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Posts Tagged ‘richard littlejohn’

Only a brief one, though, which expands slightly on all the excellent, thorough coverage there’s already been.

Lucy Meadows was a primary school teacher who died this week. It’s thought she took her own life. She’d lived most of her life as Nathan Upton, and had only recently made a public transition to a gender with which she identified.

David Allen Green has posted a good summary of the circumstances, in which he discusses the negative attention the mainstream press had often applied to Lucy Meadows, and to people who fall outside of standard accepted gender norms more generally.

That particular round-up notably doesn’t mention a column by Richard Littlejohn, which was published in the Mail last December, but quietly vanished from their online archive in the last few days. Almost as if what they thought they could get away with saying about her while she was alive, suddenly seems grossly insensitive now that she’s dead.

David’s chosen not to focus on Littlejohn in particular, because this diminishes the extent to which numerous other newspaper columnists and editors are guilty of exactly the same cruelty and inhumanity on a regular basis. Also, the Samaritans have been reminding people of their media guidelines for the reporting of suicide, in the wake of some commentators being overly hasty and certain in apportioning a direct causative link, or even absolute blame. Richard Littlejohn may be a terrible human being, but nobody has the authority to reliably declare that he drove anyone to suicide.

Taking one’s own life is rarely, I suspect, a simple decision resulting from an easily comprehensible mindset. Understanding what’s going on in other people’s heads is a challenge at the best of times, let alone when the actions they’re taking are quite so far removed from my own. (I hope that ending your life is a distant and unrelatable premise for all of you reading this, as well. Even if not, I imagine you’re well aware that your demons are your own, and not automatically shared and understood by anyone else who experiences any similar turmoil.) It’s good advice, to avoid being too sweeping in our declarations of what it was that pushed someone we never knew personally over the edge.

But this sensible advice leaves one aspect of the whole unpleasant business not fully addressed.

And that aspect is that Richard Littlejohn is a terrible human being.

I can’t do anything to help Lucy Meadows now. But I can repeat this fact.

I say this without holding Littlejohn the slightest bit culpable for the death of Lucy Meadows. Whether or not his column directly affected her life, or indirectly contributed to a culture of prejudice and othering in which she eventually couldn’t bear to live another day, is not for me to say.

But even if we stipulate that Richard Littlejohn is not responsible for her death – even if Lucy Meadows had managed to live a full and happy life – what he wrote about her would still be loathsome and despicable.

The fact that she took her own life is, of course, the primary tragedy, the one point of real significance. But it’s not the only relevant factor to my assessment of a thousand-word article in a widely read national newspaper, devoted exclusively to demeaning and vilifying a troubled individual who’d done nothing to deserve it.

He asks us to think about “the devastating effect all this is having on those who really matter”, explicitly declaring that Lucy Meadows herself didn’t matter a damn to him. He bewails the primary school children’s being “forced to deal with the news”, as if to give kids a chance to learn about people different from themselves were to inflict on them some form of bereavement or abuse. He calls it “selfish” for her to go back to the same school she used to teach at, rather than moving away just so that her freakish aberration didn’t bother anyone.

This from someone who claims to have “every sympathy” for those who undergo gender realignment surgery. Littlejohn seems to think he’s a compassionate and understanding person, who’s simply standing up against those values being taken too far. When you’re standing up against compassion and understanding because you’ve found someone who doesn’t deserve it, that’s called bullying.

Littlejohn quotes the way teachers discussed things with Mr Upton’s class, and explained that Miss Meadows would be teaching them in the future:

Teachers told them that Mr Upton felt he had been “born with a girl’s brain in a boy’s body” and would henceforth be living as a woman.

If I ever have children, and I find myself discussing transgender people with them, I imagine that might be pretty close to what I say. I think I’d certainly talk about the differences between how you feel inside, and how you look on the outside, the relative importance of each, and the way they can both affect each other – I might use their mother’s tattoos as a familiar example, to talk about your body acting as an adaptable, malleable reflection of your internal self.

I don’t think they’d have too much trouble getting the hang of it. If we’ve raised them well up to that point, and encouraged a basic level of tolerance and acceptance and humanism, then I don’t see why they’d be “worried and confused”, let alone “devastated”. It’s only Littlejohn who still finds it too much to get his head around.

(Exactly the same argument, of course, has been made about openly gay teachers, among members of other professions. I wouldn’t expect a conversation about homosexuality with my kids to last more than five minutes, should the need arise. It’s a lot simpler than many right-wing bigots seem to think.)

The point is: Littlejohn’s article is full of the kind of wilful ignorance that makes the world a worse place, even without laying the death of an innocent teacher at his feet.

The end of the story for Lucy Meadows is awful and saddening. But this article was vile and horrendous on the day it was published, even when she was still trying to forge a new life for herself. You don’t need to wait to find out how the story ends to see that.

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– Are you agnostic, atheist, or something else? Zach Weiner has thoughts that are worth reading.

– Prepare to be astonished: Richard Littlejohn’s lying again. I hope you prepared yourself or the shock might have injured you.

– How many times have you heard someone utter a phrase like “Knock ’em dead!” in casual encouragement to cheer someone on? I imagine a few times, but they were probably white so it was okay. If you’re one of those darkie Muslims, though, blowing away the competition is basically terrorism.

– Is Obama sincere in his Christianity, or not? Panderer or pastor, there’s no reason for atheists to be behind him.

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Back to the Mail so soon? Yeah, sorry, but it’s one of those things really worth countering, because Richard Littlejohn really is an utter cloaca.

Just this one article has a lot to talk about. But I’m not going to focus on the Cambridgeshire Police purchasing “Shewees”, and Littlejohn’s insistence that there’s nothing wrong with “a bucket, or squatting down in the bushes”. I’ll refrain from noting that the comment one reader left, saying that the Police themselves are denying the story, has been voted down by other readers, who presumably don’t want their indignation marred by inconvenient facts. I won’t dwell on the hysteria over the “byzantine rules” issued by binmen, who are apparently now outrageously demanding that we put our rubbish in bins and close the lids.

I’m mainly interested in the cursory few paragraphs at the end, given to the suicides at a factory in China which manufactures iPhones.

An alarmingly high number of people, working monotonous 10-hour days, not allowed to converse with their workmates, and essentially being forced into tougher working conditions every day to support their families than someone like Littlejohn could ever possibly imagine facing, are being driven to hurling themselves to their deaths from the top of their own building.

This should raise some seriously worrying questions about the manufacturer’s business practices, the general culture of the work ethic in China, and perhaps any number of factors in between which may be contributing to such widespread desperation and despair in this complex and tragic scenario.

For Richard Littlejohn, it just provides another chance for a weak joke and a cheap jibe at British health and safety standards.

Because that really would have been so terrible, wouldn’t it, if something like this had happened in the UK, and the “elf ‘n’ safety” brigade had got all over it. They’d probably have stepped in to address the problem of people killing themselves over the stress of their job by, say, giving workers counselling to help them cope with whatever pressure they’re facing. The nanny state would have shoved its nose in to see if these people are alright, or whether they’re suffering from any psychological troubles they might need help dealing with. Tsk. Yoocoodernmaykidapp!

After as many suicides as this, you might expect someone who cared about people to consider whether the conditions in such a factory really are unbearably inhumane.

But apparently just needing help is enough to earn the contempt of this cloacal void of compassion.

“Back of the net!” he chuckles, in a closing line which isn’t even a joke, or a pun, or a callback, or a clever reference to something else. It’s a meaningless, joyous, triumphant exclamation to close off a story about seriously psychologically troubled people taking their own lives.

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This got me a bit worked up recently. (As I’m sure you’ll be astonished to hear, in a post about the tabloids.)

A number of the things I blog about here are to do with journalism, and I think that number’s been increasing lately. The only mainstream news stuff that caught my eye used to be mainly bad science reporting, but recently I’ve also been getting exercised about the various kinds of furious, misleading, front-page sensationalism that’s almost never hard to find, perhaps most commonly in the Daily Mail and the Daily Express.

So, every so often I’ll visit the Daily Mail website, read something that makes me angry, and rant angrily about it, usually while swearing quite a lot about what complete bastards they all are.

Blogs like Tabloid Watch exist for this very purpose, but with reasoned analysis and eloquent criticism in place of therapeutic swearing. (Well, in place of some of the swearing.)

Of course, one commonly proposed solution to all the bitching and swearing that ensues tends to run along the lines of: “Just stop reading their shitty newspapers then, you prick”.

And this is certainly well worth considering.

It’s not usually phrased quite so bluntly, but it’s an argument I hear a lot. Some people on Twitter are really fed up with how much some other people bang on about the latest drivel from the Mail, and wish they’d stop giving the vile rag even more attention.

Sometimes they say that opposing them like this even helps them, by adding to their hit count and contributing to their ad revenue, but they’re getting nearly a million hits a day – or were this time last year – and most of that’s not from visitors being ironic or outraged. They don’t need our help; a whole lot of people read this stuff and take it seriously.

Millions of people read newspapers like the Mail and the Express, and have their opinions shaped by untruths and cruelty as a result. Day in, day out, a sizeable chunk of the population sees front-page ravings about how immigrants and gays and Muslims are stealing the country away from proper decent British people, and consider this to be The News. The narrative is repeated constantly over time, and the effect is often visible in the comments appearing below the latest callous, racist tirade. The papers seem trustworthy, stick to a narrative, and confirm in people the prejudices that they themselves have worked to instil. It’s no surprise that their readers are so often lacking in any visible compassion or perspective.

And when this sort of unkindness is so big a part of the political mindset of millions of people, it’s not just a matter of taste any more. There is actual harm occurring. Sometimes “if you don’t like it, don’t read it” isn’t enough, if the conversation is becoming dominated by prejudice and hate. It’s not just petty and cynical sniping to point out that what they’re saying is prejudiced and hateful, and to offer an alternative.

That last point is important, I’ll admit. The people who set me off on this tirade with their complaints seemed mostly to be annoyed by people who simply keep linking straight to Daily Mail articles, with no purpose beyond self-indulgent outrage. And yes, I can see how link after link of “GRRRR TABLOID SCUM” might get tiresome, and I’m sure some people have been very boring in this manner.

But based solely on my own experiences, this seems like almost a complete straw man. Yes, some people spend time reading the papers deliberately to get angry. But the ones I follow do this so that they can provide a positive, constructive counterpoint. Or at the very least a vocal and articulate voice of opposition.

And without an active and determined voice in opposition to the constant barrage of loud and well-funded lies, there’s only one way for the overall cultural mindset to slide.

There’s a comparison here with the Atheist Bus Campaign. Sure, we could have just ignored all the posters containing Bible quotes and calling for all non-Christians to burn in Hell. We could have chosen not to concern ourselves with things that just aren’t to our taste, but which other people are perfectly entitled to promote, after all. We could have let religious people be the only ones anywhere with any billboards or banners or posters or adverts or evidence that they exist.

But I’m glad we didn’t.

There are certainly plenty of tedious people on Twitter. If I’m honest, I know I’m not immune from banging on about some pet peeve of mine beyond the extent of anybody’s interest. (Oh god, I just glanced back at the length of this very post as I typed that.) And yes, the amount of bilge that turns up on the Daily Mail website can be agonising to have to be told about every few minutes, and it can be unproductive to drone on and on about how the right-wing fearmongers are still, unsurprisingly, spewing new right-wing fear.

But that’s not all we’re doing. Some of these tabloids really seem eager to disparage, demean, or hate a lot of people. And those people deserve some voices standing up for them.

See also Anton Vowl’s thoughts.

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You know Glenn Beck? Turns out we’ve got one of those on this side of the ocean, too.

Earlier today, Tabloid Watch alerted me to a series of reviews (beginning here, and continuing here, here, and here) of a novel written by Richard Littlejohn.

Yes, it’s probably worth whatever reaction of dread you just gave it. If you’re not familiar with why his name should be making you want to vomit in someone else’s mouth, here’s a quick primer. Everything in that article is completely accurate. Except the parts they’ve toned down to go easy on him.

The book isn’t a new release, as I mistakenly thought at first, actually having been published in 2001. But the comparisons with Beck and his own novel are striking. The giddy paranoia, the delusional hysteria over some completely imagined nightmare, the non-existent evils supposed to be driving a country to its doom unless the day can be saved by the fanatically right-wing protagonist… Having just read that review on Cracked a couple of days ago, it all sounded eerily familiar.

I’m not going to retread the ground too much, because the Five Chinese Crackers blog really has done an excellent job of summing up everything wrong with To Hell In A Handcart – and it’s a long list. Perhaps most noticeable is how transparent a diatribe it is. There are countless extracts quoted in this breakdown which don’t belong to any well-rounded fictional character or engaging narrative prose; it’s just Littlejohn banging on about how awful it is having to live on the same planet as gays and foreigners, exactly like he does in his column, but with the words “said Mickey” following it every few sentences or so.

One character directly channels Littlejohn’s own prejudices as he laments that you only have to “raise the question” – the exact question isn’t specified, but it’s something about whether all immigrants aren’t thieving scum – to be “shouted down as some kind of racist”.

Do some background reading on Richard Littlejohn. Look at the way gypsies, Romanians, “spades” (apparently a slur on black people), and even “swarthy, olive-skinned” people are portrayed in the book he wrote. And you’ll see he’s right. It’s really incredible.

All you have to do is stereotype all members of a race as deplorable criminals, perpetuate bullshit about liberal lefties falling over themselves to serve up every privilege imaginable to those dirty foreigners on a platter, and try and dodge accusations of prejudice by pulling one of the most pathetic “some of my best friends are ethnic” routines I’ve ever seen… and somehow people will get the idea that you’re a horrible, horrible racist.

It’s clear, too, that whatever hardship and discrimination non-whites have had to face throughout the years is far less important than the indignity we Aryan folk have had to suffer by occasionally having racism pointed out to us. In one scene of the book, one of the lefty liberal strawmen in charge of anti-racism in the police force apparently has a room full of people repeatedly chanting “I AM A RACIST!” – because in Littlejohn’s mind, this is an insightful satire that cleverly undermines everything those liberal softies are trying to do. With all their “sensitivity” and “awareness” bullshit.

Apparently he genuinely sees no difference between learning to be watchful for any unconscious expressions of privilege that might occasionally leak out into your actions or words, and mindlessly shouting “I AM A RACIST I AM A RACIST”. Is Richard Littlejohn actually that stupid? I submit that yes, he is, and he also just doesn’t give a shit.

So if you couldn’t already think of enough reasons off the top of your head to really, thoroughly dislike Richard Littlejohn – and even if you could – the series of posts up at Five Chinese Crackers dissecting this dreadful, dreadful book are well worth a read. I’m not going to get started on the whole blogs vs. newspapers debate anytime soon, but if those posts don’t count as journalism but this bullshit does just because its distribution involved ink, then the word “journalism” has long since stopped being of any use in its current state.

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