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Monday, January 14, 2013 

Oh, for goodness sake.

Of all the things I don't understand about this world, the Twitter flounce out only to return 24 hours or so later is one of the things that perplexes me most.  It's the kind of thing I used to do on games forums when I was 15; when you're 55 you really ought to be over it.

This said, you can't help but sympathise with Suzanne Moore, if not with those who decided to come to her defence.  Short story is Moore contributed an angry, excellent essay to a Waterstones anthology in which, in a throwaway exaggeration, she suggested women are meant to aspire to the body image of a Brazilian transsexual.  Rather than take this in the good humour it was clearly meant, Moore was lambasted on Twitter for her crime of "transphobia", the chief complaint being that Brazil has a terrible record when it comes to hate crime against trans women and Moore's comments were therefore unhelpful and offensive.  It didn't seem to matter that I doubt the New Statesman (which reprinted Moore's piece) is among the foremost media outlets in Brazil, or indeed that there are far worse slurs in common usage (shemale, for instance), such is the nature of Twitter and its echo chamber effect that the entire issue was soon making waves.

Moore herself wrote a reply piece in the Graun, which again is fine, although she does enter into hyperbole again when she says this government makes Thatcher look like Shirley Williams.  Her point, that she doesn't care whether you were born a woman or not and that she meant no real offense, even if she also states that some "trans people appeared to reinforce every gender stereotype going".  Which again, is in my eyes a fair enough comment.  Controversial, not necessarily correct, but not offensive.

Enter stage left Julie Burchill, who has dedicated her entire journalistic career to being a contrarian.  You could call her insincere, except she appears to genuinely believes everything she writes, regardless of how it's intended to challenge, or more usually, offend, or at least seems to at the time.  She has therefore variously slandered John Lennon (someone's got to do it), supported the Iraq war so vociferously that with her partner she wrote an entire book about the hypocrisy of those who opposed it, and gone from finding God and becoming a Lutheran to apparently contemplating converting to Judaism, mainly down to her love for Israel as a country.

With friends like Burchill, Moore clearly doesn't need enemies.  Burchill's piece for the Observer, since removed from Comment is Free, was essentially one long tirade against transsexuals in general, rather than those who took offence in the first place.  If it had been posted as a blog on Burchill's personal site then there clearly wouldn't have been an issue: you can rant on about "dicks in chicks' clothing" and how transgender people telling Moore how to write "looks a lot like how I’d imagine the Black and White Minstrels telling Usain Bolt how to run would look" to your hearts content there, not least as that's what they'll expect from you.  The Observer giving it a home suggests no one at the paper actually read it, which wouldn't be surprising considering the fact it's now put together by two interns and a three-legged pussycat.

Honestly though, it's difficult to be offended by anything Burchill writes as it's just so obvious, and more pertinently, boring.  It's fine that she enjoys low culture; I really like certain aspects of what's considered low culture, such as exploitation films.  It's that she completely ignores how the same people she champions, the "chavs", the working class and celebrities are exploited by those she claims to loathe for the very things she defends, such as Big Brother.  The reason why she's found it so difficult to find a regular home for her columns in recent years is down to how she's become predictable, with the people who used to snap back against her having realised that she's a prime example of the commentator as troll, in the same way as all the other Glenda Slaggs.

For Lynne Featherstone to call for both Burchill and the Observer editor John Mulholland to be sacked is just grist to the mill.  That Featherstone happens to be a minister in the coalition that Moore so denounced may have influenced her decision, but it's also that Featherstone is one of those politicians who thinks nothing of calling for people to resign when the full facts are not yet known, as she did during the uproar over the Baby Peter case.  Interestingly, I can't find any indication that she made a similar call over Jan Moir's article on the death of Stephen Gately, although once she became equalities minister she did mention it in a speech to LGBT conference on Gay Pride.

Quite obviously, no one should lose their jobs over Burchill's column (as a freelancer, Burchill can't exactly be sacked in any case).  After all, the PCC didn't so much as chastise the Mail when it printed Moir's article, as she'd been careful not to use any pejorative term for homosexuals, which is key when it comes to breaching the PCC's clause on discrimination.  Whether or not Burchill's piece breaches the code isn't quite as clear cut: her riffs on "dicks in chicks' clothing" and "screaming mimis" certainly come very close to the line.  The PCC also tends to be harsher on the ex-broadsheets than it is the tabloids, so it wouldn't be wholly surprising if it did act.

All of this nonetheless rathers prove Moore's original point: that rather than organise opposition and resistance to the coalition's attacks on the most vulnerable in society, we're all too busy focusing on ephemera.  Austerity hasn't worked, yet there's very little anger, or when there is, it's directed at politicians in general rather than those who are imposing it.  Solidarity has partially broken down precisely because class is no longer the identity it once was.  Ours is an age where we label ourselves and gather in ever smaller cliques, often without seeing the wider picture.  It's one where anger's fine, as long as it isn't directed at anything that actually matters.  This sorry saga has ended up saying far more about the left in general than just about any newspaper think piece, and it's a deeply depressing picture.

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