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Katie Hopkins, and other fictional characters

5 Jul

Katie Hopkins

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."

“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.

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."

“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.

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."

“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?"

“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.

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.

Author

David Llewellyn is the author of six novels, most recently Ibrahim & Reenie, which you can buy here.

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Why Aren’t We More Excited By Flying?

1 May

This time tomorrow I’ll be on a plane, roughly 30,000 feet above somewhere in Europe. My destination is the Greek island of Kos, where I intend to do nothing but read, eat, drink, sleep and possibly snorkel in fairly shallow water (not a great swimmer) for seven days.

Artist's impression.

Artist’s impression.

The holiday was sprung on me by good friends who were going as a party of six until one person dropped out. “Seven days,” they said. “Gorgeous weather. All inclusive. All you’ll have to pay for are the admin fees to change the booking over to your name.”

Incredibly, I had to give it some thought. Granted, it was about 90 seconds’ worth of thought which culminated in my boyfriend saying, “Are you out of your fucking mind? Go.” Anyway, the long and the short of it is that less than three weeks later I’m going to Greece.

Flying was something I didn’t do until fairly late in life. When I was growing up we never had much money, and couldn’t dream of going on a foreign holiday, and when I was able to go abroad with my school that was always on a rather smelly bus full of people snogging or vomiting up a vile slurry of Tizer and Refreshers before we’d reached the Bryn Glas tunnels. The first time I ever flew was in 2003, when I was 25 years old.

Me in 2003. And no, contrary to what this photo may suggest, "flying" in this context is not a euphemism for tripping my nuts off.

Me in 2003. And no, contrary to what this photo may suggest, “flying” in this context is not a euphemism for tripping my nuts off.

I loved it almost immediately. Though it was a night flight, we passed over thunderstorms above France, and if you think lightning looks impressive from the ground, you should see it from up there. Truly spectacular. I’d been a little apprehensive before we flew, worrying that turbulence would be the most terrifying experience I had ever had, and once we’d landed my friends (who had been spread out over several rows) confirmed it was the single worst flight they had ever been on. During one particularly bumpy interlude the woman across the aisle from me began clutching her rosary and praying in Spanish. And I loved every second of it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I’m unaware of the perils, or that it doesn’t bother me. When flying, the possibility of the plane exploding in mid-air or nose-diving into a mountain are pretty much all I can think about. But overriding all that is a single thought:

“I AM FUCKING FLYING.”

"I'm fucking flying, Jack!" "Er... potty mouth?"

“I’m fucking flying, Jack!”
“Er… potty mouth?”

The funny thing is, airports and the whole experience of flying seem designed to take your mind of that simple fact, or to downplay it. Airports do their damnedest to make flying the dullest thing you can do. Entering an airport should feel like walking into Disneyland. There should be aviation-themed musical numbers, and Brian Blessed over a Tanoy bellowing, “GREETINGS, TRAVELLER! PREPARE TO GO JETTING INTO THE STRATOSPHERE!”

Dressed like this. Obviously.

Dressed like this. Obviously.

When boarding the plane they should fill the cabin with the theme from 633 Squadronand the cabin crew should hand everyone flying goggles and a leather cap, even though technically you won’t need them. After the safety messages the captain should shout, “CHOCKS AWAY!” or “AND… WE… HAVE… LIFT-OFF!”

At the very least, your fellow passengers should behave as if they would really appreciate all of these things, and not as if they are sitting on a bus.

Oh, I’ve tried doing the whole “blase frequent flyer” act, settling down in seconds, reading a newspaper or magazine during take-off, but it’s no use. I’m not reading a word. I’m looking out of the little window and thinking, “I’M FLYING. I AM FUCKING FLYING.”

And yet whenever I think that (and I think it almost every time I fly), I feel like I’m quite alone. Everyone else looks bored, scared, claustrophobic, or like they wish they’d had a piss before boarding because they’re not quite sure if they can hold it in until the seat-belt lights go off.

All flights should be a bit like this.

All flights should be a bit like this.

Flying home from New York in 2009 we came in to land at Heathrow at around 7am on a cloudy September day. The sun was just coming up, and the clouds were incredible. It was how I imagine it might feel to fly through the canyons of Mars; vast, otherworldly, and breathtakingly beautiful; I couldn’t take my eyes off it. And yet, looking around the plane, all I saw were tired and restless faces. People checking their watches, yawning, rolling their eyes.

I wanted to get up and yell, “People, what is wrong with you? We are flying. Look! Look out there! Those are clouds! We are flying in and out of actual fucking clouds!” But I realised that would at the very least result in an air marshal’s taser to the neck, and thought better of it.

"Express your enthusiasm. I double dare you, motherfucker."

“Express your enthusiasm. I double dare you, motherfucker.”

Perhaps the reason most passengers don’t share my enthusiasm is that to think too hard about what they’re actually doing (i.e. cruising at a couple of hundred miles an hour, 8 or 9 miles above the surface of the earth) is terrifying to them. Better to think of the plane as a bus, and the journey as one long and tedious commute. Better for airports to resemble nothing so much as bloated shopping malls peppered with Burger Kings and Garfunkels, and an opportunity to stock up on cheap vodka, fags and perfume. Make the act of flying (of fucking FLYING) just the same as any other journey, and it becomes less scary.

I can only imagine, when we are finally jetting off to distant worlds, that spaceports will be modelled on Swindon town centre or Newport bus station.

"The next service to arrive at Terminal 3 will be the 14:36 service to the Moons of Saturn. Calling at Mars, Phobos, Deimos..."

“The next service to arrive at Terminal 3 will be the 14:36 service to the Moons of Saturn. Calling at Mars, Phobos, Deimos…” (Photo: Welshpete via Flickr.)