Monday, January 14, 2013

Sunday, January 13, 2013: The day journalism died, pretty much

Julie Burchill wrote something in The Observer yesterday. (Update: As it’s now been removed by the Observer this link now goes to Toby Young’s Telegraph blog, as he’s reposted the whole thing.) You may have heard about it; you certainly would have done if you were within 500 yards of Twitter, which erupted like a lanced bubo of goopy virtual outrage. The whole thing was a classic case of a banal non-event escalating into something bigger, rather like an urban riot beginning with a spilled pint. Apparently, Burchill’s friend and fellow scribe Suzanne Moore had said something mildly disobliging about a few transsexuals; rather more transsexuals overreacted a bit in Ms Moore’s direction; Moore left Twitter over the treatment she was getting; Burchill then really gave the transsexuals something by which they could be offended, when she – oh, you can read it if you really want. It’s not nice.

The people at The Observer must have known something was liable to kick off, because they turned the comment function off as the article sat there in the early hours of Sunday morning. But of course, rather than simply fume in impotence, people took to the Moore-free space of Twitter, haranguing Burchill, Moore (who, I’m guessing, hadn’t actually had anything to do with Burchill’s piece) and, amusingly, The Guardian. (Because many of the two papers’ online functions are integrated, the link to Burchill’s piece made it look as if it was from The Guardian; the editor of the daily paper seemed to spend much of his Sunday tweeting variants on “nuffink to do wiv me, guv”.) Of course, the argument did get made that all the waving of Twitchforks was simply encouraging more curious traffic to the offending article, which is what Burchill wanted in the first place but by that stage common sense seemed to have sneaked off to the pub. I was particularly aggrieved because the online frenzy interrupted my Twitter-enhanced listen to the omnibus edition of The Archers and I was unable to get Ruth’s mention of a #duffbatchofsemen trending, even though it seemed rather germane to the whole issue of supposedly real and unreal sexual identities.

Of course, Burchill was not the only person to write something ghastly yesterday. The reliably vile Liz Jones was characteristically spiteful about Clare Balding in the Mail, an act that would usually have provoked mob of its own, but rather got lost amidst the anti-Burchill screaming. (Incidentally, how does someone who looks like a Goth version of Gillian McKeith get the right to criticise someone else’s appearance?) Then there was the journalist Patrick Strudwick, who took the popular chanteuse Azealia Banks to task for the use of a nasty word and was then assailed by her dim fans who, for the most part, just proved his point.

Amidst the furore, Matt was changing the bulb in Peggy’s porch light, unaware that Lillian (his partner and Peggy’s daughter) was at that moment enjoying carnal rudeness with Paul (Matt’s brother). But did anybody care by this point? (Note to the uninitiated: he’s still on about The Archers, OK?)

I’m not sure what effect this is going to have on relations between feminists and the trans community, and I don’t think I’m best placed to comment on such matters anyway. I do think, however, it represents something of a tipping point in the way journalism works. Burchill has always hungered for attention, and she genuinely doesn’t care whether it comes in the form of adulation or loathing. And now the fragile eco-system of the media has evolved to meet her. Burchill gets eyeballs and that’s the only kind of currency the likes of The Observer can work on. When it gets to the stage when their rivals at the Telegraph and Independent are commenting on the brouhaha and presumably pushing online readers away from their own offerings, if only for a few minutes, the cash-strapped Obs people must be clapping their hands, even if they’ve lost a few alternatively gendered readers along the way. After years of sneering at the shoddy, superficial sensationalism of the blogosphere, the broadsheets have finally cracked. This is how it’s going to work from now on; as Oscar said (I wonder where his sympathies would have rested in this spat), the worst thing is not being talked about.

But the best comment comes almost by accident. I’m assuming that Charlie Brooker filed his latest Guardian piece some time before he’d have had a chance to see Burchill’s screed, but it neatly skewers those who seek to offend and those who rise to the bait, describing the egregious scourge of environmentalist James Delingpole as “laughing like a naughty boy who has just blown off through the headmaster’s letterbox”. Well, just think of Burchill and Jones and their ilk all dropping their drawers and jostling to get their tired sphincters in the optimum position so as to deliver a cabbagey trump or two to the intellectual life of Britain. And if that isn’t a hideous enough image to make you ignore their inane provocations, I don’t know what is.

Meanwhile, back in Ambridge, Kenton’s trying to cadge some milk churns...

PS: Padraig Reidy at Index on Censorship on the fallout from the Burchill affair.

PPS: The Observer has elected to “withdraw from publication the Julie Burchill comment piece ‘Transsexuals should cut it out’”. Whether this amounts to self-censorship or a retrospective attack of good taste, I’m not sure. What do you think? 


Vicus Scurra said...

Thank you, I didn't go on twitter, so I knew nothing of this. I will continue to ignore both this and the Archers today if that is OK.

Martin said...

"Twitchforks" <-- excellent.

Rockmother said...

And all for one mis-construed line about wanting a particularly shaped bottom. I LOVE your description of Liz Jones it's spot on. Yes - the twitchforks were sharpened, heatened and out for ego-puffed toastings from last Friday. Most tiresome. x

expat@large said...

Will pop into Club Romeo tonight and see what the lads have to say on what must be a crucial topic for them. Maybe it will have blown over already by then. (More research required? Casanova Bar next week in Nana Plaza)

Gadjo Dilo said...

A long time ago, Suzanne Moore was the reason my father cancelled his long-standing subscription to the Guardian; reading La Julie's (presumably non-ironic) praise of her friend reminds me of why.

Thanks for keeping me abreast of Archers news - we don't get a lot of it here. I always reckoned Nelson Gabriel must have been trans-gendered - it would be in keeping with the zeitgeist to have people coming forward and telling us now.

broken biro said...

I'm with Vicus (not 'literally' - obviously) but I do love the word 'twichforks'! Thank you.

Tim F said...

But Peggy Archer follows you avidly Vicus.

Thank you, Martin.

Thanks, RoMo. Whatever happened to rolling your eyes silently, eh?

C'mon, e@l, every Thai soap has a comedy Burchill lookalike katoey, no?

Well they've got a new Clarrie Grundy due soon, Gadjo (actually the original Clarrie, coming back for a second stint) so maybe she'll have a few surprises to offer.

Well obviously you don't want to be with Vicus, BB. That way lies madness.