Ok, I know I shouldn’t write about Katie Hopkins. I am aware that she is a self-seeking toxic sociopath who feeds on toxicity and says hateful things in order to get people to talk about her. Her motives for doing this are so painfully transparent they hardly bear scrutiny: she wants to become rich and famous and have a lot of people looking at her and reacting to her.
That’s a common dream nowadays, and indeed the only dream that some people have. Admittedly she has chosen a route that would shame anyone with even the most elementary standards of morality and decency. Her motives for doing this are best left for a psychiatrist to analyse, but the significance of Katie Hopkins goes way beyond the ultimately pathetic figure of Hopkins herself.
Because when a columnist can publish an article in a major newspaper, using the language of Nazism and the Rwandan genocide to describe the men, women and children who are drowning in the Mediterranean, then we have to take a wider look at the forces that have made this possible.
Yesterday Laurens Jolles, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) in Italy, attributed the failure of European governments to respond to the ongoing crisis in the Mediterranean on the ‘irresponsible rhetoric’ of a European-wide political dialogue on immigration, which had left Europe’s polticians fearful of losing elections. ‘The level of this dialogue compared to 20 years ago is just incredible,’ Jolles declared. ‘It wouldn’t have been possible in the past, the racist rhetoric, the rhetoric of intolerance. In the 60s, 70s and the 80s, we would never have accepted this.’
Hopkins is not a politician but her ‘thoughts’ on the migration crisis are the most extreme manifestation of this transformation in any mainstream British publication. Just to recap: She described the migrants crossing the Mediterranean as ‘cockroaches’ and ‘feral humans’, who recommended that Europe should fire on them with gunboats, declared ‘Some of our towns are festering sores, plagued by swarms of migrants and asylum seekers, shelling out benefits like Monopoly money.’
This kind of talk is not original. Northern League politicians in Italy routinely use such language. Back in 2013 Italian senator Roberto Kayelongi compared Italy’s first black minister Cecile Kyengi to an orangutan. Here in the UK such language was until recently more generally restricted to the darker corners of the Internet or far-right pamphlets. Back in 1997 Nick Hudson, the editor of the Dover Herald published a series of articles on the arrival of Roma asylum seekers in the UK which he claimed had left Dover ‘ with the backdraft of a nation’s human sewage with no cash to wash it down the drain.’
The Dover Herald was a minor provincial newspaper. The Sun is not, and the fact that Hopkins can now publish the same kind of racist vitriol in its pages is an indication of what is now considered acceptable after eighteen years of incessant vilification of migrants and asylum seekers.
The racism-that-does-not-speak-its-name has clearly opened the door to the point when it is increasingly willing to openly declare itself. In the last few years a pseudo-debate, generated mostly from the right, about free speech and the supposed intellectual manacles of ‘political correctness’ has begun to legitimize cruelty, prejudice and hatespeech against many different groups of people, to the point when the ‘right to be offend’ has become a licence to hurt and wound and express contempt for anyone.
That what freedom and democracy are all about, innit? Or so these 21st century Voltaires would have us believe. Because after all, words are just words right? And unlike sticks and stones, they have no consequences. So just as we should giggle when Jeremy Clarkson has a go at the ‘slopes’, so we ought to chuckle and shake our heads when ‘Katie’ describes Palestinians as ‘rodents’ or insinuates that Asian men are all paedophiles.
Like, come on, get over yourself and grow a thick skin, you stuffy fun-hating liberals.
The Internet has enhanced these new ‘freedoms’ that we now enjoy. Idiot trolls can now sit at their spittle-flecked keyboards and threaten a woman with rape because she campaigns for a picture of Jane Austen on a pound note. Only words. In the last week Sue Perkins of the Great British Bakeoff has left twitter after receiving a series of death threats because it was rumoured that she was going to take Clarkson’s job. One tweet looked forward to seeing her burned alive.
Aww Sue, wussamatter, can’t take a joke? And now Jack Monroe, single mother and low-budget chef, who is gay, has also left twitter complaining of ‘suffocating hatred and vitriol’ from trolls like this:
Hey come on Jack. It’s only words.
This is the world of Internet trolldom that Katie Hopkins came from, and which provided her with the springboard that began with attacks on vulnerable celebrities, fat people and food bank users, and which she is now using as a platform for racist hatemongering and genocial fantasising. The dank and poisonous swamp that is the Sun is of course a natural habitat for a troll-journalist, but Hopkins’ transition from Queen of the Trolls to newspaper columnist and radio presenter is not just due to Rupert Murdoch’s perennial ability to drag British cultural life into the dirt.
Too many media outlets who should have known better gave her the publicity she craved in order to generate a few more hits on their website or increase their ratings. The Huffington Post bears particular responsibility for this. Over the last few years it has assidiously reported every tweet that ‘Katie’ ever made with a post-modern smirk, accompanied by ‘whoops I did it again’ headlines like ‘You’ll never guess what Katie’s said now’ or ‘ Katie’s latest controversial tweet.’
The fact that the Huffpost and so many others pandered to Hopkins’ agenda and provided an outlet for her prejudices, didn’t mean that the Huffpost agreed or disagreed with them. It was just wanted to titillate its readers. No doubt the Guardian will soon follow up with a Decca Aitkenhead profile describing her as a contrarian controversialist and perhaps some kind of national treasure.
So we shouldn’t be surprised that Hopkins now describes herself as a ‘journalist’ as well as ‘businesswoman.’ Or that there is now a twitter meme called ‘Je Suis Katie’, which says things like this:
In the kingdom of Trolldom, a woman who stands up for what she ‘believes in’ by describing migrants as ‘feral humans’ and Palestinians as ‘rodents’ is a natural queen, and it is not surprising to hear her subjects paying homage to her. But she should never have left those toxic realms. And the fact that she is now able to pour forth a constant stream of dim hatred from a major newspaper and an LBC radio show is a depressing reminder that a significant section of the British media – and the public as well – has no more of a moral compass than Hopkins herself.