Do you remember, when Disney released its live action remake of 101 Dalmatians in 1996, how everyone said, “You’ll never believe what that Cruella de Vil’s done now… She only tried to make a coat out of dalmatian puppy fur, that cruel bitch”?
No? You don’t remember that?
Okay. Well, how about when Francis Ford Coppola released Bram Stoker’s Dracula in 1992, and scores of people said, “Blimey… That Dracula’s a bit of a bastard, isn’t he?”
“Do that shitty English accent one more time, and I swear to God I’ll cut your throat.”
Don’t remember that either? Oh, yeah. That’s right. Because it didn’t happen. And do you know why that is? Because Cruella de Vil and Dracula are fictional characters. They don’t exist. They were created by other people (Dodie Smith and Bram Stoker, respectively) to titillate and entertain.
And so, to Katie Hopkins.
Hopkins rose to prominence on the 2007 series of The Apprentice (the UK version) and has since carved herself a career as a caricature of the kind of go-getting, career-minded woman she imagines impresses those who are genuinely successful in business. She pops up with nauseating regularity on everything from Question Time to 10 O’Clock Live and – most recently – This Morning, and no matter what the topic of conversation can be relied on to adopt the most posturingly heartless stance, because hey… It’s a dog eat dog world out there, you can’t make an omelette without breaking some eggs, and PLEASE GOD FUCKING KILL ME NOW.
On her This Morning appearance Hopkins revealed that she judges her children’s prospective friends based not on their individual personalities but on the names their parents gave them. So Tyler and Chantelle, for example, are out. Simon appears to be more neutral, and if she learned that one of her children had befriended a Simon her next question would be, “Where does Simon live?” I imagine that if said Simon lived somewhere borderline gentrified (e.g. Brixton) her next question after that would be, “And what does his Mummy do for a living?”
“Well, Mummy, for one thing, she wouldn’t eat a kangaroo’s arsehole on national television because Ant and Dec told her to.”
Her comments have provoked a Twitch Hunt, and not without justification, because the Katie Hopkins who appears on television is an awful human being with very few – if any – redeeming features. She’s what would happen if you took Lowri Turner and turned her mindless, ill-informed bigotry and selfishness up to 11. In fact, I can only imagine that Lowri resents Hopkins in the same way that Josh Hartnett must kind of resent Channing Tatum, but that’s for another blog post.
Pictured: The fickle finger of fame.
All that Hopkins has done is join a growing list of people who make a living out of being publicly obnoxious. It’s a list that includes Jeremy Clarkson, Toby Young, the Telegraph’s James Delingpole, and the Daily Mail’s Liz Jones and Melanie Phillips. These are writers and “personalities” who adopt a predictable, reactionary stance on just about any issue; gruff, armchair generals, posing as the enemies of an imagined liberal orthodoxy and the forces of “political correctness gone mad”.
Don’t get me wrong… There are left-wing and liberal writers who are objectionable and wrong-headed, but they don’t appear to draw pleasure from winding up and antagonising at least 50% of their readers, and neither do they then pose as free speech martyrs in the same way their conservative counterparts do… endlessly… while enjoying unlimited free speech.
For one thing, it seems that while liberal and left-wing readers will go out of their way to read things that offend them, most right-wing readers couldn’t give a toss what the likes of Polly Toynbee and George Monbiot think about anything, so posing as the winder-upper of knee-jerk conservatives in a column for the Guardian or Independent would be pointless.
“I love nothing more than listening to Ladysmith Black Mambazo while driving my Prius. In your face, petrol heads.”
What’s important to remember is that each of these writers and “personalities” is a fictional character. The only difference between James Delingpole and Uriah Heep or Katie Hopkins and the aforementioned Cruella de Vil is that Heep and de Vil were created by third parties, whereas Delingpole and Hopkins created themselves. They identified a niche (climate change skepticism and faux-libertarianism in Delingpole’s case, full-blown villainy in Hopkins’s) and exploited it. It’s how they make money.
As such, their public personas are no less fake, no less theatrical than the “hero” and “villain” wrestlers you’ll find in WWE. Granted, some wrestlers may, after years in the job, begin to suffer from personality crises (Exhibit A: Hulk Hogan’s appearance in his own divorce case), but no-one believes the Undertaker (real name: Mark Callaway) goes home from an afternoon of Smackdown Raw to work at the Co-Op Funeral Home.
“Was your mother fond of lilies?”
If you want evidence of this, look at the career of Melanie Phillips. Now, while it’s certainly true that many people who start off as left wing become increasingly conservative in middle and old age, Phillips’s journey from socialist to ultra-conservative seems to have coincided exactly with her move to whichever newspaper was willing to pay her the most.
Whenever Twitter bursts into flames over the latest offering from Phillips, or Clarkson, or Rod “Fucking” Liddle, or Katie Hopkins, it’s music to their ears. Tweets, trends, column inches, airtime and, yes, blog posts like this one keep them in work. After her bonkers little rant on the This Morning sofa the other day, you can guarantee some fucker on Question Time was straight on the blower to her agent, finding out if she’s available any time after the series comes back in September.
Because this is the face of somebody whose opinion on the situation in Syria I simply have to know.
Treating these obnoxious people like fictional characters, talking about their latest antics in the same tone that we would discuss the behaviour of anti-heroes in shows like Breaking Bad, The Sopranos or The Wire may seem counter-intuitive – after all, you wouldn’t want people to think you approve of what they’re saying – but in the long run it will be agony for the armies of obnoxiousness. As well as cold hard cash, they thrive on genuine disapproval. They love nothing more than pissing off “libtards”, “lefties, and “feminazis”.
How upset would they be to hear those people laughing at everything they said, as they might laugh at Alf Garnett, Basil Fawlty or Papa Lazarou? Spittle-flecked anger and indignation lends their work a validity it doesn’t deserve. Laughing at it neutralises it altogether.
David Llewellyn is the author of six novels, most recently Ibrahim & Reenie, which you can buy here.