It’s not satire ... This di­nosaur’s creepy schtick is be­yond a joke

Sunday Herald - - 19.03.17 COMMENT - By Vicky Al­lan

OF all the re­ac­tions to the news that ac­tor Emma Wat­son re­vealed some breast in a Van­ity Fair shoot, the most dispir­it­ing and vile was the splurge of lech­ery penned by Rod Lid­dle in his Spec­ta­tor col­umn. His piece was a re­minder that, metaphor­i­cally speak­ing, we live in a Juras- sic world; di­nosaurs are alive and walk­ing the earth.

The col­umn, which came across like a slightly slimy piece of erot­ica or a par­ody of an early Philip Roth novel, ex­plained how, to show sol­i­dar­ity with women on In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, the writer spent a sub­stan­tial amount of March 8 “look­ing at a pho­to­graph of Emma Wat­son’s t**s”. Lid­dle then de­scribed them, in al­most an­thro­po­mor­phic de­tail.

I imag­ine it was partly meant to be satir­i­cal and draw at­ten­tion to what some con­sid­ered the hypocrisy of Wat­son be­ing a fem­i­nist cam­paigner. But mostly it seems like an ex­cuse to de­scribe her breasts and state how “heartily” he ap­proves of the shot as a fem­i­nist state­ment. It even cli­maxes with Lid­dle’s dec­la­ra­tion that: “I think the fem­i­nist cause would be ad­vanced enor­mously if Emma went fur­ther and de­cided to show us all what my 11-year-old daugh­ter refers to as her ‘front bot­tom’.” Need I say more?

It’s typ­i­cal Lid­dle. Sex seethes through what­ever he pens. When­ever he writes about a wo­man his pri­mary urge seems to be a com­ment on her looks. Ni­cola Stur­geon is for him a “wee thin-lipped munchkin of a leader”. Labour MP Caro­line Flint was “fit as a butcher’s dog”, and Carol Vor­der­man was, in his book, Self­ish Whin­ing Mon­keys, “a**etas­tic”.

When he does this, Lid­dle is pretty much say­ing that sex is what women are there for, so let’s dis­miss all the other stuff. Oc­ca­sion­ally it seems like he’s try­ing to punc­ture our prud­ish­ness, but mostly it just comes across as a sex­ist at­tempt to un­der­mine women by ob­jec­ti­fy­ing them.

Af­ter read­ing this lat­est col­umn I had an aw­ful flash­back to 2009 and the piece that Lid­dle wrote on Har­riet Har­man. “So – Har­riet Har­man, then,” the piece be­gan. “Would you? I mean af­ter a few beers ob­vi­ously, not while you were sober.” Chill­ingly, it went on to de­scribe in in­tri­cate and fan­tas­tic de­tail, how such a sce­nario might ac­tu­ally hap­pen.

When the Har­man piece trig­gered a tsunami of out­rage, Lid­dle apol­o­gised and said his piece was a “par­ody of gut­tural, base sex­ism” and he thought read­ers “would know it was a joke”. Pre­sum­ably that was what he as­sumed, also, on this lat­est oc­ca­sion. His Twit­ter ac­count, af­ter all, de­clares him a satirist.

But I don’t buy the “par­ody” or “satire” ex­cuses. Both words, these days, can be used to get you out of any­thing: racism, sex­ism, be­lit­tling causes you don’t like. One can’t re­act to satire be­cause, well, that would mean one was tak­ing things far too se­ri­ously.

But satire of­ten has in­tent, and you can re­act to that. The in­tent here was to un­der­mine In­ter­na­tional Women’s Day, and also to con­tinue his cam­paign, be­gun in a col­umn in The Sun in Novem­ber, against Emma Wat­son whom he, back then, de­clared a “whin­ing leftie”.

Of­ten it feels like satire is the last refuge of the misog­y­nist. It’s the white man’s safe space. Per­haps Rod Lid­dle is the one-man Bri­tish Bre­it­bart, a voice work­ing away at the griev­ances of the threat­ened or left be­hind.

The prob­lem is that satire func­tions best when its sting is di­rected to­wards the powerful – and there are still rel­a­tively few women in power. What does it mean when a powerful fe­male celebrity like Wat­son is at­tacked by a male, Lid­dle, him­self a fairly powerful and in­flu­en­tial com­men­ta­tor? Of course, Lid­dle can crank up a greater sense of dis­par­ity if he seems to be speak­ing for the work­ing class, the male left be­hind. That al­most works in his col­umns for The Sun. But in The Spec­ta­tor, he’s with his own, speak­ing to the elite – and it doesn’t quite wash.

In my more optimistic mo­ments, I like to imag­ine Lid­dle is re­ally a dou­ble agent who ap­pears to be work­ing for the pa­tri­archy but is ac­tu­ally try­ing to un­der­mine it by dis­play­ing the kind of bla­tant sex­ism that tells the world how much we need fem­i­nism.

But that, of course, is wish­ful think­ing. The full hor­ror of Lid­dle is that he’s writ­ing for men out there who still think like him, with whom his writ­ing chimes. Lid­dle is there for the di­nosaurs who can’t see a wo­man as any­thing other than t**s and ass. While they still ex­ist, fem­i­nism has a long way to go.

It’s typ­i­cal Lid­dle. Sex seethes through what­ever he pens. When­ever he writes about a wo­man his pri­mary urge seems to be a com­ment on her looks

For Rod Lid­dle, satire ap­pears to be the last refuge of the misog­y­nist. It’s the threat­ened white man’s safe space

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