Four years ago, I wrote about the functions of bigotry in the mass media, and the ever charming Melanie Phillips was my case study. Then, somewhat counter-intuitively, The Daily Mail made use of Mel to get the lefties in and boost their clicks per second average. Every idiocy that tripped off her keyboard was then, in the infant days of social media, pounced upon and shared by the angry, which in turn help push those page views through the roof. This now is 2015, things are more settled now. Our audiences are sophisticated and savvy. The media bigots have had their day, or have they?
Bidding for the title of vile personage of the year is the execrable Katie Hopkins, a woman so toxic that Sellafield wouldn't touch her. The now notorious article, Rescue Boats? I'd use gunships to stop migrants in your snore-away currant bun is probably the most disgusting, stupid, stone-hearted and cretinous piece published by the Murdoch press this century. It's no exaggeration to say you'd find a more compassion toward refugees fleeing violence in Libya and Syria in the BNP rag, Freedom. Advocating the shooting up rafts full of helpless people, leaving kids to drown, and that's before you start likening human beings to cockroaches. Now there's an expression without any historical baggage at all.
Unlike other right wing celebrities, such as Clarkson, Hopkins doesn't have a fan base as such. There won't be anyone tweeting death threats on her behalf as she cowers in the basement while the outrage howls overhead. Everyone hates her, and that's the basis of her celebrity. Beginning in The Apprentice as the contestant everyone detested, she has only been able to maintain her fame since - and therefore her income - by becoming ever more objectionable. She's by means not the only one. However, there does come a point when one cannot go any further before getting into really dodgy territory. Hopkins has made a career mocking the unemployed, the disabled, the overweight, the mentally ill. The only way is even further down into the black hole of racism and xenophobia.
The thing with Hopkins is it's (mostly) an act. To have made a lucrative career out of booting the voiceless and powerless demands a cunning of a certain kind. She has a rabble rouser's nous for issues that, framed in a certain way, would appeal to the most backward and bigoted. Politics-wise she's no different to the hardened Tories who spend their retirements propping up the bar at the precious few Conservative Clubs still trading. A little bit racist, perhaps; but not a dickheaded blood-and-soil fascist. And yet here we are. The ability to sit there and pen something so incredibly offensive that you don't even take it seriously yourself, that takes a special kind of cynicism and one only possible after all traces of humanity have been liposuctioned out. What Hopkins has done by sharing her ghastly pearls with us is to bare a void where a person should be.
When you exercise your right to speak freely, you have to accept the consequences. When I write critical things about the Tories or my erstwhile comrades I don't expect speaking invites to come from those directions. Similarly with Hopkins. The point is not to ban her or get her prosecuted - not that such an action would succeed, except to make another tedious free speech martyr - but to pressure the BBC and ITV studios to ensure This Morning, This Week, Loose Women, and whatever are closed to her. Our society is too indulgent of those who seek to whip up hatred and fear, and its only right the platforms from which their bullshit is promulgated can and should be closed to them.
And that brings me to The Sun, the paper that published Hopkins and stuck her article under a headline of their devising. They too are responsible. They didn't have to ask her to write a provocative column. They didn't have to publish it in this form. And they certainly can't plead the "she's a columnist guv, nothing to do with us" defence given decades-long effluvia flow to have dribbled from its pages. It thoroughly deserves to haunt news agents' store rooms in unread, unopened bundles, and a plunging circulation suggests that happy future might not be too far away. Yet consider their position for a moment. Since Uncle Rupert squirreled away his titles behind a paywall, The Sun's popular cultural relevancy has taken a huge hit. The Telegraph, Mail, Graun, even The Mirror, while also suffering, find their content regularly shared and talked about over social media. The Sun cannot do that, and their ridiculous mini-me - Sun Nation - is lousy with Johnny-come-lately and reeks of the same desperate-to-be-relevant that attends the Desmond press. To be in the national conversation, they have to throw their own dead cat in from time-to-time. Last time it was the will they, won't they over Page 3. This time it was Hopkins. The problem for them, however, is this can only work the once. When they employ her or some other vacuity in human skin to say something outrageous next, The Sun faces the ignominy of getting ignored. It couldn't happen to a nicer bunch.