not that i care if he’s calling her a swine with a virus, or a kapi barra with ticks… but the fact remains… “i’m not saying she caused the PIG flu, but it did come around when she did”

    HOW is there ANY doubt about this?

    i’m not trying to make the joke sound worse to give myself the freedom to be more offended… i don’t know SB from a hole in the wall… (though i’m sure she’s a nice woman). but COME ON… how dense can you guys be?

  50. Ashley says:

    “Is that some of that British ‘umor nobody gets?”.

    I don’t think he was calling her a pig, I think he was saying she looks a little piggy. Although I think the Brits have made her a national treasure now so he was dumb in thinking it wouldn’t offend.

  51. j. ferber says:

    I agree with you totally, Christina. If he had joked that since Susan started singing, Tony Blair changed his policy on buying foreign oil, nobody would have seen the connection and, thus, it wouldn’t have been considered funny or offensive. The crux of the joke is that he’s saying she looks like a swine (pig). I don’t understand either that people don’t get that.

  52. HALO777 says:

    ya know all you people out there who make rude comments about susan boyle are only making her more famous!!!keep up the good work and while doing so try not to be to jealous and hate her cus shes climbing to the top while most of you are working for $7.95 an hour and barely getting by and all she did was got the nerve to go in front of 100s of people and sing!!huh!!so who is the talented one here???looks to me like susan cus shes not sweating her a** off in a factory or washing the bosses coffee cups!!!just like this idiot who made the joke about her and swine flu!!well looks to me like he does not own a mirror cus he is no position to be cracking on somebody eleses looks!!!!GET OVER BEING JEALOUS OF SUSAN BOYLE EVERYBODY,SHE IS FAMOUS NOW AND THERE IS NOTHING YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT BUT SIT BACK AND KEEP WISHING IT WAS YOU:):):):)

  53. j. ferber says:

    Biblio, Yes, you have a good theory, but you are way smarter than that bloke and I have no doubt he did not make the sophisticated point you are making here.

  54. HALO777 says:


  55. Thhbbb! says:

    It was an intentional insult to Ms. Boyle. Be assured that if she were “conventionaly” attractive his joke would have never been generated. The “humour” , if any, rests soley in the premise that she is an unattractive (sow, swine, etc) female. These terms have frequently been used to relate to the feminine “less worthy”. Those who pretend it was no “jab” at her appearance are fooling themselves….it had EVERYTHING to do with it.

  56. Jamie says:

    I believe he was making fun of Minnesota Republican Rep. Michele Bachmann who implicated that the democrats were to blame for the swine flu. She said:

    “I find it interesting that it was back in the 1970s that the swine flu broke out then under another Democrat president Jimmy Carter. And I’m not blaming this on President Obama, I just think it’s an interesting coincidence.”

    Unfortunately, Bachmann’s facts were incorrect since it was Republican President Gerald Ford, not Carter, that led the country during the last outbreak of the virus.

  57. Awesome Bill From Dawsonville says:

    I find find susan boyle’s rise to popularity and the related media coverage infinitely more insulting and infantile than this joke. First off, in an odd reversal of events, this woman would never have been the popular sensation that she is had she been attractive or even middle of the road in terms of physical appearance. Her vocal ability is good although far below that of an average studio musician or even a randomly selected lead vocalist from a black baptist church in the southeastern US. The only reason for anyone being impressed by her performance is because they were too infantile, stupid or sheltered to realize someone they don’t find physically attractive could leave a positive impression on them. Every news commentary on this woman discusses her appearance more than her vocal talent. So, now when someone makes a joke acknowledging her appearance, something that every news story on her performance has acknowledged, albeit in a more polite manner, it is offensive?