I wasn’t going to write about Katie Hopkins, because I generally think that she is one of those people better off left ignored. Nevertheless I just can’t help myself, because there are some individuals, who no matter how repellent and inherently worthless in themselves, are symptomatic of certain wider social or political trends, and Hopkins’s strange trajectory from reality tv star into the nation’s most notoriously hateful opinion-monger has a great deal to tell us about the kind of society we’ve become.
For those that don’t know, or perhaps have had loftier things to think about, Katie Hopkins is a former failed participant in the ghastly Apprentice show, in which a gallery of fairly unpleasant characters compete to earn the favour of Thatcherite icon SurAlan Sugar – a man whose massive ego is reflected in a curious and jarring tendency to refer to himself in the third person.
I watched that show once, and was so appalled by SurAlan’s unbelievable arrogance, and by the unctuous, grasping wannabes who were falling at his feet to get his cash, that I never watched it again. As a result I never saw Katie Hopkins’s bid for fame and money, in which she apparently distinguished herself through her bitchy comments about her fellow-competitors. She didn’t get SurAlan’s £100,000 job, but she did get a brief moment of fame that owed itself entirely to her capacity for nastiness.
Hopkins clearly saw possibilities in that outcome. She went on to distinguish herself with an appearance in I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here, and then struck gold with an appearance on ITV’s This Morning, in which she told a gobsmacked presenter that she wouldn’t let her children play with kids with names like Tyler and Chardonnay.
So what, you might say, and you’d be right. Except that the clip of that interview received thousands of hits and a lot of outraged comments, and it began Hopkins’s weird transformation into the nation’s most famous obnoxious media person, who routinely expressed spiteful and vindictive views that were regularly found in the danker regions of Internet comment forums rather than the public eye.
Hopkins’s initial forum was Twitter, where she issued a stream of spittle-flecked tweets that were clearly designed to be as offensive as possible, whether attacking vulnerable celebrities like Peaches Geldof, fat people or ginger babies ( yes I kid you not) or taunting the lower orders about their kids names. Some say that 140 characters cannot express a coherent idea. Maybe not, but they can project a bitter, publicity-seeking missive into public consciousness for at least three seconds, and Hopkins had a seemingly endless store of horrible opinions to draw upon.
Much of this had no obvious purpose except to make Hopkins rich and famous and promote her as a free-speaking, un-PC ‘conduit of truth’, as her website describes her. Hopkins specialised in gutter controversialism, not the more high-brow ‘contrarianism’ of journalists like Brendan O’Neil, but real scraped-off-the-pavement ordure that was designed to throw and to be seen to have been thrown.
But Hopkins also acted as a conduit for rightwing prejudices and scapegoating, whether attacking ‘benefit scroungers’, food bank users, immigrants, drug addicts or people with disabilities, or jeering at Bob Crow’s death. All this was so completely in tune with that unique cultural swamp that is the British tabloid press that she might have been born there, and the Sun quickly scooped her up and gave her a column.
Her ‘motormouth’ persona also got her more tv appearances, where tv producers saw here ability to be offensive as a means of generating ‘good television’ regardless of its quality. I saw her once on Channel 5’s benefits ‘debate’ and it wasn’t a particularly edifying expererience. I couldn’t decide which was worse: her obvious embarrasing craving to be on television or the hateful and dimly-thought out views that she was prepared to express in order to get there.
Watching her echo the Coalition’s ‘scrounger’ rhetoric with thoughtless zealotry, it was difficult to avoid the impression that there was really nothing she wouldn’t say if it could help her get on. She was given a great deal of assistance by the Huffington Post, whose readership is far more tabloid-oriented than one might expect, as I discovered when I used to write for it.
The HuffPost regularly promotes ‘Katie’ as if she were some kind of national treasure, and affectionately presents her as a ‘controversialist’ and ‘rent-a-gob’ with a kind of breathless ‘you’ll never guess what Katie’s said now’ enthusiasm, as if it’s all good clean fun. But Hopkins isn’t really much fun at all. On the contrary, television and the Internet have transformed her into a living troll, who can be called upon at any given moment to say something ‘controversial’ about the issues of the day, regardless of whether she knows anything or has anything significant to say about them.
And this, readers, is where we have a problem. Of course we might ponder about the psychology of a woman who attacks vulnerable people in order to become famous, and then seems to thrive on the hatred directed against her. But Hopkins is also the product of an amoral media that will do anything to generate ratings; of a lazy public that prefers instant opinions, prejudices, demagoguery and telegenic ‘entertainment’ to ideas that require more than a few seconds thought; of a rightwing cultural revolution which presents even the nastiest and most vicious views as a triumph for free speech and a victory over the ‘PC brigade’ – and lastly, of a society in which certain minorities can be vilified with complete impunity.
This is why Nigel Farage has become the most influential politician in the country, It’s why Jeremy Clarkson is regarded as a bit of a lad when he makes jokes about ‘slopes’ and lazy Mexicans, and Kelvin Mackenzie is regarded as a serious television pundit as if Hillsborough never happened. It’s also why we get a woman who can tweet things like this:
Ramadan typically brings a spijke in violence in Middle East, I get grumpy when I don’t eat but I don’t blow things up. Religion of Peace?
Father beats his daughter with an iron bar. But he is a good Muslim, prays in his cell & attends the mosque. So that’s all happy days then.
Oh, the searing wit. And then there was this:
Palestinians busy knifing Israelis. 2 state solution my arse. Filthy rodents burrowing beneath Israel. Time to restart the bombing campaign
Pause for a moment and try to imagine what would be the reaction if a leading Muslim commentator had described Jews as rats and suggested that Hamas start carrying out a new suicide bombing campaign in Jerusalem.
I think one can safely say that it wouldn’t have gone down well, but ‘Katie’ appears to be getting away with these ‘un-PC’ observations that ought to be regarded as hatespeech. And the fact that she is able to do so, and will probably go on doing so, suggest that Hopkins is not the only one down in the gutter, and that the UK has been ‘Hopkinised’ to the point when such views are no longer especially controversial.