There's something wearying about writing a 'Littlejohn is a dick' blogpost. There's something about it that's like getting your bicycle wheel caught in a tramline. You know exactly where you're going to end up, and yet you try not to. You have to remind yourself that your hate has made him powerful; if people just ignored him and left him alone, he wouldn't be as popular as he undoubtedly is - if people like you didn't get so irritated by his wilfully ignorant, baseless repetitive drivel, he'd be simply thought of as a bad writer who makes bad jokes, occasionally popping up on Question Time to be an idiot then turning up on a Channel 4 documentary about how it's all the Left's fault for everything somehow, never really explained, but it is, and they hate the Jews as well, just look at them.
I tried to ignore his nonsense the other day, but I couldn't help it. At the time I said I thought it was just a bad joke rather than something despicable, and I do stick by that. However, what he's written today defending his column of earlier in the week is despicable, beyond any benefit of the doubt I might have given him before.
As ever, I won't link to him, as the thought of giving him just one page impression makes me queasy and have to stare at the carpet for a few minutes to make the sick feeling go away. But you should know this: it's a follow-up to his hilarious article, hilariously illustrated by the hilarious Gary, about how Jody McIntyre is like Andy off Little Britain. You know, because they're both in wheelchairs, then they're exactly the same person.
Today's effort attempts to explain his simplistic "one bloke in a wheelchair is exactly the same as another bloke in a wheelchair" riff by saying that it was considerably more nuanced than we might have given him credit for. The bloke in the wheelchair got out of his wheelchair and walked up some stairs! Aha! That means he's even more exactly the same as the 'faking it' character Andy than even Big Brain Littlejohn could have imagined when first he looked to the heavens for inspiration and started typing his chucklesome prose.
But I find that even more offensive than his original column. It shows a miserable understanding of people with disabilities in general, if that's what he's really saying - "look, this guy got out of his wheelchair and moved around under his own steam, therefore, he's just like Andy in Little Britain". The fuck? No-one was ever pretending or claiming that Jody McIntyre was paralysed or incapable of movement. I don't remember anyone saying that or writing it. Maybe I'm wrong, but I don't think people were arguing that Jody McIntyre shouldn't have been dragged out of his wheelchair and bundled away by police because he was physically incapable of walking. I don't think that was it at all; I really don't think that's the issue that people had with his treatment. People in wheelchairs aren't necessarily unable to walk or move around; it's just that doing so can present problems and issues that are fairly obvious for people who have cerebral palsy, which itself can mean people with a whole range of symptoms, and other conditions. I mean, is it too hard to understand? Let me know when it's too hard to understand, Richard, just put your hand up the moment that the complexity and nuance of real life gets a little bit too taxing for your chirpy black-and-white comedy persona, and we'll run you through it slowly, with a fucking blackboard and some directions and maybe some fucking pictures so you can actually get what the fuck is going on with things. I wouldn't want you to miss out on some vital understanding that the world is a rich, diverse and complicated place in which some people in wheelchairs can walk sometimes, or climb stairs, or something, but that doesn't mean they're not disabled, or that people who are disabled can only be thought of as having disabilities if they're a sack of blood and bones that can't do anything. I wouldn't want you to think that, because that would make you the kind of wilfully ignorant foreskin who wouldn't be able to grasp the most simple of concepts; I wouldn't want to think of you that way, Richard, I really wouldn't.
But it's symptomatic of a wider idea that people have when they think of disability in general. Laurie Penny has written articulately about it this week. The idea that disability is a fairly binary concept, that you're either incapable of doing anything at all, or you're faking it, that there's nothing in between, there's just the able and the disabled and a huge gulf in between, and that's that. That's the kind of hateful ineptitude, the kind of inability to think of things in terms of anything other than 0 or 1, that is driving the Government's desire to drag loads of people off incapacity benefits, because some of them must be faking it, we've got no evidence for that, but we just think they must be, because they must. It's that kind of attitude, the inability or unwillingness to think about how other people, people with disabilities or long-term conditions, must go about their daily lives, or how they get on.
Look. No-one wants to be thought of as 'disabled'. A lot of people with disabilities don't want to be thought of as being disabled, and that's entirely understandable. As someone with relatively minor mental health problems, I don't want to be thought of as anything except normal; I aspire to normality. But the truth is, some people do need assistance. And it's the mark of a decent society that we look out the most for the people who need to be looked out for, that's all, and do our best so that everyone can have a rich and full life unencumbered by whatever hand life might have dealt them. And if that means paying some taxes to do it, then good. People who need assistance need assistance. It's not asking a great deal and it doesn't make a huge difference to everyone else's life. In fact it makes all of our lives better as a result.
But no. Jody McIntyre is just like Andy out of Little Britain. He's in a wheelchair! Oh, some people were annoyed by that. Well, he got out of his wheelchair! Eh! Do you see?
Yes, I do see. I see that Littlejohn is a nasty polarising piece of shit who doesn't like slightly complicated things because they ruin his comfortable, cosy narrative. You could say that his kind of ignorance is a disability in itself, but I think on this one particular occasion the person in question is definitely faking it. He knows what he's doing, and it's a not a pleasant thing at all.
And there you are, the 'Littlejohn is a dick' blogpost. Just the kind of cliched rubbish you'd expect from me. Just the kind of thing I find myself doing time and time and time again. And does it change anything? No. Does it make anything better? No. Does it make him stop what he's doing? No. Does he even notice? Does he care? Does any of this criticism matter to him, in any sense other than to make him thing he's done his job and wound some people up? It's a mosquito bite on a brontosaurus's arsehole. But still. It's what I do.
Please, please, please, don't give the odious buttock any more website traffic than he deserves. Here is his latest piece of flamebaitery...
Actually, I don't think this is the worst thing Littlejohn's ever done. The 'spare me the people's prostitute routine' stuff about the Ipswich murder victims was appalling; the use of "Rue des Jeunes Garcons" in a spoof piece about Peter Mandelson, implying he likes little boys, was truly terrible; the lie about Afghans going straight to the top of the housing list instead of soldiers was a straightforward piece of mendacity without any comic value whatsoever. This is just a bad joke. Much like Littlejohn's entire career. (Sure, you and I don't get upwards of £700k a year for making bad jokes.)
But I don't find it miserably offensive. Just par for the course. Not a new low; just the usual low standards. I suppose if you don't read Littlejohn much, it sticks out as something appalling; but believe me, this is fairly ordinary fare. Some bloke in a wheelchair, so he must be Andy from Little Britain. Tedious linking; tedious comedy reference; tediously unfunny joke.
Seeing as Littlejohn was cheerfully let off the hook for entirely falsely claiming that 'any Afghan clinging to the bottom of a lorry' would go straight to the top of the housing list, I wouldn't hold out much hope for PCC complaints either. Not that I'm telling you not to complain, if it's offended you, mind. Incidents like this bring the awfulness of Littlejohn and chums into the wider audience beyond the slavering dogs who lap up his garbage every week, so it's no bad thing in raising awareness of what a nasty piece of work he is. But I will say this: he'll probably love the attention, and being attacked by 'lefties'.
He will love it.
...he's a cloaca.
Yes, you look at his biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig faaaaaaaaaaaaaace. Go on, you sit there and look right into his biiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiig faaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaace. Look at that chirpy "Hey, I get paid for this shit!" look on his jowls. Look at the cheery "Well, that's the kids through college thanks to a bit of thinly veiled racism and obsession with gay people!" twinkle in his eye. Look at him. LOOK AT HIM!
Don't confuse that picture with this one, though:
Let's just make that clear. OK? The nice lady from off of Loose Women, who used to do the cruise ship singing, isn't a cloaca. Or a cunt. I want that stated beyond all misinterpretation. And besides, she looks nothing like him:
See? I think we're fairly clear on that now.
If you're wondering where all this cloaca talk comes from, or why it's such a perfect way of describing Britain's Favourite Cock Columnist, by all means have a look at Tim's post here. And if you liked that, you'll probably like the b3ta.com image challenge on Littlecock. The Wicker Man one is particularly haunting. *shudder*
The Mail last year, reporting on a BNP candidate:
Race hate remarks... like what?
"Can they not be nice people in the fucking Congo or... bongo land or whatever?" If that's race hate, then I wonder what this letter is, in today's super soaraway we're-not-racist-and-we-don't-like-the-BNP-oh-no Daily Mail?
It was the ever-lovely Tabloid Watch who found this rather unpleasant letter first - and thanks to John for the photo. (I also like the 'the woman on the One Show' letter below, claiming that a perfectly understandable Northern Irish accent is 'indecipherable'.)
The original Bongo Bongo Land came from Alan Clark, I'm led to believe, and it's since become a bit of a byword for "that bit of the planet below Europe" for all thick and mildly xenophobic types. I've even used it myself (ironically, please note) for a kind of wearyingly ignorant attitude towards foreigners. Speaking of which, let's never forget this absolute classic:
Does anyone really give a monkey's about what happens in Rwanda? If the Mbongo tribe wants to wipe out the Mbingo tribe then as far as I am concerned that is entirely a matter for them.
Beautiful empathy and concern for the genocide in Rwanda, there. And the author? Of course, it was Richard Littlejohn, now the Mail's star columnist.
Today's Littlecock* returns to an old theme, how women who worked as prostitutes must be called prostitutes once they've been murdered. It's almost exactly the same stuff he came out with in the wake of Ipswich murders some years ago, though this time he's decided against saying their deaths were 'no great loss' (which he did last time) or that murder was an occupational hazard for them. Must have left that bit off when he was copying and pasting his stuff over.
If you've never seen this response by Stewart Lee to the first time Littlejohn came out with this tedious shit, enjoy it now. The Littledick stuff begins at 4.53 but it's a beautifully crafted thing and well worth seeing in its entirety.
* I won't link to him. You can find it.
The rapid spread of the folk tale about England shirts being banned (or not, as it turns out, as we learned yesterday) is intriguing to watch - and it has a bearing on why politicians are so worried about immigration.
How does advice from some cops in Croydon, for pubs to consider dress codes and the possible barring of people in football tops (not England tops, but football tops) become WE CAN'T WEAR ENGLAND SHIRTS IN OUR OWN COUNTRY BECAUSE IT OFFENDS PEOPLE IN BURKAS, BUT WE CAN'T TELL THEM WHAT TO WEAR BECAUSE OF POLITICALCORRECTNESS(GONEMAD)?
We've seen so many tales down the years. When people are told, for example, that you can't buy bent bananas because of the EU, or that people have been banned from flying flags for fear of upsetting minorities, or Baa Baa Black Sheep has been banned for fear of upsetting Muslims, or Winterval has been created because people didn't want to upset immigrants, or you can't use a hammer without a crash helmet because of health and safety, or you're told that immigrants have taken ALL OUR JOBS (and they go straight to the front of the housing queue), or that Romanians stole a man's house, but no-one could do anything about it because of political correctness... and so on and so on... then that becomes the defining structure of our popular mythology, whether it's a newspaper doing the storytelling round the campfire for us or some bloke down the pub. It doesn't matter. We know what the stories are and how they work.
I don't want to get too Claude Levi-Strauss about this, but you can boil a lot of these Littlejohnian "Youcouldn'tmakeitup" stories down to their ingredients and see how they are made up, and how the narrative works. It usually goes a bit like this. Some villain (the PC Brigade, the EU, a liberal judge, the health and safety Stasi, diversity Nazis etc) has decided that unfairness must happen contrary to natural justice and common sense (you can't get the job you've applied for and are entitled to, you can't buy bendy bananas, a criminal should be given a free telly and sent on holiday to Disneyland, you can't use Pritt Stick without fire-proof gloves and a hi-vis jacket, we must call Christmas Winterval so that Muslims aren't upset) and there's nothing we can do about it (Labour created the Yuman Rites Act, Ted Heath signed our rights away, the liberal intelligentsia are dominating all our institutions, red tape is beloved by our Jobsworth culture, we bend over backwards for immigrants even though they're the ones who are trying to bomb us).
So when confronted with the truth of the England shirt story, it doesn't quite work. Not yet. But it presses some hot buttons straight away, appealing to people's sense of national pride, patriotism and excitement about the forthcoming World Cup and England's chances in it - how dare they say we can't wear our shirts? So forget PC Plod sending round a memo - PC Plod becomes the PC Brigade. Cops aren't as good a villain as the faceless strawman; and what's even better is that no-one can deny it, because there isn't an official spokesperson for the 'Diversity Nazis'. Forget, also, it being about keeping rival club fans apart when gathered together to get drunk and be surrounded by lots of glass at an occasion on which huge disappointment and dramatic anger could be brought about (what on earth could possibly go wrong there?) - it must be because it might offend minorities. We have the villain going against natural justice and common sense, and there's nothing we can do about it - well because it's not true; but that can become, for the purposes of the anger-mongering tale, the idea that we can't do anything because it's just been decided, and there's no-one to complain to, and we should just get angry (how? at whom? I don't know, let's just get angry!) to stop it from becoming reality.
The 'England shirt ban' story works and has become so popular because it fits the narrative arc that people have learned from reading story after story about race, asylum and immigration through the years - stories which haven't always been challenged as effectively as they might have been, particularly by the politicians who were in the best position to do so. When did a politician challenge myths about asylum seekers stealing houses from locals? And why didn't they? So much easier to ignore those difficult questions about why there aren't enough social housing units to go around, why people can't get the jobs they want, why people are trapped in cycles of near-poverty, why people can't get jobs because the prevailing economic paradigms of the day say that full employment is a distant reality, why the banks failed even though they were backed to the hilt by all political parties.
That failure to challenge these assumptions led to people accepting the myths as fact; that meant that immigration became a bigger issue during the election campaign than it really ought to have been on merit; that has now led to many defeated Labour wound-lickers claiming that it was 'arriving late to the party' on (anti) immigration that meant they were fighting a losing battle with voters. Again, if you're in a tight spot, blame immigration. It's a stance that has left a lot of people on the left frustrated and despairing about why Labour are doing this, and understandably so.
New Labour are trying to create a myth themselves - one in which it wasn't their illiberal policies through the years, the wars, the authoritarianism, the desire to imprison people without trial for 90 days, then 42, then 28, the collusion in torture, which turned off voters. No, they weren't tough enough on immigrants, which meant they weren't trusted enough, and when they did finally do exactly what the screamsheets like the Mail and Express had demanded, and brought in attack-dog Phil Woolas to bark like Derek Beackon, it was too little too late. Gordon Brown got harangued by a not-bigot who asked "Where have all these Eastern Europeans come from?" and looked bad for calling a bigot a bigot.
But I don't think that's the case at all. I think New Labour's pandering to immigration mythology, and subsequent attempts to create a myth of their own, are damaging in two ways. Firstly, they're still not challenging the anti-immigration narratives. Is it really the case that people can't get council houses because of immigrants, for example, or are there other factors they'd prefer not to talk about - but should - including a chronic lack of supply at local and national level? Is it true that resources are stretched by immigration, or are they stretched for other reasons? What kind of dialogue does Labour really want with the grassroots - an honest one, or one in which they seek to stigmatise one over-stigmatised section of the community?
Did the immigration policy really matter that much? 'Bigotgate' might have given everyone a tremendous titter, but as one poll that the Sun decided not to publish showed, it may not have had as huge an effect as some people would like us to believe. Are people right to worry about immigration, and if they're not, what should Labour do? Go along with them anyway, because it's easier? Throw up their hands and admit that the tabloids will always push an anti-immigration agenda? Or challenge the lies and the myths? The thing is, Phil Woolas's policies and the points system were for nothing. Labour was already seen as a soft touch, whether it's true or not, and that's how it stayed.
As Mark Easton wrote this week, it's already the case that some sectors can't find the skilled workers they need because of the points system that New Labour brought in. That's before the Coalition's immigration cap comes in. Easy to say that 'indigenous' workers on the dole should fill the gap; not so easy to get people trained up into skilled roles, move home to do so, and find the money to pay for it. But that's what we're left with, because the shouting voices of prejudice have won the argument. Anti-immigration is the only show in town.
All the stories - both in the papers and from 'a friend of a friend' like the Facebook tale - have produced a patchwork narrative in which time after time we're told that immigrants are siphoning off benefits despite contributing very little, that 'we' taxpayers have got to fund it, and no-one can do anything about this except bend over backwards. It gets people angry, which is why, when they hear they're getting their national team's shirts banned, it must be something to do with immigrants, who are on benefits... and so on, and so on.
If Labour doesn't want to challenge these myths, fine. If it wants to think that it lost the election because it wasn't tough enough on immigration, fine. But they'll have a pretty stinging smack in the face coming when they have a re-brand with added Woolas-style dogwhistles but don't get anywhere. They had the chance to challenge the myths, but instead they're making myths of their own. And that's a massive mistake.
I often enjoy reading woolly environmentalist George Monbiot in the Guardian, and I find myself agreeing with a great deal of what he writes, but one thing he said in yesterday's article struck me as a little odd:
The attack on climate scientists is now widening to an all-out war on science. Writing recently for the Telegraph, the columnist Gerald Warner dismissed scientists as "white-coated prima donnas and narcissists … pointy-heads in lab coats [who] have reassumed the role of mad cranks … The public is no longer in awe of scientists. Like squabbling evangelical churches in the 19th century, they can form as many schismatic sects as they like, nobody is listening to them any more."
Views like this can be explained partly as the revenge of the humanities students. There is scarcely an editor or executive in any major media company – and precious few journalists – with a science degree, yet everyone knows that the anoraks are taking over the world.
I've read this kind of thing before by other writers whose work I love very much. And I think it's bizarre. Do these highly intelligent people really think that people who get a degree in one type of subject are so very different from people who choose to get a degree in another subject? Really? Because I don't think that at all. I think it's a bit of a false friend when you're going around looking for an explanation as to why people don't write about science convincingly or effectively - ah, they must have done a humanities degree, that values instinct and emotion rather than evidence-based research into things, that explains it all.
I mean, by all means do some proper evidence-based scientific research into the likelihood of science or humanities graduates writing good or bad news stories, and then come back to me. Otherwise, well, it's just what you think, isn't it. And that isn't science. Or am I missing the point? Maybe I am.
A humanities degree doesn't mean you're incapable of seeing the truth in complicated science, or that you're incapable of writing about it properly either. Just as a science degree doesn't guarantee that you'll do it right. It's a fairly narrow definition of a human being, what subject they did for a few years at university rather than all those other decades in their life which might have been spent doing this, that or the other. I've met a lot of dumb science graduates, and a lot of bright humanities graduates - and yes, I appreciate this is anecdotal evidence, and yes, somehow, I am aware that's not the same as peer-reviewed science, though how I should know that despite not having done a science degree must be some kind of bloody miracle, apparently.
As ever when I read stuff about journalism, I am struck by the kindness with which writers treat journalists and the willingness to accept everything other than malice as a reason for why they don't always get it right - Nick Davies is the same, and Ben Goldacre too. I'm not too dumb to imagine they might be inviting us to read between the lines, but still. It's rare to see anyone suggest that the reason why a journalist might get something wrong is because they don't care whether it's right or not, or because they want to write X, regardless of whether it's accurate, or fair, or truthful. They always look for alternatives - their higher education, for example. It's all very charitable. But is George really sitting there, confused, saying: "They must be good people, and I'm sure they're doing their best, but they just happen to be humanities graduates, that must be it, that must be why they can't understand the science, or they get it wrong."
I'd offer another, alternative explanation. It's not based on science so we're going to have to wing it - but since Monbiot's daftness about humanities graduates isn't based on science either, I'm sure he'd have to permit it. I think journalists get it wrong about climate change because they don't care. Columnists don't care whether they're right or not; they just want to be contrarian and pack a punch. It's easier to say "Aha, there's no global warming, because it's raining outside my window!" than it is to say "I wonder if these AGW models are entirely correct and whether we really will suffer catastrophic climate change" - but it's not just about easiness either; it's about entertainment. And the reason why there are so many columnists attacking climate change is because they find it entertaining - there's good scope and knockabout fun in chortling away at possible scenarios and conflating the Met Office's forecast for a 'barbecue summer' with really worrying science about the impact of temperature rises.
Columnists, particularly the ones you'll find in the usual suspects, are just trying to get a rise out of it. It's easy to snipe at Littlejohn, but look, he's up to his old tricks again, printing absolute tosh about Michael Foot - twice - for no reason other than to be provocative (and that because Foot is dead, no-one can sue - his relatives can, if they wish, go to the PCC, but we all know what will happen there. The defenders of freedom and haters of censorship will gnaw their fingernails to the bone hand-wringing about Littlejohn's 'right to offend' by telling the opposite of the truth). He might not know whether what he's saying about Foot is true or not, but the thing is he really doesn't care. If it's knocking some old leftie, then he'll do it.
You could say to me: oh, but that's Littlejohn. He's just a bad apple; they're not all like it. But I'd say: why is he? He's a marvellously successful journalist, right at the top of his game. Why is he a bad apple? He gets away with that tripe twice a week and gets magnificently rewarded for it. Being provocative and exploiting that contrarian "Yeah, what about me?" narcissism, regardless of the facts, is not the exception, I'm afraid. As I was saying yesterday, if you just read the Guardian (perhaps) or only read stuff you agreed with, you'd never know this. But look at the press as a whole and you'll see Littlejohn isn't the exception; he's the template. He does what he does very well. He's what I'd call a proll - a professional troll. I might think it's abhorrent, but what do I know? He's massively wealthy and adored by thousands while I'm typing this in my spare bedroom waiting for the kettle to boil. It's not hard to see who is the loser really.
It's not a great deal more complicated than that, and I think that while Monbiot would like to think the best of others, and fellow journalists, he's giving newspaper columnists a damn sight more credit than they deserve. They aren't getting it wrong because they didn't do a nice science subject at university, which would have made them write better stories; they are doing it because these are the stories that would have been written anyway, if not by them then by others. They fit into the right-libertarian narrative so beloved of these newspapers: we can do what we like to pollute and it won't make any difference; any attempt to stop us polluting as much as we want is just the evil apparatus of state trying to invade our lives and take away our freedoms; it's all a big con by academics to get handouts to prop up their careers, while we have to carry on paying tax and funding it all.
That's what I think it is. I could be wrong, of course. But it seems much more plausible to me than imagining that people who did humanities instead of science are just a bunch of yo-yos who can't grasp the concepts well enough and who therefore end up writing a load of rubbish. No, they're entirely aware of what they're doing. The science of climate change is complicated, but not insurmountable to anyone if they bother trying. It's the 'getting them to bother trying' bit that's tricky. And George is of course at the vanguard of this, and long may he continue. I just think that with silly lines like the one about humanities students he doesn't really do himself many favours.
Tucked away on the Mail's front page yesterday was this little nugget - a whole live correction:
In a satirical article on January 12 and on the morning of 2 February we mistakenly referred to Broadmoor hospital as a prison and suggested in the first story that it had padded cells.
We are happy to make clear that Broadmoor does not have any cells.
As a high security hospital it supports patients suffering from serious mental health problems accommodated on wards.
In addition, Ian Brady has never been a patient at Broadmoor. Our online stories have been adjusted to omit these errors which we regret.
Which master satirist was responsible for this lack of research? It wouldn't be one of the highest paid journalists in Britain, would it? Well, you know the answer to that already, don't you. But I do love the 'we', as if to imply that it's a group effort producing the bi-weekly emissions of Richard Littlejohn. They've changed the article on the Mail site, but of course in the internet age these things are widely disseminated from the first publication, and it's just a click away online:
Guests could check in to a padded cell for a bit of peace and quiet; stay in the Ian Brady suite, named after the Moors Murderer; or relax with a screwdriver in the Yorkshire Ripper cocktail bar.
Meanwhile, the [pounds sterling]20million raised from the sale would build a brand-new Broadmoor nearby, modelled on the Hotel California.
You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.
All that effort, just for a fairly flimsy joke. But that's why it's important for big news organisations to get it right - what you say is taken as being right, even when it isn't, and widely distributed before someone's had the chance to write in and complain. It might be a ho-ho-hilarious article about Broadmoor one day; it might be something much more serious the next. You'd think, perhaps, that one of the most wonderfully remunerated writers in Britain could do some research - or at least pay a few lackeys to do it for him - but no...
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